Lobby of Penthouse Floor, Wisma R&D, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In the early 90s, Soh Boon Kiong met Nishitani Ikuko in Paris while he was studying art and French there. The two married and settled in Amagasaki, and had a son and a daughter. Nishitani, too, is an artist, who graduated from the textile department of the University of Seika in Kyoto. Today, Amagasaki has become Soh’s second home. He has studios both in Japan and Malaysia. In the 58 years of Malaysia’s independence, he was the first ethnic Chinese resident artist at the National University of Malaysia from 2010 to 2014, a great honour in the Malaysian art world.
Amagasaki is also the birthplace of Kazuo Shiraga of the Gutai avant-garde movement. Living in Amagasaki is living under the aura of Shiraga, as though his spirit, and those of other Getai masters, still wander the streets of Nishinomiya and Ashiya nearby the artist’s studio.
All artists are sensitive to light and colour; as such, Soh perceives France, Malaysia, and Japan in completely different ways. It is like a kind of “spiritual cross-discipline”, or a cultural hybridity.
Every morning, Soh prepares his breakfast and takes it up to the attic, where he scrutinises the unfinished works of the day before, and contemplates the directions in which to take them. The studio is very quiet, with only a slanted window through which one can see the sky and clouds overhead. The light of the Japanese skies, too, is different from other places. Each day, looking at this noble sky, is like looking at hope, which inevitably bestows one with a sense of awe and respect, which is naturally reflected in the artist’s work.
Soh is fluent in Chinese, English, French, Malay, and Japanese, as a result, his Welt Anschauung is also a combination of East and West. His art incorporates undercurrents of Chinese and Japanese culture, concepts of traditional ink landscapes, with the colours of French impressionism. His oeuvres can be appreciated through the perspectives of Song Dynasty landscape paintings, the humbleness of Japanese aesthetics, Baroque, Chinese calligraphy, and the music of Chopin. A keen chess player, Soh plans and structures his works rigorously. The mountains, winds, oceans, and moon are all present in his work, strung together with the currents of his creativity and splashed across the canvas, flowing where they should, and stopping when they must.