Hubert Burda Media


Ivan Lam opens the doors to his studio to discuss his latest works for his upcoming exhibition Vanity Project X and possible farewell to the art scene

For those who are aware of Ivan Lam’s earlier works, you can say that his artistic journey is revolutionary. From realism to abstract, Ivan never ceases to amaze his followers and fellow artists with his portraits and paintings, which in turn, positioned himself as one of the leading contemporary Malaysian artists. And so, it was not surprising when he introduced a new form through his latest series.

I take the time to immerse myself within his artistic space. There are a few complete artworks leaning against the wall. Each different from the other. There are no hints, no clues as to what I am looking at. Clearly, I have much to learn but I do believe in first attraction, and there is a piece that catches my eyes – the top half is covered in a myriad of glittering purple hue sequins, while the other half has an unpleasantly realistic skin-like surface peeling apart. “This is the glamour piece,” Ivan replies upon enquiry, “I was commissioned by Louis Vuitton to create a painting for its collection three or four years ago. After that, I never really got the chance to create something as alluring as that. So I took this opportunity to create something similar.” A juxtaposing piece, both sides represent the reality behind the luxury lifestyle. “People would go to several extravagant extends to outshine one another. And cosmetic surgery is one such measure,” notes Ivan, gesturing to the bottom, “which is why you see pieces of blades beneath the ‘skin’. The torn areas are the actual location of Gangnam’s most popular clinics and hospitals for plastic surgery.”

Technical to the last bit, the series is well planned and each deals with various society issues that the public can somewhat relate to. “Global warming, war, greed, conceit, deception… All these, we can never truly escape from them,” he narrates. “Everything you see here is quite straightforward, especially once I have explained it to you.” However, one question remains: How did he pick the issues to highlight? “For this series, I worked closely with Dr Hanni Geiger, a German art historian and researcher who specialises in modern and contemporary art. Normally, a curator works out a theme and the artist creates around it. But I wanted the curator to be in the creating process. Also, I wanted to make art with theories and insights. So each time I finished a piece, I would send a picture of it to her and tell her my thoughts. In turn, she would give me her feedbacks, which might or might not change what I would be doing for the next piece,” Ivan says, expressing that the series is unique as it is formed by the dialogues between two individuals from different cultures and upbringings.

Of course, there were obstacles. “Although I was confident in the process, the journey was like embarking on a PhD. It was heavy and loaded. I had to read a lot. It took me a couple of months to get used to the rigorous way of working with someone from a scholarly background,” Ivan chuckles. As tough as it was, Ivan is happy with the outcome. “We also went through a ‘trust’ process whereby I believe that Hanni will see things that I would never see myself. Which is why the series doesn’t stay on a single theme; it evolves.”

Looking at his work again, I wonder how long it took him to complete one piece. “I wanted to manage myself. So I gave each piece a month’s time to finish. If I were to indulge myself, it would have taken two to three months for a piece of this scale,” he notes, adding that Vanity Project X is his way of bidding adieu as well. Pardon? “Sorry, I shouldn’t have used that term,” Ivan replies sheepishly, apologising for making it sounds dramatic. “Basically, it’s going to be more like a shift. As you can see, my works have been changing throughout the last 20-odd years. And I feel that it’s time for me to give a proper farewell to the format and techniques.” As of now, Ivan has yet to decide if he will remain in the art scene. “Maybe I’ll be coming back in a different way, who knows? To me, it’s more about challenging myself, to try to do something different. Aesthetics changes, your life too. Therefore, it is only fair that your work does too. Especially in this industry, you have more reasons to be different.”

Ivan Lam: Vanity Project X will be showing at Wei-Ling Contemporary’s new space at RT01 6th Floor, The Gardens Mall, Kuala Lumpur from 5 May to 10 June 2017. Admission hours are Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am to 7 pm. For more information, please call +603-2260 1106/+603-2282 8323 or email