Art Detail | Ilham Gallery

The horse and the bull appear in many of Lee Joo For’s paintings to symbolise the complementary natures of men and women. But in this painting, conflict abounds as a bull and horse go head to head, and a woman and a man eye each other  from a distance. The colours red and blue are used interchangeably across the landscape, suggesting warring natures or shifting sexual roles. A possible allusion could be drawn here to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and the temptation of sin. Joo For has portrayed the woman as a temptress, her apple-red dress accentuating her curves, while the man is portrayed as vulnerable, his nakedness hidden in shadows. As an artist and playwright, Joo For often used such symbols as a way of depicting what he perceived as humanity’s eternal struggle between good and evil.

Oil on canvas
84 × 83 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Lee Joo For
About Lee Joo For

John Lee Joo For (b. 1929, Penang – d. 2017, Melbourne, Australia) has been dubbed “the symbolic painter” by fellow artist and teaching colleague Syed Ahmad Jamal. He received a generous government scholarship in his youth that allowed him to study at three different English universities: the Brighton College of Art, the Camberwell School of Art, and the Royal College of Art. In 1973, he migrated with his family to Melbourne, Australia. Mostly known for his symbolic paintings, he was also a skilled sculptor and print-maker. Horses are a recurrent motif in his work because of their significance in Chinese symbolism (his father was a Chinese calligrapher). Aside from art, he was also an accomplished playwright, having written many stage plays and musicals, often with evangelical themes.

Further Readings
Learning Section
  • There is a strong feeling of narrative in this painting. Imagine this painting is a poster for a movie. What kind of movie would it be? What kind of story would it tell? Who is the woman in the painting? How is she feeling? Who is the man? How is he feeling? What has just happened? What happens next? Does the title of the painting help you answer any of these questions?

  • The text suggests the bull and horse are symbols of the natures of men and women. What aspects of masculinity are symbolised by a bull? What aspects of femininity are symbolised by the horse? Do you think this corresponds with contemporary ideas of masculinity and femininity or are they outdated? Are men and women fundamentally different? Is conflict inevitable? In what ways have society's views on gender changed in the last 100 years? In what ways have they remained the same?