When Gin Poh Yen Chern got her first crystal vase from the Czech Republic about two decades ago, the complex structure of its design and the way it diffracted light intrigued her. Fast forward to the pandemic lockdowns: Looking for something to challenge herself technically and artistically, she painted that vase, combining it with figure art inspired by Venice and Florence, which she had travelled to months earlier.
A lot of her artistic endeavours are inspired by the beauty and allure of Italy, which has become a second home after her marriage to an Italian. The couple live in Kuala Lumpur with their two teenage children.
Figure art and other outdoor scenery form the impressionist contrast against realistic crystal objects in a series she started working on this May. Twelve pieces from what she calls Layers of Crystalline Life are on show at her first solo exhibition, Crystal, which opened on Nov 11 at Pinkguy Gallery, KL.
Poh’s training as an interior designer gave her a strong technical foundation and an eye for varied artistic techniques. “I find comfort in the technical aspects of art and that propelled me to centre my exhibition around crystals.” Initially, she painted these objects in an indoor setting, but now she places them outdoors to fully utilise the light and shadow cast on the pieces.
The challenge of painting shiny, semi-transparent crystal lies in capturing its different facets and making them glow. “The tones of the colour of the object can be very confusing, but they cannot be ignored. To paint them layer by layer until they look transparent and ‘crystallise’ requires lots of patience and time,” she says.
Again, training gives her a sure hand. Poh did portraits and figures using oil and ceramics at the Art Academy London, both with real-life models. “Painting with a model helps artists understand the structure of the face and body better. I learnt a lot as I got to see different compositions of the same model.”
During the pandemic, she took online lessons with an American acrylic portrait artist and now uses that medium too.
Fine art and dance were two passions she wanted to pursue from a young age, but her father would not allow it. Interior design was a viable alternative, so she studied that in Singapore and worked there for seven years. It was during this time that she took lessons in oil painting from Carey Ngai, the Singaporean artist now based in Xiamen, China, who became a friend.
She then took a break from work and ended up in Milan, doing urban management. “Going there had always been a dream and [that subject] was the most viable option to be in Milan.”
After returning to Singapore, Poh continued to paint with Ngai. She recalls dropping her kids off at the kindergarten and the nursery before heading for his workshop.
“Art is just one of my passions, alongside dancing and helping those in need.” And crystal reflects on how she feels about life being a journey of continuous growth and discovery. “How we perceive our layers of life, real or imagined, will determine the nature of our journey.
“Crystal is simply mesmerising. It is a symbol of the earth’s rich natural resources and helps us value her brilliant glory. Hard, strong and sparkling, crystal radiates beauty and power.”
Her series of paintings tells a story of “being refined and polished in sacred and secret places, one layer at a time. Like the multifaceted crystal, our layered lives reflect various complexities, perspectives, roles and destinies”, she muses.
Crystal runs until Nov 30 at Pinkguy Gallery, 51 Jalan Telawi 3, KL. Viewing is by appointment between 11am and 6pm (Mon-Sat), call (018) 288 8868 for details.
This article first appeared on Nov 14, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.