Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Cloud Eaters #1
Cloud Eaters #1

This painting, illuminated with a soft cerulean blue glow, is a cross section of an unknown underwater territory where a group of jellyfish swim across its depths. The painting derives from Justin Lim’s Planet Shangri-la series, which explores the concept of Utopia as a conceptual mirror for our increasingly precarious present and the issues that plague it. The series’ reference to Shangri-La was inspired by James Hilton’s 1933 novel, The Lost Horizon, in which the author describes the fictional Shangri-La as a mystical, earthly paradise. Lim was interested in Shangri-La’s representation of a Utopia that at once acts as a place for critical reflection on contemporary concerns, and on the other hand engages with an Eastern concept of Utopia. The artist’s research into Eastern interpretations of paradise is what inspired the painting’s blue-and-white palette which alludes to the dutch-blue glaze of traditional Chinese porcelain. 

His depiction of these sea creatures charge the painting with a surreal quality, from the way the tendrils are replaced with trails of flowers to the cloud-like texture of their bodies. This dynamic, fantastical scene is dramatically animated by the artist’s meticulous depiction of texture and the falling of light and shadow across the composition, as if we are ourselves plunging into the depths of his imaginary landscape. 

For the artist, paintings from the series that propose surreal underwater landscapes, such as the present example, represent a speculative utopian habitat in which humans are absent. The artist elucidated on this concept in an interview for The Star in 2019, where he commented: “My faith in humanity is only as clear as the waters of our oceans, some parts devastatingly tainted and destroyed but other parts still untouched and should be left alone, devoid of human presence”. Understood as such, Cloud Eaters #1 offers an evocative suggestion to imagine otherwise, out of the world we live in and into the worlds we would like to cultivate.

Acrylic on canvas
220 x 200 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Justin Lim
About Justin Lim

Justin Lim (b.1983 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) completed his postgraduate studies in 2006 with the Master of Art (Fine Art) programme by The Open University UK conducted at Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore after obtaining a BA(Hons) Fine Art majoring in painting. He has exhibited widely in Southeast Asia in various solo & group exhibitions and was the recipient of the 2008 Malaysia-Australia Visual Artist Residency at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. He has since held residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, USA (2011 – Asian Artist Fellowship/ Freeman Fellowship), Red Gate Gallery, Beijing (2013 – Khazanah Nasional Artist Residency) and The Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania, Australia (2016 – International Artist in residence). Selected group exhibitions include the ‘Asian Art Biennale: Viewpoints & Viewing points’, Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (2009), ‘Modern Love’, Earl Lu Gallery / Institute of Contemporary Art, Singapore (2015), ’Asia Young 36 / Asia Contemporary’, a survey of contemporary Asian art practices, Jeonbuk Museum of Art, Jeonju, South Korea (2016) and ‘Contemporary Chaos’, curated by Demetrio Paparoni, Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium, Norway (2018). He currently lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Sources: Justin Lim, Richard Koh Fine Art

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Imagine you are inside this painting. How would it feel? What noises would you hear? What would you smell? How does the water feel on your skin? Do you feel relaxed or anxious? Do you want to touch the jellyfish or avoid them? If you touch them how do they feel?

  • There are amazing opportunities to see marine life by diving or snorkelling in Malaysia. Have you tried snorkelling or diving? What did you see? Did you witness any damage to marine life? What are the causes of this damage? How can we protect our oceans and the creatures who inhabit it? Can we make a difference as individuals?