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Malaysian Zoo Tiger (马来西亚动物园的老虎), 1965, Oil on Canvas, 76 x 102 cm
In his poem “The Tyger”, Romantic poet William Blake contemplates the animal’s form, musing that “Tyger Tyger, burning bright,/ In the forests of the night;/ What immortal hand or eye,/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”. Entranced by the simultaneous strength and elegance possessed by the tiger, Blake’s poem captures the awe one feels upon first encountering such a creature. Koeh Sia Yong’s painting, rendered on a large 76 x 102 cm canvas, evokes a similar sort of awe in the viewer. Despite being inspired by tigers he saw in a Malaysian zoo, the artist renders the enclosure in such a way that one feels as if it is set in the very forests of Malaysia itself. Vines crawl along the forest floor, trailing hungrily towards a shining river in the background. Viewed in person, the painting’s scale almost makes the tiger life-sized. Lounging on a fallen tree, lazily flicking its tail, the tiger’s fiery fur pops out against the dense crowd of dark trees. Using constructive strokes, or “broken” brushstrokes, Koeh layers orange and white colours, giving the tiger’s fur a rougher texture. Though the tiger seems to be looking away into the distance, staring at some far off prey perhaps, one almost feels its gaze pinning them in place. In all, the piece presents the naturalistic beauty of not just the tiger, but the forests as well.
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