Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Artist in Landscape
Artist in Landscape

None of Kok Yew Puah’s self-portraits resemble him very closely. Mostly produced around 1993/1994 when he made the decision to become a full-time artist, they present a series of “postures”, as if he was constantly questioning what he was doing as an artist, what it was to be an artist in Malaysia, and what an artist might look like to his family and society at large. His paintings, like photo studio portraits of old and the selfies of today, “try out” his subjects posing against different backdrops. Certain props or configurations reappear across different works. Puah also introduces camera film negatives, colour bars and viewfinders as framing devices, putting the viewer behind the camera, making us complicit in the framing of these images.

Watercolour on paper
55 x 75 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Kok Yew Puah
About Kok Yew Puah

Kok Yew Puah (1947 - 1999) was born in Klang, Selangor, Malaysia. He studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, Melbourne, Australia from 1966 - 1971, where he obtained a Diploma in Painting and a Master’s degree in Printmaking. After returning to Klang in early 1972, Puah held a solo exhibition later that year, showcasing his large colourful “hard-edged” abstract silkscreen prints. After leaving art for several years to run a family business, he forged a new practice as a figurative painter, producing some of the most honest, human and subjective representations of the country’s visual landscape of the late 1980s and 90s, captured through the immediate experience of his life in his hometown Klang as it transformed into an industrial hub. It is a portrait that speaks of anxieties about environmental damage, and the impact of rapid development particularly on younger generations, and their growing disconnection from history and culture. He passed away at the age of 51.

Learning Section

  • This is a self-portrait of the artist. A self-portrait is a portrait the artist paints of himself. Just like a selfie! Although the mediums differ they both represent how you perceive yourself or how you want others to perceive you. Therefore, you can learn a lot about someone’s personality by searching for the visual clues in their digital ‘selfie’ or, in this case, in their painted self-portraits.

  • If you made a painting of yourself, what would you wear? What would the background look like?

  • Kok Yew Puah often included the camera viewfinder as a framing device. Considering this artistic device, where is the ‘point of focus’ in the painting? Is it the artist himself? Or the cars in the background?