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Howie Tsui, "Mantis Prey," ink, acrylic and collage on mylar, 2007.
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Howie Tsui, "Dead Sea," Chinese paint, acrylic and ink on mylar, 2009.
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Howie Tsui, "Bat Pool," ink, acrylic and collage on mylar, 2007.
HOWIE TSUI, Of Manga + Mongrels
Gallery Jones, Vancouver
July 17 – Aug 7, 2010
By Helena Wadsley
A pile of blistered and scarred dog remains, interspersed with the occasional fish head - the stuff of nightmares - are the images to be found in Howie Tsui’s drawing series, Of Manga + Mongrels. While this Hong Kong - born, Ottawa resident artist has lived all over the world, his work is most strongly influenced by Japanese culture.
Much of Tsui’s work is about personal cultural assimilation. Influenced by Japanese artist Hokusai’s (1760-1849) manga (“rough sketch”) drawings that catalogued both the natural and fantastical world, Tsui’s drawings borrow Hokusai’s gestural style, as well as use his unique collaged reproductions. In Mantis Prey, Tsui incorporates two Hokusai heads collaged onto bent bodies; the female’s bottom transforms into the head of a praying mantis - it could be either a hybrid creature or a metamorphosis. This is the mongrel that Tsui sees himself to be as he shifts between cultures. While his intention may have been to integrate classical manga (gestural) with contemporary manga (smooth, flattened, and cute), the contemporary style is subordinate to Tsui’s strong attraction to the graceful lines of Hokusai’s drawings.
The exhibition included five paintings done directly on the wall - Tsui painted onto mulberry paper attached to the wall, which allowed the paint to seep through to the wall before the paper is pulled off. The result is ghostly renderings, faintly recognizable as floating heads. Tsui says “Metaphorically, the ‘life’ of the drawing is transferred onto the wall, while the crumpled and torn paper alludes to a lifeless body.” While the painting process is interesting, these images lack the visual punch of his drawings.
Another series of Tsui’s works entitled Horror Fables, were shown earlier this year in monster, a group exhibition at the West Vancouver Museum. These works are crammed with imagery of a nightmare world. Dead Sea, a five-panel scene in this series, depicts an epic battle between monsters and humans on a swirling sea. This series is more narrative than Of Manga + Mongrels and to me, is more successful at capturing the viewer’s curiosity.
Of Manga + Mongrels also includes three small-scale figurative Tsui drawings which allude to the 16th to 18th century Shunga paintings of Japan. These erotic paintings in the style of “ukiyo-e” are like Rorschach ink blots, though the imagery is not so incidental. Bat Pool, for example, resembles two figures wearing only sanitary masks huddled in a black pool formed in the cranium of a tusked bat. For Tsui, “the saccharine figures in sinister contexts are ostensibly horrific but have beauty, love and lust embedded within.”
Tsui’s rite of passage in Of Manga + Mongrels has resulted in fascinating images and though compelling and disturbing, leave the viewer wanting to see how these ‘mongrels’ will get along as his work evolves in the future.