One of the spectacular pleasures of teaching good art students is that you don't have to teach them. You coach a little, but mostly you just stand on the platform and watch the train go by. Yek and Tim Bavington were exactly this sort of student. They enrolled in graduate school at the university in Las Vegas in the mid-nineties as part of a group of gifted students whom I now think of as Theory Refugees. At that particular, historical moment, post-structuralist education in American universities had become more oppressive than liberating, and Las Vegas, for obvious reasons, began attracting students from all over the world who were less idealogical dissenters than a new breed of adventurers, freebooters and crazy people—children of the cosmopolitan world who wanted to be artists in that world. (Apropos of this: One of Yek's first artistic acts was to change his name from Yek Wong to Yek—his ultra-polite way of excusing himself from the tribal strictures of identity politics.)
In truth, The Theory Refugees came to Las Vegas for the same reasons everybody else does, for the same reason I did—for serious, high risk pleasure and the benison of a visible environment. More specifically, they came to live in a city where the modalities of statistical abstraction do battle daily with the rough contingencies of the visible world. That's what gambling is all about, and that's what Yek's paintings and Tim Bavington's paintings are about as well - That dreamy moment when the world and our idea of it come together in an atmosphere of sensuous abstraction. Abstraction becomes palpable in this moment and the palpable world takes on the shape of our expectations. Thus, in the act of completing a good painting or winning hand of cards, statistical probabilities and real-time contingencies converge and we become, just for that moment, one with the world in which we live.
This, however, is not to credit Las Vegas with anything beyond being the permissive site of Yek's and Tim's separate synthesis. What they have now they brought with them. Yek arrived in Vegas from Singapore (via the University of Texas in Austin), and he remains now what he was when he arrived, a Pacific Rim cosmopolitan with a taste for refined atmospheres, exquisite gestures and low-temperature extravagance. Not long after his arrival in Vegas, Yek began making long, horizontal paintings upon whose curving surfaces Chinese calligraphy floated in pale atmospheres - Mandarin Ruschas we called them. Gradually, the calligraphy began moving to the edges, the supports became square, curving in on themselves so the surface disappeared, and the atmospheres began to predominate. The paintings took on the aspect of deco-portals, elegant objects opening into ice-cream infinity. Tim Bavington arrived in Las Vegas from Shepherd's Bush in London (via Art Center in Pasadena) and he remains now what he was then, the thinking man's Mod—the progeny of Quadrophrenia and Bridget Riley's great paintings from the Sixties. When he arrived in Las Vegas, Bavington was painting hard-surfaced, west-coast monochromes, studying Bridget Riley's work from the seventies, drawing comic books for The Simpsons, and making perfect forgeries of Ed Ruscha paintings like Dixie Red Seville Vegas Plates because he couldn't afford to buy one. Then one day, almost over night, all four of these fugitive endeavors came together in a series of small airbrushed paintings of fuzzy stripes in cartoon colors. They had it all and looked for all the world like neon in the mist.
Considered as a pair, Yek and Tim Bavington's painting share two areas of commonality—beyond their rather obvious penchant for artificial color. First, both of them have devised methods of paintings that allow for a high degree of spontaneity that is totally occluded in the finished product, so as not to mitigate the viewer's pleasure by proclaiming the pleasure of the artist. The free calligraphic gestures that frame the receding spaces in Yek's paintings are hardened in the final painting, and the line by line, color by color, improvisation that moves Bavington's musical stripes across the canvas take on a cool plasticity in the finished product. Finally, both artists owe a debt to the work of Ed Rushca and Bob Irwin who, in their separate ways, define the domain of art as an irrevocably pictoral atmosphere, neither perfectly abstract nor completely represtational, but somewhere in between, where our expectations blend with the world beyond our knowing. Yek and Tim live there.