Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts at NAFA

Become a member?

Contact us at


(65) 6512 4061


(65) 6512 6135



Search Digitized Collection








newly joined

Artist/ Artiste
Arts Groups






By Seah Tzi-Yan, 2001

Sifting through a list of possible exhibition titles that Poh Siew Wah has given me. I try to match the words with the paintings that I have seen in his studio - `introspective', yes, most of them; 'order and reason', 'horizon', 'infinity', 'inner review', 'reminiscences', 'revelation', 'journal', 'quietude', 'eternity'. Descriptive of his work, his perceptions, of Poh himself, or what he has revealed of himself. He approaches each painting as a process of revelation and inner examination, of trying to order the sequences of his psyche as it responds to the world around him.

Poh has not always painted in abstract - in the late eighties and early nineties, he was known for his dark, textured watercolours of doorways and windows, birdcages sitting idly on crumbling ledges and rails. These soft melancholy works, were beautifully composed and remained for a while Poh's trademark. But that period of working with figuration was foundational in the artist's later abstract works, where he is less mystified by colour and the more rigorous order and symmetry of his late nineties paintings.

The paintings now are very free, very subtle, almost casual. Poh has come to a stage of release in his painting, breaking away from the tyranny of controlling and ordering his painting. He has come to a liberated and easy relationship with canvas and paint, allowing the mystery of each seemingly random stroke to perform a balancing act with the doodle next to it, and across from it.

There is quite a different ordering here, the maturation of Poh's personal ideology has made him take a step from his earlier abstract works which were concerned more with s surface detail of grapping, successfully, with colour, space and geometry.

But Poh has carried on his case with being introspective in his art, and the paintings from this trial are fulfilling his thought and his philosophy. Each painting, now more than ever is a process of strife, and trying to make a balance. To Poh, this is a typically human process, trying to keep harmony; and that there is pain and tryingness in its everyday cyclical run;

"In painting I try to show this strife, this struggle in visual terms. I am happy if I can achieve that in my painting. There is much balancing - after putting a stroke in, I must decide where the next stroke goes. When you do something, there is going to be a reaction. Abstraction is not just placing colours here and there, in the beginning perhaps, but you must look critically at your own work, your work process."

"My thoughts and feeling concealed in each painting are very private. Walking in the park in the morning, the leaves and the dew and the feeling of nature make me go into a new painting. We can look at nature and there is a lot of art work there. Producing art is like the problem of producing nature. You cannot control it too much, you have to be like nature, we are nature. We change. The marks we make in pictograms, archetypal signs and numerals - it is emotional. We have a sense of satisfaction drawing a line."

Revelation of the mechanisms that create paintings, introspection in the midst of quiet, everyday action -- there is order and reason in this new series of paintings that challenge any artificial human-imposed symmetry. It is the order and logic of nature in all her complexity and spontaneity.