Lot 53

b. Penang, 1929


Signed 'LJFOR' (lower centre)
Oil and enamel on canvas
70cm x 148cm

Private Collection, Penang.

ESTIMATE  RM 15,000 - 25,000


A vibrant piece, Old and New Interlocked features mosaics of symbolic shapes and human faces outlined in broad black strokes against a bold red background. Executed on a panorama landscape, this energetic work is reminiscent of a hieroglyph (Greek for "sacred writing"), a character of the ancient Egyptian writing system in which during the Renaissance era, the hieroglyph was an artistic representation of an esoteric idea.

In his monograph titled My Name is Fire (The Art of Lee Joo For), published in conjunction of his 70th birthday in 1999, the artist has written an essay entitled Symbolism in My Art which explains the many symbols he uses in his paintings and one of them is the human face apparent in this piece. The below excerpt is the artist’s account:

“My next favourite image is the human face, male and female. My eyes draw, register and record every face and profile. I look at the ordinary, the plain, the pretty, the beautiful, the handsome, the ugly, the stressed, the relaxed, the angst-ridden, the inspired, the hairy, the bald, the angry, the ferocious, the meek, the urgent. I paint them frontal, with soft or staring eyes, or in profile with high or low noses, humble or aggressive jaws or chins… In multi-face paintings I have the compelling habit of making them confront each other in given scenarios or simply in space. Or else, the faces stare at you, each one caught in his or her own thoughts. I also love to interlock and fuse adjacent faces in a kind of Picassoic way letting them share eyes, noses or mouths. It is my visual avenue to suggesting that all men and women are interlocked in one common emotion or fate.”

Lee Joo For was awarded a Malayan Government scholarship to study at the Brighton College of Art, England in 1959. He furthered his studies at the Camberwell School of Art, London in 1962, and at the Royal College of Art, London in 1963 where his fellow students included David Hockney. On his return, he taught at the St Xavier’s Institution in 1948. He is famous for original plays such as The Flood, Son of Zen, and his best-known play in Australia is The Call of Guadalupe. He was given a Retrospective by The Art Gallery, Penang in 1995. In 2008, the Penang State Art Gallery honoured him with a major Retrospective. He also won the Best Playwright of the Year (Malaysian Drama Festival) titles from 1969 to 1971, and Best Radio Playwright (Singapore) in 1969.


My Name is Fire (The Art of Lee Joo For) , The Art Gallery, Penang, 1999.