Haafiz Shahimi fires up the art scene through the scorching technique of pyrography.
Having your work called a joke is probably one of the most unpleasant things that can be experienced by an artist.
This, however, may not be the case for Haafiz Shahimi. The Kedahan from Sungai Petani is one of the few artists in the region practising pyrography: a unique printing process which involves heating up metal blocks to create artistic images.
As the story goes, he was meeting up with some friends one day when one of them made a joke about the fiery nature of his craft.
“Before this, I usually did geometric patterns,” says Haafiz, 28, during an interview. “But one of my friends was joking around, and asked, ‘Why don’t you do a pattern of a fish?’ Then it can be ikan bakar!”
“So it started from a funny thing! Later, I cut the shape of an ikan kembung out of a metal block, heated it, and printed it. And I was surprised the piece got a good response!”
Haafiz has his monotype pyrography works on display now at the Core Design Gallery in Subang Jaya, Selangor as part of his first solo exhibition, RAGE: Raising Awareness of Greater Existence.
Apart from his pyrographic works, the exhibition will also be showcasing his oil paintings and charcoal drawings. The show features 14 works. Many of his paintings, such as Kami Mudah Lupa and Kembali Bernafas, are brimming with bold strokes of movement, with Haafiz chanelling his background as a B-boy and silat practitioner into his art.
Some will remember him dancing or “action painting” on a canvas at the Nando’s Peri-fy Your Art presentation in Kuala Lumpur back in 2012.
I met the artist for an interview in an outdoor studio in USJ, Selangor, where he was working on his exhibition. Long haired and jovial, his clothing speckled with paint, Haafiz seemed quite an animal lover, showing me some of the pet birds in the studio.
When it comes to art, however, fishes are one of his major themes. One piece, for example, features a school of fish, arranged to form a portrait of the artist. The title? Self-Fish.
“In Malay, selfish means sombong, but it’s not a narcissistic thing! I just like the humour. I like that people will be wondering about it. I hope it encourages people to reflect about themselves,” adds Haafiz with a chuckle.
Another piece, untitled at the time of the interview, will incorporate elements of wayang kulit. An image of a fish, done on a two-surface print through either pyrography or oils, will be illuminated, resulting in a unique double image formed through the interplay of light and shadow.
How did Haafiz get into pyrography? The same reason many people go into art to begin with: as a form of rebellion.
“I got into pyrography when I was doing my degree. I was majoring in print making at the time. There were all these conventional ways of printmaking: silkscreen, lithography, etchings, that sort of thing. But I was rebellious in those days. I liked to explore possibilities. I was seeking other ways of making visual art,” explains Haafiz.
He graduated in early 2011 from UiTM in Shah Alam, Selangor.
The term “pyrography” is usually used to describe the art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks, resulting from the controlled application of a heated object. Haafiz’s methods, however, are slightly different: he cuts metal blocks into shapes with a plasma cutter, which he then heats up and presses onto a PVC canvas to create images.
The beauty of his method of pyrography, Haafiz says, is that it is a marriage of the arts and sciences.
“I was doing research about the art world. And I realised I had to push the boundaries, I had to look into other fields of knowledge. I tried combining the principles of physics with visual arts. Like the laws of thermodynamics. This printmaking works on the concept of the exchange of energy through heat,” says Haafiz, adding his work had been influenced by Tokyo-born, Seattle-based artist Etsuko Ichigawa.
The challenge of pyrography, Haafiz says, is applying the precise amount of heat onto the metal blocks. Too much would burn the canvas, although this is not always a bad thing.
“The best thing is when the image you get is not like the one you were expecting. That’s the accidental image! I like it when the fire ‘eats’ a little of the canvas. But not too much of course!” says Haafiz. “A little bit of destruction makes it more interesting.”
As our mothers warned us, playing with fire can be dangerous, and Haafiz says he has had a few mishaps (non-serious!) in the course of his work.
“One time, I was cutting a metal block, and it fell out of my hands. It landed by my feet. If I hadn’t been wearing shoes, it could have been real serious,” says Haafiz.
“Another time, the metal split and hit my hands. But it’s good to feel your heart beating. If you feel pain when creating something beautiful, it’s all worth it.”
Haafiz Shahimi’s RAGE: Raising Awareness of Greater Existence will be showing at the Core Design Gallery at No. 87, Jalan SS15/2A, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor till June 27. Monday to Friday, 10am – 7pm. Saturday-Sunday, 10am-6pm. For more information, visit malaysiacontemporaryart.coredesigngallery.com or contact 03-56121168.