Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
20 ºC
20 ºC

20 ºC depicts a fallen tree laying on a sparse landscape under a dark sky. We view the withered tree from ground level, so that we face directly the dense gnarls of withered branches that curve and knot into themselves. Although it is difficult to make out any defined forms within the tangle of branches, up close it is clear that the artist has paid significant attention to the portrayal of depth and the falling of light and shadow on the smallest twig. This blasted landscape has a macabre quality, heightened by the artist’s heavily-carved sky at the top of the composition. Areas of the sky are left uncarved to convey abstracted clouds, which introduce softer curves in contrast to the sharp forms in the foreground.

Landscapes emerged as a prominent theme in Lai’s practice during the eighties after a tumultuous end to a romantic relationship, which inspired the artist to focus on “the vastness of life” through studies of nature and the environment. When he returned to Chinese ink painting in 2001, he became preoccupied with the subject of rocks, where he found beauty in nature’s sculptural forms. 20 ºC is closely related to these paintings in its evocation of the tree’s carcass less so as a documentation of the artist’s view than an attempt to capture his subject as a dramatic and monstrous product of nature’s life cycles. His treatment of the woodcut technique is also remarkably similar in results to his ink paintings—heavily outlined and with black almost always used in singularity—demonstrating the artist’s constant back-and-forth between the two mediums and his thinking of the affinities shared between them.

Woodcut print on paper
21 x 169 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Lai Loong Sung
About Lai Loong Sung

Lai Loong Sung (b. 1944, Selangor, Malaysia) is best known for his black-and-white works that marry the styles and techniques of woodcut, Chinese ink painting, and drawing. Lai graduated from the Kuala Lumpur College of Art in 1970, where he taught as a lecturer for ten years. During this period, Lai worked simultaneously for a local daily newspaper that offered short and flexible working hours for the artist to develop his artistic practice. The job exposed him constantly to the troubling state of war and conflict that marked the seventies, and in realising the inadequacies of his artistic responses, he travelled to a refugee camp near the Thai-Cambodian border during the eighties to witness the war firsthand. The experience inspired the artist to create several woodcut prints and oil paintings, forming his most extensive series of works exploring the topic of war and conflict of the period. Lai’s subsequent works continue to explore themes of daily life and its accompanying trials and tribulations. His first solo exhibition was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1977, with further solo exhibitions held in Johor, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, and China. His works have been exhibited in Italy, Australia and Taiwan. 

Further Readings
  • Lai Loong Sung, “我的创作历程 / My Journey of Artistic Creation”, 生命‧时空—黎农生艺术历程 (Kuala Lumpur: Soka Gakkai Malaysia (SGM), 2014), pp. 10-23.

Learning Section

  • Describe what you see in the foreground of this artwork? What adjectives describe the form of the tree? What does it remind you of? What adjectives describe the lines the artist has used to create detail? Describe the light in the artwork. What elements are in shadow? Where is the light coming from? Now look at the background of the artwork. What do you see? Has the artist used different marks in the background? How would you describe them?

  • The artwork shows a toppled tree trunk lying in an empty landscape. What is the mood of the artwork? What ideas do you think the artist is exploring in the work? Can you find any other artwork which you feel deals with a similar theme? What connects these artworks? Which artwork do you prefer and why?

  • Why did the artist not add colour to the artwork? What colours would you add if you were the artist? Why not try making a copy of the artwork but adding colour? Try to keep the mood of the artwork the same as the original.