Richmond’s Lipont Art Centre is displaying a retrospective exhibition of Joseph Synn Kune Loh, a Vancouver artist who has dedicated almost half a century to painting.
The exhibit, Unlocking the Code, showcases almost 100 of Loh’s works of art, ranging from abstract landscape paintings created in the 1970s to recent surrealism-style pieces.
“The experience of creating art is very precious for me because, in the process, I’m opened up to a higher consciousness,” said Loh, who has been doing other jobs but never quit painting.
The 71-year-old grew up in Hong Kong and moved to Ontario to study psychology at Queen’s University in the 1970s, but his life path changed after a visit to Paris.
“I went to museums in Paris and saw an exhibit of Van Gogh. I thought, ‘I want to be an artist,’ (although) I didn’t know anything about art at that time,” recalled Loh.
He quit university and went to study experimental art at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and his career in art began.
He started by doing abstract landscape paintings, like many other Chinese artists.
“I believe every young Chinese artist will do landscape at some point; It’s a representation of Chinese artists. So I did my mountain and water series, and they reflected who I was at that time in life,” said Loh.
But while Chinese culture will always be integral to who he is, Loh said he prefers critical thinking to a traditional mindset, a preference reflected in his drawing.
“In high school I wrote an article saying that Confucius was a loser. My teacher gave me an F and asked why I wrote such nonsense,” he chuckled.
In one series, Loh drew a picture of Chinese characters using circles, triangles and squares to explore the fundamental form of the words before calligraphy brushes were invented.
“Once brushes were created, people began to pay too much attention to calligraphy and the aesthetics of the characters, not the meaning of the words,” explained Loh.
There are also many Buddhist elements in Loh’s work. They come from inspirations after a visit to Da Zu, a religious town in South East China, in 1985, he explained.
“I had a spiritual experience there and suddenly I understood what Buddhism means,” said Loh.
“I came out with an impression of how to draw Buddhist form and inserted it into my paintings.”
His current favorite work is a series he painted two years ago: a series of three paintings in which the two side paintings have one subject each and are connected by the drawing in the middle through some ancient Chinese characters.
Loh said the series is an exploration of the space between people and objects “where reality is seen.”
“If you go to a restaurant, you sit down and listen to people talking, they’re not talking to each other, they’re just repeating the same thing about family, etc.,” said Loh.
“What is really important is the space between them — the unspoken part.
“If you see a boy at your age, you may think he is going to be my boyfriend, maybe you don’t like this man… Those are not spoken often times, but you can feel it.
“In Daoism, it is said ‘All things in the world are produced by being, and being is produced by non-being.’
“The space between is the ‘non-being’ that produces everything else. This is what those paintings are about.”
Loh hopes his work will make a difference in people’s lives by promoting them to think.
“I hope whoever may have seen my work will leave with a question mark about what life is about, what’s the space in-between…” said Loh.
“For me, art is not the answer, but a bridge.”
The exhibition is open until Feb. 4 daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Lipont Art Centre at 4211 No 3 Rd. Admission is free.