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Fantastic Voyage: The Paintings of Yen Phang

Amelia Abdullahsani-Gerick


Painting takes us on a journey through space and time; the paintings of Yen Phang take us deeper into the fantastic voyage of the human anatomy. Inspired by the 1966 movie and Isaac Asimov’s book of the same name, Phang’s new series of paintings takes us in to explore the physiological structure of the body.


In this era of high-speed travel and instant connectivity, travelling into the body is an idea that would be out of this world. The ease with which we surrender to technology and the urge to explore outer space leads us ironically to be more dependent on machines and neglect the human body. Phang reminds us that the human race needs to look to ourselves. The human body is a well-oiled machine. Its ability to rejuvenate itself is a process that still intrigues doctors and scientists.


Phang’s abstract paintings are a visual recognition of the marks created by the body; the bodies of colours on his paintings evoke tread marks left behind by a human machine. This new body of work is a chance for Phang to explore differently – the palette is more playful, and the form and composition is more disparate. His titles, while seemingly flippant, are an expression of the depth into which he explores. Every Accident is Never An Accident glistens with pale blues and greens on a chrome background.


While Phang has a knack for looking deeper than the surface, the concept of the surface itself is a tricky thing for an abstract painter. Oil is a sensuous medium associated with texture and impasto, here adroitly maneuvered by Phang on the canvas in such a way that it does not leave the painter’s mark. The gesture, often associated with abstract painting, is absent from the surface. Phang does not want the viewer to linger on the surface; instead he wants you to look deeper into the painting.


By spending time to contemplate his paintings, Phang is forcing his audience to pause. Indeed, this body is of work is a breather for the artist. This is Phang’s last exhibition before his voyage to the chilly terrains of Canadian winter. This leave of absence from the tropics allows the body and the mind to rejuvenate, just as Phang is asking his audience to step back and take stock of our physical and mental states.


The effect of the sabbatical will last within us. While Phang does not make a mark on the surface of the painting, the impact on our psyche is much greater. It’s Like Being Naked on a Tightrope conjures the image of our delicate bodies in its attempt to live in this technological world. The large triptych has a colourful rent across the painting left behind by bright hues. Is that blood strewn across the chrome or is that the mind trying to open up and exit the painting? One must contemplate in order to look to the future and the fantastic voyage while we journey without and within ourselves.