ARTicle | Thomas Ngan: Embracing Hope in the Fog

By Helena Hau
November 16, 2023
ARTicle | Thomas Ngan: Embracing Hope in the Fog

This ARTicle Thomas Ngan: Embracing Hope in the Fog was extracted from an interview of the artist by Helena Hau, Assistant Managing Content Editor of ETNet, and published online on 16 November 2023.


In Thomas Ngan's paintings, there is always a thin layer of fog, within which there is a hint of light, making people wonder if the light permeates the fog, or the fog shrouds the light. This gently dazzling light sprinkles through countless leaves, illuminating the face, shoulder, and body of the lady lying within.


She rests among a cluster of pure white roses and eucalyptus leaves, with an even roseate blush on her pale skin and tinted to her ears. Under the sunlight, she gently caresses or plays with the flowers in her hands. Gazing upon this artwork, Ngan mumbles with his deep tones: "Besides funerals, when else do we have the chance to be surrounded by so many flowers?"


Thomas Ngan, His Daughter, 2023, Oil on linen, 77.7 x 104.1 cm


Finding one's own life in what appears to be a process of death


It took Ngan one year to finish His Daughter, which allowed him time to sit with his thoughts while immersing himself in artistic creation. The finished painting is on show as the centrepiece of his solo exhibition at 3812 Gallery, which marks a turning point in his art journey.


Beside His Daughter there is a quote on the wall: "It’s part of our nature to appreciate them. Same way babies appreciate sunset and beautiful colours, we are born to be amazed by life." Ngan's paintings demonstrate different ways to present the beauty of life. Perhaps through the pure white roses, eucalyptus leaves that symbolise grace, or the fog and light that bring dreams and hope, Ngan wants to express awakening and recognition of oneself. "I want to reveal a baptism-like feeling of finding one's own life in what appears to be a process of death."


Thomas Ngan, Gianna, 2023, Oil on linen, 91.4 x 142.2 cm


Every painting has its own voice


The exhibition "We Dream for that Light" features 22 of Ngan's paintings from the past three years. The change and growth in his art is noticeable over time. Paintings from 2020 such as AwakedCandle, and Lost but Found, though they depict the same subjects of young ladies and flowers, see a classical and exquisite touch with a hint of rigour. As Ngan reflected, "A couple of years ago in 2020, I would spend a lot of time outlining the whole picture layer by layer following a traditional process. Later, I started letting go more and more."


 Thomas Ngan, Awaked, 2020, Oil on linen, 30 x 52.5 cm
 Thomas Ngan, Candle, 2020, Oil on linen, 25 x 30 cm


His practice has evolved since then, as Ngan now allows more freedom in artistic creation and each piece finds its unique expression. Forgiving Ourselves is the largest and the only diptych in the exhibition, of around two metres high and three metres wide. Ngan experimented with a new approach, without using a pencil sketch, he squeezed the paint directly onto the canvas. Ngan explained: "I negotiate with each piece instead of having too much control over either myself or the art. And I knew this painting called for something different." He draws a comparison to watercolour, where some masters advise to "let the water speak," while oil painters rarely grant such freedom – one essential of oil painting is it allows control over every detail, whether it's a single strand of hair or a certain texture. "But what I want to explore is to see what might emerge if I let go," Ngan said. ‘Letting go’ does not imply complete detachment, but taking time and slowing down, which allows the artist and the painting to find harmony and reveal the beauty that emerges from the chaos. "In this process, I still make choices," said Ngan. "But it is through settling that new elements emerge - different brushstrokes, textures and colours - each painting finds its own voice in this way."


Thomas Ngan, Forgiving Ourselves, 2023, Oil on linen, 203.2 x 294.6 cm (diptych)

Thomas Ngan, Timeline, 2023, Oil on linen, 91.4 x 142.2 cm


Time, fog, light, and hope


Ngan's paintings carry a cold vibe emanating from his use of a cool colour palette. "Cool tones can create detachment or even something supernatural, which show a sense of spirituality and out of this world," he noted. Such ‘detachment’ is also reflected in the misty atmospheres exude a romantic yet mysterious and uncertain quality. "I feel a lot of uncertainty in this world, but I still believe that there are things worth expecting, even if fog veils it," Ngan said. As a metaphor for uncertainty, fog also nourishes hope, he continued: "Without it, how could we dream of better futures?" For Ngan, hope is derived from one’s imagination as you don't know what the future will be like, so you can only believe in it. “When you can only believe, it feels like all the light is hidden in the fog."


Thomas Ngan, In Rain, 2023, Oil on linen, 40.6 x 30.5 cm


Looking at Ngan’s paintings, you may marvel at the beauty and radiance of the rose that is kissed by light, and appreciate its distinctiveness amidst the eucalyptus leaves. Yet Ngan suggests what we need to cherish the most is the invisible and intangible, as the depicted subjects of no matter leaves, flowers or young ladies are all rhetoric. The state of peace revealed by the painting might be haunting, but Ngan wishes viewers to ponder life's depths beyond his canvases. “Keep your eyes on that light amidst the unknown, knowing that one day when the fog is cleared, you will find yourself in the garden, surrounded by grace,” he said. Through calm reflection, his misty dreams guide us to cherish the most important things in our lives.


Thomas Ngan, Turn, 2023, Oil on linen, 30.5 x 50.8 cm