Towards a Blue Room
19 January – 7 March 2024
Josh Lilley presents Towards a Blue Room, the inaugural European exhibition by artist Timothy Lai (b.1987, Malaysia).
Timothy Lai’s paintings, like his subjects, exist in a state of flux, suspended between the figurative and the abstract, between revelation and withdrawal. Titled after Chet Baker’s soulful rendition of Blue Room, Lai’s sublime portrayals of domestic encounters honour those intimate betwixt/between moments in life- some of them mundane, others messy- where make or break can happen. They are the embodiment of a pregnant pause; disarming moments scattered with the clues of a happening and swelling with consequence, tentatively beckoning intervention from their viewer.
Lai anticipates us as witnesses, sometimes camouflaging or pixelating his subjects, obliterating them from distinct form to provide a veil between viewer and subject. While endearingly protecting his protagonists in their vulnerability, Lai’s visual language also draws us to the complex dynamics of subjectivity, exploring the thin line where the loss of oneself becomes the gaining of another. Perhaps we have a role to play here- awkward third-wheels, mediators of silence, benevolent friends. For the figures in frame or just out of view, this unresolved tension demands from us what it takes from its maker- patience, compassion and generosity.
Comprising a series of larger vignettes and intimate paintings, Lai turns to the compositional frame as a tool for exploring barriers; both inherited and self-imposed, and how these approximate our existence. Drawing on the history of enshroudment as a religious or politicised exercise, as well as its vast visual catalogue- from a cloak concealing a horrifying exploit, to Luc Tuyman’s deliberate hazing of photographic materials- Lai conceptualises the act of masking as both a desire to hide as well as an entry point to new, more complex discourse.
Often taking their compositional cues from canonical paintings- from Lucian Freud’s portraits to Caravaggio’s Narcissus- Lai considers the process of painterly accretion as a productive framework, testing the inherent limitations of visual language. Through this process, together with the repetition of his own motifs, Lai serially contextualises his work, exploring the ability to reinforce or dissolve subjective personhood. Building on Lai’s previous explorations into the patriarchal dynamics of a father-son relationship, this new body of work turns towards the greater mechanics of social equilibrium in all its complexity.
Towards a Blue Room is a study of concomitance, looking at where a line becomes a boundary, when it opens into an expanse of possibilities, or when it sits somewhere in the middle, drawing people together in an unchartered space. In Lai’s work we see dissolution and protection, reflection and exposure as two sides of the same coin, equally powerful in their ability to forge a new path.