Christine Ay Tjoe
- Christine Ay Tjoe
- Black and the Small White
- Signed and dated 14; signed, titled, inscribed and dated 2014
- Oil on canvas
Unreservedly dynamic and writhing with power, the Black and the Small White is a rare diversion from Ay Tjoe’s use of vibrant palettes, a deliberate exploration of the innate perplexities and strength of the monochrome. An outbreak of intense black envelops the surface before a glimmer of white whispers through the labyrinth of Ay Tjoe’s signature raw, amorphous forms. Its allure is grounded in an elusive yet highly emotive expressiveness, while its sharpness is rooted in Ay Tjoe’s tendency to draw from the linear clarity of dry-point graphic techniques which were the basis of her training at Bandung Institute of Technology. Yet what distinguishes Ay Tjoe’s work from any clinical exploration of form, colour and line is the artist’s courageous vulnerability, each piece reveals a remarkably personal encounter.
Black and the Small White, as in Ay Tjoe’s most charismatic works, possesses a visual authority that confers upon its audience an enthralling revelation of the complex truths of human nature. The current work is rapturous and utterly captivating in its profound reflections of the more sinister side of the artist’s conscious, with a piercing relevance to the uncertainty of today’s globalized society. Across the mesmerizing canvas, Ay Tjoe’s electric process both divulges and conceals intimate moments of wanton struggle, profound grief, silent reprieve and full abandon. With inimitable dexterity, the artist showcases the full range of her technique, variously scratching the black oil stick onto the face of the canvas, then rubbing to uncover tender patches of brown and exquisite textures. The beautifully agile layers and gripping contours move in clamorous directions. Like many of Christine’s mature oeuvre, her volatile forms imbue Black and the Small White with a fervent aggression entwined in an insistent fragility.
To produce these sprawling works, the artist taps into a primal, existential exploration of the dualities of ego and mind, of light and dark, of life and death. Ay Tjoe’s process here unveils a desperation and fervent urgency, leaving viewers in a thrill of encounter while stirring a sense of uneasy anxiety. The present lot is a continuation of the artist’s sought-after black series. This series includes works of more ominous capacities such as Black Number I (2014)—a filled composition that engulfs the canvas in clouds of deep cobalt blues and scribbles of black, with bursts of magenta and white. Both works are hauntingly charged but Christine’s darkness is never completely opaque, despite its hazy ambiguity. Rather the black holds a bewitching quality, tangibly delineated in Black and the Small White by animated angular silhouettes and the red accents scattered sparingly within the work. The painting’s caliginosity invades and blends into the ochres and greys that have been smeared arduously across the nebulous space.
In their sparse but foreboding presence, Ay Tjoe’s recent works have been likened to the eschatology of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.1 In Black and the Small White however, the artist offers a flicker of hope— a white patch, tinged with a sky blue, penetrates with a lucid clarity. It acts as an island of retreat within the disorderly dance of murkiness. As the work’s title suggests, the Small White enters in piercing luminosity to break through the blackness. Biblical references that often seep into Christine’s abstractions linger: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”2 Furthermore Ay Tjoe’s psyche bears an immense complexity. Unveiled within a formal play of colour, her painterly freedom is harnessed in an indulgent yet fearless articulation of her very being.
Ay Tjoe’s morphing forms in their wheeling density and subtle translucency quiver violently to articulate inexplicable emotions. Her obsession with the primacy of the line in its most humanistic usage, recalls CY Twombly’s radical interventions in his Blackboard paintings that abandoned his earlier richly colourful compositions. In their chromatic restraint Ay Tjoe and Twombly summon the power of the artist’s hand, manifested in the line as an almost naive yet extremely potent transmitter of space, duration, and motion. While Twombly’s lassoed loops result in a rhythmic regularity, Ay Tjoe’s lines pulsate with erratic eruptions of fixating energy and fizzling colour. In its tactile virtuosity and liberating immediacy Black and the Small White arrives at an ineffable purity, consecrated in the small luminous white patch.
Ultimately Ay Tjoe’s diverse practice is distinct in her relentless search for meaning not just in the individual psyche but in her concern for the universal: “my interest point is human beings. In my works, I talk more about what will happen in terms of human trends, local or global; I see as possibilities in my mind, personal ideas.” 3 Unequivocal in its contemporary relevance, Black and the Small White transmits a stunning aura that resonates deeply with its audience. The work arrives as a tangible witness to Ay Tjoe’s staggering expressivity and inimitable abstract aesthetic at this point in her career, as explicated through the work’s visceral imagery, symbolic colour and seductive movement. Indeed it is Christine’s forceful confluence of cultural and personal impulses, that enunciates a truly captivating experience—the very marks of an artist at the height of her powers.
1 Piers Masterson, “Christine Ay Tjoe, White Cube”, Art Asia Pacific
2 John 1:5
3 Christine Ay Tjoe as quoted in Christine Ay Tjoe inside the White Cube 2016, White Cube