Kow Leong Kiang

Diversely Talented

The Petaling Jaya native continues to awe the art world with his outwardly thinking ideas.

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Kow Leong Kiang has successfully established himself as one of Malaysia’s respected figurative painters in the last 15 years since he won the grand prize at the Philip Morris Asean Art Awards in 1998. Since then, he has been working relentlessly to spread his artwork in the country and abroad. His works have also made their way into some of the permanent collections of corporations, private collectors as well as the likes of the National Art Gallery of Malaysia.

Developing love for art
His love for art developed when he was a secondary school student. A big fan of comic books, he was inspired by the artwork and that encouraged him to start drawing. He continued drawing things based on the comics he had read. “I loved reading comic books when I was in secondary school and discovered a liking for art and started drawing things based on the comics I read,” he said.

“I bought a lot of them from bookshops and then I decided that I wanted to become an artist. I wasn’t that great in academics and I realised I was better at art than most of the school subjects, so I chose what I was better at. And I don’t like the nine-to-five job lifestyle, anyway. I love this job because I have more freedom doing what I love,” he continued.Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 5.48.50 PM

To the Sea
This talented man is widely known for his portraits of East Coast Malaysian women’s beauty and his depictions of nostalgic rural scenes captured through masterful feather-light rendering. He held his first solo exhibition in Singapore, To The Sea at Ernst and Young Gallery under The Asia Outreach Programme. In this exhibition, combining landscape and portraiture, Kow used a single painting subject and one of his favourite ones – a Malay girl – to tell a nostalgic story of Malaysia’s history and explore the current socio-political issues facing the country.

“I like to observe the mannerism of Malay women because I think they are beautiful and East Coast ladies are very different from their city counterparts. Most of them still practise the traditional way of life and that is what makes them so special. I love travelling to the East Coast, especially to Terengganu and Kelantan, to head to the beaches, especially the fishing villages,” explained Kow.

Going nude
In 2009, Kow launched his first solo exhibition, Jogja Constellation, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where he produced a series of portraits of well-known local artists such as Agus Suwage, Ugo Untoro, Putu Sutawijaya, Arahmaini and Angki Purbandono, among others. The vibrancy of Indonesia’s art scene not only created chances for him to make new friends but also gave him a newfound confidence as he began to take more risks as a painter. He experimented with the most unexpected subject matter, the nude figure – something he had wanted to develop for many years. In 2010 and 2011, he created two series, Intimate Collisions and Soft that depicted bodies in physical and emotional conflicts. Alternating between balletic elegance and raw struggle. These represent some of Kow’s most ambitious and technically sophisticated works to date.

“I was in Bandung in 2010 and I hired 12 models to do a series of nude poses for me to capture on my camera. I chose to do this in Bandung as there are many modelling schools in the area and I have a photographer friend there too and he helped get me the models. I ordered see-through boxes for the models to lie in and pose as I took their shots. The custommade boxes were quite costly. After I finished taking all the photos I brought them back here to be painted,” said Kow. Collisions represent one of the new chapters of his practice as he enters a mature period of style and contemplation.

Current work
Kow Leong Kiang is currently working on his solo art exhibition slated to take place a the Georgetown Festival 2013 at the Whiteaways Arcade, Beach Street, and Sekeping Victoria, Victoria Street, Fort Cornwalls in Penang from June 7 to July 7. Titled as Art @ Whitespace, the exhibition is organised by top contemporary art collector, gallerist and curator Valentine Willie. Other artists that will be featured in the exhibition include Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Jalaini Abu Hassan, Chong Siew Ying, Rebecca Wilkinson, Chan Kok Hooi and Agus Baqul Purnomo from Indonesia. Kow is going to try something new with the next collection. Instead of focusing on female subjects, he is going to attempt to use male ones this time around.

“Ideas come at any time and at any place because I’m always thinking of new ones all the time. Ideas and inspiration can come from many sources like films, magazines, books and TV. The trick is to just choose the right one and develop it further,” said Kow.