For many years, Sharon Chin considered herself as an artist who couldn’t draw.
While she thrived in various styles of art (performance art, mixed media, installation, prints), drawing was something she never really picked up until she moved to Port Dickson from Kuala Lumpur in 2011.
There, when the locals heard she was an artist, they kept asking her to draw them. This inspired Chin to take up drawing and sketching.
“Learning how to draw was mainly learning to give myself permission to start. I was lucky to discover Lynda Barry’s books What It Is and Picture This. Her work opened a door for me to think about images and what it means to make them. I realised that like the majority of people I had a fear of drawing,” says Chin, 38, in an interview in KL.
“I had to understand why and to do that I had to make drawings! My practise was just to draw every day in all kinds of ways — copying, doodling, cartooning and still life. Sometimes I would just make marks on paper, letting myself follow where the line wanted to go, instead of me deciding its direction. The experience of learning to draw was about the joy of discovery and the gift of uncertainty,” she adds.
Chin has started the year well especially with her recent curation of Penang-based artist Foo May Lyn’s magical yet pointed 10,000 Mosquito Hearts show in KL.
As a seasoned working artist, she admits it is difficult to keep the pace going when juggling art commitments, deadlines and working on passion projects.
“It is challenging, keeping enough things in the air and balancing between works to earn income and long-term projects. I will say though that moving to Port Dickson helped: the pace is much slower there, compared to KL, where I was basically just going from project to project. I think that as an artist, it’s all about creating a life that makes your work possible,” she says.
Late last year, Chin was approached by the Malaysian Art Archive and Research Support (MARS), an independent arts organisation based in Hom Art Trans gallery, to help it with a fund-raising exhibition. Chin agreed to this low-key show and decided to showcase her drawings from the last five years. This presented an opportunity for a bit of Marie Kondo-style tidying up and some rediscovering of forgotten works.
The result is Sharon Chin: Ingin Jadi Pelukis Drawings 2013-2018, a loosely-curated showcase of Chin’s drawings, including her activist work, commissioned projects, book covers, fanzines and random illustrations. It is showing at Hom Art Trans gallery till Feb 20.
“There’s a wide range of works. Some are drawings for artworks I was developing or had already made. For example, I made a drawing in 2013 for Scream, Honey, a performance I’ve done a few times since 2011.
"I made the drawing as a way to think more about the meaning of that work. Some are illustrations for stories written by others. I wish I could have included drawings I did as part of my graphic journalism work, but it’s hard to present those drawings without their text,” says Chin.
Also included are illustrations Chin did for two short stories written by her partner Zedeck Siew, a fiction writer. The works were used for a street art storytelling project in late 2014 where these stories were printed and plastered in public spaces.
“Hell Money is about a real estate developer who continues to develop the underworld after he dies. We pasted copies of this story and the illustration up around bus stops in Petaling Jaya!” says Chin.
Last year, Siew and Chin released a book Creatures Of Near Kingdoms, published by Maple Comics! The book is an illustrated catalogue of 75 imaginary South-East Asian plants and animals. Is she planning any new books this year?
“The world of publishing is very exciting for me. However, no new books this year, although we are working on a Malay version of Creatures Of Near Kingdoms,” says Chin.
Back to the Ingin Jadi Pelukis Drawings 2013-2018 show, the earliest works exhibited are drawings Chin made for a fanzine given away during her public performance project Mandi Bunga / Flower Bath at the Singapore Biennale 2013.
More recent works from last year include a series of animal-themed illustrations featured in Editions Jentayu, a Paris-based publisher that focuses on Asian literature translated into French.
Chin’s Malaysia Medusa, which was drawn in 2013 to commemorate Malaysia Day and Malaysia turning 50, is a piece to capture your attention. The Gorgon-inspired illustration is based on a famous sculpture by Italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
“I realised that I was drawing Malaysia as a monster, which wasn’t in the ... you know, spirit of celebration, national pride and togetherness of the times,” says Chin.
“But that’s how I saw her ... with racism, corruption, fundamentalism, ignorance and intolerance crowning her beautiful head. I drew her so that I could see her for what she was and not be swayed by a nostalgic rose-tinted vision of peace and harmony. I drew her so that I could learn not to be afraid of her,” concludes Chin.
Sharon Chin: Ingin Jadi Pelukis Drawings 2013-2018 is showing at Hom Art Trans, 6A Jalan Cempaka 16, Taman Cempaka, Ampang, Selangor till Feb 20. The gallery is open (Tuesdays to Saturdays) from 11am-6pm. More info: www.homarttrans.com.