Ren Zhen Yu's artworks aren't just simple colour filters

Icons imagined

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Ren Zhen Yu

Chinese artist Ren Zhen Yu's technique is a masterclass in redefining what it means to be an icon

Although Tianjin artist Ren Zhen Yu's work can be identified by his vibrant use of colour, he sees coloured photographs as a void. "When I see coloured photos, I am lost and void of creativity and imagination," said the 41-year-old in a video interview for Ode To Art, a contemporary art gallery in Singapore. Working based off black and white photos, the artist has made a name of himself through his reimagined paintings of historical and political icons.

Returning to Singapore with a solo exhibition, '一个人.一个世界 (One Man, One World)' after 10 years, Ren will introduce 20 new works that feature the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Lee Kuan Yew and Bruce Lee. A household name in China for his depictions of Mao Zedong and other political figures, his painting of Lee recently fetched at S$500,000. Other icons he has depicted include Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. Combining expressionist, abstract and figurative styles, Ren refers to black and white photos — a medium which gives him "multiple senses at one glance" — and reproduces them in his own interpretation of colour.

Using a palette knife, the wide spectrum of colours are built layer upon layer, reinforcing the portrayal of icons from different perspectives. Ren uses the interaction between brightness and colour to present the diversity of these icons we're so used to seeing on screen. His loose and soft textures play with tones, exemplifying the eroding power of time and investigating the concept of what makes a figure iconic and the perceptions that come with such a term. Scroll through the gallery above for another look at the people you've come to admire, or hate.

Ode To Art is located at Raffles City Shopping Centre, #01-36E/F.


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