On Liminality with Luke Heng

Born in 1987, Singaporean artist Luke Heng is interested in the dialectics between painting, object, and picture-making. He graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from LASALLE College of the Arts in 2013. In 2012, he was the recipient of the LASALLE College of the Arts Scholarship and the Winston Oh Travel Award (Practice). In 2014, he was awarded the Dena Foundation Artist Residency at the Centre International d’Accueil et d’Echanges des Récollets in Paris, France, supported by the National Arts Council, Singapore. He has participated in group exhibitions in Indonesia, France, Germany, Malaysia and Singapore, and has presented solo exhibitions in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Paris.

What is so enduring about the medium of painting? Do you find yourself consciously engaging with or provoked by its history? 

I suppose every medium has its own charm, its own ways of seduction; my interest can be found in the tactility of painting. I find the event of painting exceptionally cathartic and it simply envelops my entire faculty. What is also fascinating about the agency of paint is that it takes on a certain relationship with its environment during the process of solidification, from liquid to solid. And in the course of this change, it allows us, the painting and me, to have some form of exchange and negotiation between what the painting can do and what I want the painting to do. But this is probably half of what interests me in the context of painting. The other half would be dealing with painting as a subject. By using other forms of production, I do also introduce the notion of painting through sculptures, drawings and installations.  

You’ve mentioned abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell as a key reference in your practice, particularly in the aspect of experimenting with space. Could you expand more on this? 

Motherwell was a huge inspiration when I started making paintings. His works – both his paintings and writings – informed my interpretations of images, spatial consciousness, forms, etc. I suppose at that point in time, which was roughly 5 to 6 years ago, looking at his practice really helped me get going in my own paintings. Of course, over the past few years, I’ve also looked at artists and professions that enable me to develop and locate my own artistic language.   

In your new series of paintings to be shown at S.E.A. Focus 2020, you are very much invested in the idea of liminality, of a liminal or in-between space and time. Why do you find yourself drawn to such an indeterminate paradigm? 

This interest in the in-between states has been an ongoing fascination – I feel that it is something that resonates with us as we move through our daily lives. It does not only respond to our circadian motions but also our innate self, be it in philosophical or spiritual states. Things are usually in flux and they never quite settle; I find this transitional phase rather charming. Its suspended time catches one in the solace of allowing things to happen, but creates a certain discomfort not knowing how deep this void is. Hence, these few paintings are trying to position themselves between a certain form of stability and conclusion. They allow themselves to sit within undefined pockets that sporadically appear in the midst a flux. 

Luke Heng, Non-Place (Drawing), 2019, Inkjet print on aluminium composite, 34 x 31 cm

Employing a language of abstraction, do you find yourself working reflexively with its structures, materials, contexts and histories? Is your engagement with abstraction more formal or cultural, or both? 

The wonderful thing about practicing in this day and age is that we can draw from any pool of resources, using history as a wellspring of material. You can break down a certain framework and reconstruct it within your own practice. Abstraction is probably just a mode of digesting certain information that influences the process of the work. It could be both formal and political when it comes to the use of abstraction, depending on the context of the show. I suppose responding formally or culturally could be banal and rigid. Fluidity seems more fun for me. 

Any artist practising in Singapore you feel excited about and challenged by? 

I quite like what painter Jon Chan is working on. He is currently working on a new series of paintings that brings together ideas shaped both by cinema and sequential art, focusing on the history of Hong Lim Park and its various elements that constitute a ‘zone’. I’m really looking forward to his next presentation.  

You are about to complete your MA in Fine Arts at LASALLE College of the Arts. How has the programme grown and challenged your practice so far?  

It is always good to challenge my preconceived ideas and understanding of how things work. With this course, I was really looking forward to experimenting with a different working process and manners of solving certain issues, and I feel I’ve been able to do that – whether it’s deciding on how to go about resolving a particular concept, or considering technical probabilities.   

Works by Luke Heng will be presented at S.E.A. Focus 2020. Click here to find out more.