Form Colour Action: Sketching Lee Wen’s Life of Art
Why We Recommend it
Form Colour Action pays tribute to pioneering Singaporean performance artist Lee Wen, who passed away in March this year, through a show of his never-before-seen drawings, paintings, and notes dating from 1978 to 2014.
Best known for his Yellow Man performances in which he painted his own body with bright yellow poster paint to express an exaggerated symbol of his ethnic identity as a citizen of Singapore, Lee Wen (1957–2019) was a multidisciplinary artist who defined and shaped performance art in Asia.
Form Colour Action, curated by Chương-Đài Võ and Özge Ersoy, features a selection of Lee’s sketchbooks and notebooks which help viewers understand his contention that “drawing is the most basic time-based medium”, as well as his development of performance art as tracings of daily routines of the human, the environment and the cosmos. They offer a site to study his development of performance as an articulation of the self and its relation to the social and natural worlds. His training in drawing and painting gave him the tools to embody form and colour as action.
A highlight of the show is a group of sketchbooks made between 1978 and 1989, which shows Lee’s education in academic art. Stemming from his formal training, he re-imagined the definition of art and opened its vocabulary and techniques to a socially engaged practice. For him, image-making is integral to performance. This idea manifests most obviously in The Journey of a Yellow Man, which was developed from 1992 to 2001. The project evolved from a critique of Orientalism to a meditation on freedom, climate change, humility and religious practices.
This curatorial essay stems from a longer essay written by Chương-Đài Võ, which can be accessed through Asia Art Archive’s IDEAS journal.