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Sunday June 17, 2012

Farmhouse mayhem

It’s no pipe dream. A artist shakes off inhibition and finds himself drawn to all sorts of fantastical creatures.

HIS STUDIO looks out onto deep and varied shades of green, a rainforest teeming with the sights, sounds and smells of the wilderness. Behind it, the landscape is somewhat tame: stalks sway in a padi field and next to it, a durian orchard stands stoically across from a rickety paddock full of farm animals.

For generations, the family living on this property in rural Kelantan have painted. Their tranquil observations of life have been committed to canvas with a simple intention, and these honest depictions of nature’s unpretentious truths have found a ready audience – patrons who appreciate and understand an art that so accurately reflects the elegance of life.

Suhaidi Razi created his art works without thinking about their commercial value. The result is a solo exhibition featuring an eclectic mix of mediums and ideas.

But in life, every now and again, order is broken.

Suhaidi Razi’s current exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, Dream Pipes, is a grandiose departure from the style of his father Razi, and grandfather, Ismail Puteh.

His new works take on an ambitious array of mediums – metals, fibreglass and, well, pillows, along with the usual oil on canvas. Fresh layers of thought enshrine old sources of inspiration; his farm animals cease to be subjects of form and instead, become subjects of fantasy – flying sheep, mechanical hens and symbolic horses come to life against white-washed walls.

Suhaidi’s second solo in almost 11 years, Dream Pipes strays from the boundaries of marketable convention, present in his previous works.

The first in his family to break into the KL art scene with a successful solo exhibition, Rainforest, in 1997, this fine arts post-graduate further diverged from his roots after returning from a year spent expanding his mind in Europe, back in 2001.

He was a changed man; getting “close” to the masters like Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso and Dali left a deep impact, and he found himself especially moved by the surrealist movement.

Filled with a newfound urge to discover what would happen if he let go of his inhibitions and paint what he desired rather than what might look good in someone’s living room, he took up welding and began erecting structures that caused the jaws of villagers to drop as they passed by his workshop in Machang, Kelantan.

Evolute II

Instead of producing commercial art for a living, Suhaidi became a fine arts lecturer at University Teknologi Mara Terengganu. This gave him time to experiment, wildly.

A decade went by before he was ready to show his work to the world again. Passage was held at NN Gallery, KL, in July 2011. Dream Pipes, which opened late last month, is a more ambitious and involved extension of that first offering.

“I still gain inspiration from my farm animals,” the artist says as we sit down to make sense of the bewildering menagerie occupying Galeri Chandan.

The centrepiece, Flying Goat, is a towering feat of technical prowess. Stepping into the main space, it is hard not to marvel first at the spectacle of a helpless metal goat suspended from a huge, leather-bound zeppelin, and then at the physics involved in creating the illusion of its suspension in mid-air.

The eight thin metal ropes which look like they are hanging from the floating structure are, in fact, its base.

Though Suhaidi favours sculptures for their “shock value”, the idea behind this piece “is not so serious”.

“I was in the middle of carrying my goat back to the enclosure and fantasizing about easier solutions. The idea of suspending the goat on a balloon popped into my head!”

The same fantasy is a recurring theme. Flying In The Rain and Sheep And The Flying Sausage are colourful, humorous variations of ideas on how to control his population of farm ungulates, signifying the farcical realities perhaps entertained only in his dreams.

Much of Suhaidi’s work seems coloured with the aesthetics of steam punk, steeped in post-humanist ideas. A metal army of roosting hens strapped with metal hats and temperature gauges appear to cluck about their unappreciated roles in service of their human masters.

The birds in Pigeon Circus, seen flying against time to return to their houses, reflect the first signs of total detachment from his present, Kelantanese reality.

The acrylic on canvas painting marks Suhaidi’s tendency to immerse himself in “old” romantic architectures and machinery – an inanimate parallel in subsequent paintings to other “old” things – ancient life forms and living fossils that embody the rusty and tragic romance of a dead era.

“I am fascinated by the Industrial Revolution, its rustic colours,” he explains. In fact, Suhaidi’s interests led him to embark on an (uncompleted) post-graduate degree in ancient history, way back in 2001, so he could be exposed to and learn about that which he finds so inspiring.

Not surprisingly, archaeology is another pet interest, evident in his Evolute Shell series, an oil on canvas dissection of ancient ammonites.

Last One Standing

His most touching piece of work, however, is influenced by modern times. The Last One Standing, his “most personal” piece, features a lone horse, an animal he started drawing a few years ago after purchasing a black Arab stallion for the farm, because he likes horses, and wanted to study its anatomical form for his art.

Against muted shades of rusty blues and mossy greens, the painting depicts the horse’s mechanical innards exposed at the rear. It stands, ears pricked, in a place of desolation and abandonment with nothing but a fleeting flock of black crows for company, as they swoop past the wreckage, screaming cries of foreboding.

“The horse represents the spirit of the Palestinian people,” Suhaidi says.

The painting is markedly different from his other works. Indeed most of his paintings and sculptures flit nonchalantly between sections of a vast and unpredictable story board, offering insights into the unique composition of thoughts, fantasies and feelings, portrayed through a series of free associations, in the artist’s mind.

Guard looks sinister at first, like a post-apocalyptic commentary on the anti-hero of modern-day warfare. But the intimidating metal on fibreglass sculpture is a reflection of Suhaidi’s affection for Japanese anime and anime’s obsession with antique guns, ancient weaponry, urban robotics and the industrial revolution.

Dream Pipes is on until June 22 at Galeri Chandan, 15, Jalan Gelenggang, Bukit Damansara, KL. Viewing from 10am to 6pm, Mon-Fri, and noon to 5pm, Sat & Sun. Visit www.galerichandan.com or call 03-2095 5360 for details.

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