Malaysian artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris uses vivid larger-than-life images to explore mortality.
Several years ago, while on a flight from Malaysia to London to visit his sick mother, the artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris found himself contemplating the meaning of life and death.
Hasanul found himself reflecting on topics such as fate, sin, reward, life, death, memories and fantasies, in a manner he described as “a non-stop slideshow.”
With his mother’s death, the artist found himself moved to channel these thoughts into art. And these results can be seen in his latest exhibition, Back From Planet Luvox, currently showing at the Richard Koh Fine Art gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
Luvox is one of the brand names of Fluvoxamine, a legal anti-depressant drug the artist has been taking since late 2013 to help recover from a dark phase ignited by his mother’s passing in 2011, a few days after his first solo art exhibition, Clash Of The Pigments.
“The drug is for developing my serotonin, or emotions in the brain, like happiness. But sometimes I feel that making artwork makes me feel better. It’s meditative, therapeutic and spiritual,” said Hasanul, 36.
Hasanul was trained at Mara University of Technology, UiTM, in Perak. He is critically acclaimed, having won, among other awards, the Young Contemporary Arts Award in 2007 at the National Visual Arts Gallery and the Incentive Award at the Open Show held at the Shah Alam Gallery.
The works in Back From Planet Luvox display his search for balance between the two most important elements in his life’s art practice; the physical and the spiritual.
The exhibition is more than a story of bouncing back to life; it also depicts the artist’s attempts at understanding his past.
Despite the exhibition’s cosmic title, Hasanul’s art pieces are really an exploration of “inner space”, namely his memories of his life in three different settings. These are of his time living in London, his experiences teaching secondary school in Borneo, and growing up with his mother.
The artist revealed that he found the preliminary stages of artistic creation to be more challenging than the actual process of creation.
“For me, the initial part of making art such as brainstorming ideas, making sketches, getting the right material and researching are the toughest parts,” said Hasanul.
“For example, in my work Prozac, Luvox And Everything Nice, I thought the colour of the crab should be as if it had been cooked, but at the same time, I wanted it to still be alive. This was because its eyes weren’t grey, but I wanted those parts to look like cataracts. I made several ‘dummies’ and repeated the tones and colours until I got what I really wanted, until it was perfect. It was finished after two years,” he revealed. Much of his work is highly abstract, featuring surreal collections of items and creatures with vivid, almost psychedelic coloured backgrounds.
To create these visually-striking pieces, Hasanul used a variety of materials, such as enamel paint, acrylic, glitter and rhinestone. These included items collected during his stay in Borneo, including bottlecaps he gathered from the bar below his apartment!
Hasanul said some of his artwork centred on a recurring image in his head, which was a small flower garden found in front of his childhood home, where every late afternoon, he and his mother would look at birds bathing.
Another recurring image in Hasanul’s work is that of crabs, which can be seen in works such as Incredible Fusion Party (2012) and Weaving Vomit (2014).
“I was from a village near the sea. The crab is one of the images which is familiar to me. It is a symbol of tides,” he said. This crustacean motif is also prominent in Wisky Selasih Invasion (2012), which features a giant flower-covered crab in the centre of a spider web covered with various insects.
“Visually, the work has a varied tone; it’s colourful, and very detailed. There are illusions of chaos, death, growth and intrusion all happening at the same time harmoniously. It was actually an early piece from this series and among the hardest to finish.” In some of his other works, such as Peace In The Valley and While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks By Night, Hasanul warps classic LP covers, adding darkly humorous details and his trademark colours.
“I ‘invade’ the LP covers by trying to impose new meanings and images on them,” he said.
Asked about the future, Hasanul said he was working on some ideas, including one art project that would incorporate some of his mother’s old clothing.
So has creating and exhibiting art helped him to understand his memories better?
“Of course I have more understanding of my works now, although I feel my memories have become more complex and intricate. Sometimes I feel that I’m working on a ‘puzzle’, which will never be solved,” concluded Hasanul.
> Hasanul Isyraf Idris’ Back From Planet Luvox is showing at Richard Koh Fine Art, Lot No. 2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village II, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru in Kuala Lumpur till April 30. Free admission. Opens daily: 10am to 10pm. Call 03-2283 3677 or visit www.rkfineart.com for details.