Touched by thundering grace
There’s plenty to marvel at when you set foot in the newly opened St. Regis Kuala Lumpur: its elegant old-world interiors with generous touches of modern-day glamour, the hotel’s signature butler service, and a spectacular wine cellar with a gold-tiled domed ceiling. Of course, it’s equally impossible not to notice their magnificent private art collection, specially curated and commissioned by Carmen Chua, the Chief Executive Officer of ONE IFC Sdn Bhd, the owner and developer behind the luxury hotel.
Such was Chua’s foresight that she approached Welsh artist Mark Evans – whose pieces can command prices of up to £500,000 – as early as 2010 to commission Grace Thunders. A diptych of two installations made up of 18 hand-etched leather panels, it’s a piece that can justifiably be described as being of epic proportions, with each installation measuring 494 cm by 455 cm. Rather fittingly, it’s one of the first works of art that guests at The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur will take in, given its location behind the front desk in the lobby.
The murals’ theme rests squarely upon the ‘Sport of Kings’, which the St. Regis’ founding family, the Astors, were famously fond of – so much so that they were frequently spotted at polo matches on Manhattan’s Governors Island. Here, a fast-paced polo game is played out across the two installations, with players’ mallets poised to strike and powerful horses charging at full speed. “This depicts my view of how polo should be seen: a fierce rush toward the ball, a violent collision, muscle and sinew. Brutal yet beautiful, and elegant yet raw," Evans explains.
It’s worth noting that Evans put himself at considerable risk while exploring the piece’s subject matter by burying himself beneath the grass and soil of a polo field with a camera, shooting horses and riders as they swung their mallets at a ball placed just three feet from his lens. “I needed to be in harm’s way," he says. “The inspiration was to take the viewer to a place they’ve never been before and show the game from a new point of view.
“The actual shoot was carnage and mayhem – we wanted to capture the perfect shot and not die trying. The players are so fearless and the horses so bombproof that they would have ridden right through us, had the riders not been experts. The hooves thundered inches from our camera and head, so the adrenaline was palpable, just as the fear was very real. But the shots I got were worth it – I don’t think polo has ever been photographed like this before. We felt like war photographers directly on the battle lines."
Add that to the fact that it took Evans three years to etch his way along the surface of the leather panels using knives and scalpel blades, and Grace Thunders becomes all the more impressive. It is a work that speaks of precision and immense dedication through its micro-sculpted incisions into Scandinavian-sourced, Italian-tanned leather that come to within a tenth of a millimeter. Commanding and utterly striking, it might be the St. Regis’ most daring way of paying homage to polo yet.