Covid-19 Exclusives: A Year Marked by the Passing Away of Artists Across the World

THE DEATH FROM coronavirus of China celebrity watercolourist Liu Shou Xiang on February 13, 2020, in Wuhan, marked the annus horribilis of a lethal disease that has killed 1.66 million people and infected 75.28 million (as of December 17). Wuhan was the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A professor of the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in China, Liu was a top bill in a host of international watercolour exhibitions and workshops. He was just two months shy of 62 when he succumbed to the disease that went on to bring the world to a virtual standstill.

China's renowned watercolourist Liu Shou Xiang passed away from coronavirus in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic.

Other notable artists who died from the disease were Amsterdam-based Thai National Artist Chavalit Soemprungsuk (1939-April 20), Brazilian Op Art-cum-kinechromatic artist Abraham Palatnik (1928-May 9), and Eco-feminist artist Helen Daphnis-Aylon (1932-April 7). Chavalit was a Silpakornist who stayed on in Holland after his early art tutelage in Amsterdam in the 1960s, while Palatnik, known for his motorised light sculptures, took part in the first Sao Paulo Biennale in 1951.

In the wider arts spectrum, others who died included Disney animator Ann Sullivan (April 13), Italian architect Victtorio Gregotti (March 15) and cinematographer Allen Daviau (April 15).

The year 2020 snuffed out four big names in art. They were tar-pau (wrap-up) installation artist Christo (1935-May 31); British designer extraordinaire-restaurateur Sir Terence Conran (1931-September 12); German-born Ulay (1943-March 2); and seminal Conceptual artist John Baldessari (1931-January 2).

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff mounted several large-scale environmental installations dubbed “revelations through concealments” together with Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon (1939-2009) in landmarks such as the Reichstag of Berlin, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and New York Central Park (“Gates”).

"Gates" at New York's Central Park by Christo Vladimirov Javacheff.

Work by bird artist Lau Seong Leng.

Sir Terence Conran founded the Design Museum in London and the Habitat contemporary homeware giant, and expounded his design philosophy in more than 50 books.

Ulay Frank Uwe Laysiepen was the collaborator with performance-art doyenne Marina Abramovic from 1976 to 1988, culminating in their dramatic split that ended with a walk from opposite ends of China’s Great Wall. He succumbed to lymphatic cancer in Ljubljana.

Baldessari is known for his cremation of his paintings (1970) and his works featuring appropriated images and found photography. He was awarded the Golden Lion Award in the 2009 Venice Biennale and the National Medal of Arts in 2014, and had several retrospectives in the US, Europe and Canada.

On the local front, the Death Roll reads:

Kamarudin Kamali.

Royal Professor Ungku Aziz (1922-December 15), Nora Abdullah (Nor Zaharah Abdullah, 1955-September 2), Ung Chee Hwa (1979-August 7), Lau Seong Leng (1967-May 10), academician-artist Fadillah Abdullah (March 27), Kamarudin Kamali (1959-June 17), Suhaimi Abdul Wahab (aka Mi Pak Lah, 1961-October 7), Lum Weng Kong (1952-November 20) and Muid Abdul Latif (1979-April 11).

Intellectual and economist Ungku Aziz, dubbed a Renaissance Man, set up Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and the Asian Art Museum when serving as vice-chancellor at Universiti Malaya; Nora was a pioneering woman cartoonist; Ung was a winner of the 2000 Nokia Art Award (he has a twin brother Chee Hau who is also an artist); Lau painted birds; Kamarudin was self-taught and a former electrical engineer; Muid founded Digital Malaya Project; Suhaimi died in a motor accident in Langkawi; sculptor Zulkifli Idris a.k.a. Zul Bhai a.k.a Zul Batu (1959-December 16); and Lum oscillated between Chinese and Western art with his last solos being at PinkGuy gallery in KL.

Special tribute should be given to the great Malaysian bilingual poet-essayist Salleh Ben Joned (1941-October 29).

Professor Vichok Mukdamanee.

Apart from Chavalit, Southeast Asia also lost three other big names, namely Made Wianta (1949-November 13), Professor Vichok Mukdamanee (1953-June 7) and Gabriel Barredo (1957-January 6).

Made Wianta, who did paintings, performance and installations, represented Indonesia at the 2003 Venice Biennale and had a Retrospective at the Rudana Museum in Bali in 2000. Academician-artist Vichok was the director of the Art Centre of Thailand’s Silpakorn University where his son also teaches. Barredo is a pioneer of kinetic art in the Philippines which won him the Singapore Art Award (precursor of the Asean Art Award), and took part in prestigious biennials in Havana (1985) and Sao Paulo (1994).

Myanmar lost painter-performance artist Nyein Chan Su, better known as “NCS” (1973-February 24), who co-founded Studio Square Art Gallery in Yangon. He had a solo at the Richard Koh FA in KL, in May-June 2014 (“Gold In The Red”).

