October 2, 2009 / 10:12 AM / 9 years ago

In our urban jungle, what animal are you, artist asks

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Ask Singaporean artist David Chan about society and he’ll say that it’s a jungle out there, with weeping crocodiles, wolves in sheep’s clothing and fat, arrogant pigs — all animals he features in his paintings.

Artist David Chan poses with his two sculptures Chimerative (L) and Centauree in this undated handout photograph. REUTERS/Courtesy of David Chan/Handout

Thirty-year-old Chan’s signature realistic depiction of animal-human hybrids has won him much critical and public acclaim since his first solo exhibition five years ago.

Now he’s back with more bemusing, and cynical, portraits of society in a new exhibition of 30 paintings and sculptures titled “Hybrid Society - Schizophrenia” which asks: if society was really a jungle and there were only animals, what would you be?

“Animals and humans both have very distinctive personalities, in many cases we’re the same species,” Chan told Reuters ahead of the exhibition’s opening on Friday.

“I want people to look at these paintings, appreciate the humor and the cheekiness but to also take a good, serious look at themselves and those around them.”

In Chan’s world, the urban species include “Miss Demure,” a lip-licking, lascivious leopard whose human body is dressed in a revealing silky blouse. A brown bear dressed as a dandy becomes an icon for New Age metrosexuality and “Miss Sincere” is a crocodile who delicately wipes her tears with a handkerchief.

A warthog, boasting gold tusks, and decked out in a suit and several gold rings, is Chan’s “Mr. Humble” while “Mr. Innocent” is a wolf wearing a sheepskin hat.

Chan said the exhibition was partly inspired by a book he was reading on schizophrenia, which got him thinking about the multiple roles most people play in today’s society — spouse, parent, employee, friend.

“We all wear faces,” he said. “How often you put them on depends on the occasion and the location. It’s how we survive in our urban jungle.”

Chan, who started out as an illustrator, says he loves to play with language as much as images and while his works are a cynical social commentary, they are hardly confrontational and there is plenty of irony and humor.

His sculptures are three-dimensional versions of his paintings, with “Chimerative” — a combination of chimera and executive — featuring a creature with a lioness’s head, a snake’s tail and a besuited woman’s body which holds a baby in one hand and a briefcase in the other.

Chan taught art to children before becoming a lecturer at a Singaporean college and he takes a jab at parents in “Ministry of Protection,” a painting which features a bunny swaddled in every form of protective gear imaginable atop his bicycle, which has multiple training wheels.

“No risk taken, no lesson gained,” he said. “We as society have to learn to let go a little.”

Chan has taken part in group exhibitions in Beijing, New York, Taipei and Shanghai. “Hybrid Society - Schizophrenia runs until November 3 at the Art Seasons gallery in Singapore.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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