Images of Astwood Park
Same place, different time — Kok Wan Lee takes his cues from Claude Monet. Like the impressionist painter, he will revisit the same locations at different times of day. His current haunt is Astwood Park.
The Warwick area is the focus for his show at Gallery 117, Front Street. His Astwood Park Series will open on Thursday.
“My series suggests how I feel and not how I see,” he said.
“I picked different environments like during the rain, in the winter or in the dark when the moonlight comes out. I go there to observe, to look at the environment and then when I come home I start to imagine how they look in the moonlight or in the rain.”
His first abstract landscapes of the area were part of a group exhibition at the Bermuda National Gallery three years ago. Astwood at Midnight, Astwood Park, Astwood in the Rain, Astwood in the Dark are groups within the new series; 30 pieces make up the show.
The artist and floor supervisor at Miles Market said you will not recognise the park in what you see.
“It’s my own interpretation. I’m sure that that’s what make them unique.
“I’ve always loved Astwood Park. I don’t know why. Especially on the hillside. It’s beautiful.
He laughed: “I’ve never been up there in the rain to be honest with you. That I made up.”
Lines, colours and shapes inform his decisions. The artist uses a mix of watercolour, acrylic, oil pastels, charcoal and pencil on canvas and paper. He said working on a series allowed him to push himself as an artist.
“I’m a very organised person,” he said. “Before I start any series of work I do a little bit of planning; I always start small to see how it goes and play with the conversation.”
The Malaysian moved to Bermuda in 1988 as a chef at Fourways Inn. He started painting 18 years ago in classes at The Bermuda College.
“After cooking for so many years, you get a bit tired. It’s very energy-consuming in the kitchen,” said the 61-year-old who has served the kitchens of Stonington Beach Hotel and The Reefs.
“When I got my PRC, I straight away decided to jump out of the kitchen. I’m going to day job to support my living and then I can focus on my art career.”
“My first teacher was Mary Powell,” he recalled. “I’m very grateful to her for encouraging me to go further and pursue my dream.
“I was told very young that you’ll never make a living as an artist.”
“More or less self-taught”, Mr Lee has attended workshops in the US to advance his work.
“That makes a huge difference,” he said. “That’s what helped me the most; the college is just a foundation.
“Until I went over to South Carolina to the Myrtle Beach Workshop I didn’t realise how much freedom you have as an artist.
“There were no constraints. That’s how I learnt and broadened my ideas. I always encourage local artists to go up there and look for some good workshops.”
His home is decorated with his own works and a collection of art made by other local artists.
Mr Lee looks to his peers for inspiration, using the internet as a resource. He was especially inspired watching the Bloomberg Channel’s Brilliant Ideas series.
“They show important artists from all around the world. They are showing in the Biennale in Venice. These famous artists talk about how they started and why they do this and why they do that.”
He singled out Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich. His story strikes a chord with Mr Lee, who is from Ipoh, a city 200km from Kuala Lumpur.
“Coming from Cambodia where people are so poor and going to England or the US to become an established artist — it’s such an interesting journey.
“We can learn from them and develop our skills to go further, not just stop here.”
He said painting gave him deep satisfaction.
“Satisfaction and meditation,” he said.
“It also gives you a very personal fulfilment. Imagine, as an artist you get paid to paint and get satisfaction. It’s a very good business.
“When I do a painting that I like, I feel so pleased. I don’t care if it’s going to sell or not.
“The most important thing is to please myself first. If I’m miserable doing a painting, it’s torture.
“The bottom line of why I paint — it makes me happy and it fulfills me. That’s the most important thing.”
Kok Wan Lee’s Astwood Park Series, Gallery 117, Front Street, from March 22 to April 5
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