In Singapore Kwei Chin Pen (1927-March 13), the founder of the Sam Yi Finger-Painting Society and a disciple of the great finger-painter Wu Tsai Yen, was among three dead notables. She was also the first female president of the Society of Chinese Artists, but was better known to have taught Chinese to former premier Lee Kuan Yew.

The Myanmar artist Nyein Chan Su, popularly known as NCS.

Peter Beard.

The others were Indonesian-born Tay Boon Pin (1936- April 18) and Johor-born Teo Kim Liong, nee Zhang Jin Long, (1938-May 2). Tay, a co-founder of Singapore’s aberrant Equator Art Society (1956-1972), studied at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA) in 1953-1956 (he migrated to Singapore in 1945); while Teo was a computer engineer who studied at NAFA and turned to art full-time in 1994.

Thailand also lost politician-environmental artist Kraisak Choonhaven (1947-June 11), Dr. Suwat Saenkattiyarak; Indonesia Sulistyono Hilda (1967-February 22) and woodcarver-artist I Wayan Sika (1949-January 4), who founded Sanggar Dewata and Sika Contemporary Art Gallery.

India lost three important artists in Akbar Padamsee (1928-January 6), Zarina Hashmi (1937-April 25 in London) and Satish Gujral (1925-March 26).

Akbar, winner of the 2010 Padma Bhuser Award, was inspired by the Progressives such as MF Husain, SH Raza and Francis Newton Souza, and sold for USD1.4mil at Sotheby’s New York auction. Zarina represented India at the 2011 Venice Biennale, studied at Atelier 17 in Paris, and was based in New York for 40 years. Satish, the younger brother of former Indian prime minister Inder Kumar, was apprenticed to the Mexican muralists Rivera and Siqueiros.

Rising China multimedia artist Li Hui, whose lasers and light installations are in the Pinault Collection, died suddenly on May 4 at the age of 43.

South African-born Conceptual artist Ian Wilson, who used the formless non-physical expressions of language as art, died on April 16, aged 80. Austrian Lois Weinberger, who repurposed plants as poetic gestures (Documenta 1997), died on April 20 at the age of 72. Death also claimed Post-Minimalist light-and-neon sculptor Keith Sonnier (1941-July 18) and electronic sculptor Alan Rath (1959-October 27).

Ken Spears and Joe Ruby, co-creators of Scooby-Doo.

Flamboyant wildlife photographer Peter Beard (1938-April 19), once Mr Cheryl Tiegs, led the Photographers Death List, the others being Chris Killip (1946-October 13), who depicted the working class of northeast England; Elsa Dorfman (April 26, 1937-May 30), known for her giant Polaroids; Vivat Pitayaviriyakul a.k.a. S.H. Lim, known for his portraits of glamorous Thai beauties between 1962 and 1987; Puerto Rican Adal Maldonado (1948-December 7); and US-based Indonesian-born photographer-model Dylan Sada (1984-November 9).

In the field of animation, the world lost: Scooby-Doo co-creators Ken Spears (1938-November 6) and Joe Ruby (1933-August 26); MAD magazine cartoonist Mort Drucker (1929-April 9); Tom and Jerry’s Gene Deitch (1924-April 16), and Asterix and Obelix co-creator Albert Uder (1927-March 24).

A work by Asterix and Obelix co-creator Albert Uder.

Tom and Jerry co-creator Gene Deitch.

Further deaths included Egyptian sculptor Adam Henein (1929-May 22), who was entrusted with the restoration of the Sphinx of Giza; and Iranian-American sculptor-architect Siah Armajani (1939-August 27).

Requiems also for: Jackie Saccoccio (1963-December 5); Suh Se Ok (1929-November 21); American steel sculptor Beverly Pepper (1922-February 5), Photo-Realist painter Robert Bechtle (1936-September 24); Venezuelan Luchita Hurtado (1920-August 13); Ron Gorchov (1930-August 18); Algerian-French Mahjoub Ben Belia (1946-June 11); Post-Modernist African-American painter-printmaker Emma Amas (1937-May 20); Spanish painter Juan Genoves (1930- May 15); Chicago Imagist Sullen Rocca (1943-March 29); New Imagists Susan Rothenberg (1945-May 19); sculptor-designer Glenn Goodacie (1939-April 13); psychedelic poster artist Wes Wilson (1937-January 24); Tatsuo Ikeda (1928-November 7); Korean-American radiant monochrome artist Young Il Ahn (1934-December 6); and visionary publisher-galleries (notably of Basquiat) Enrico Navarra (1953-July 21).

Ooi Kok Chuen, art-writer and journalist, is the author of MAHSURI: A Legend Reborn (Ooi Peeps Publishing), an adult contemporary fantasy “movel” (a novel conceived as a mock movie) spun from a local legend.

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