Nazrin Saleh has big dreams for his series of bone sculptures, which are now sitting around in his studio space in Kuala Lumpur and growing in numbers.
Once the pandemic situation improves, the 28-year-old artist hopes to exhibit them in a gallery space or museum one day.
These sculptural works, using real animal bones, he mentions can help spark discussions on nature conservation, which involves maintaining and restoring habitats.
“My aim is to educate the public about the importance of wildlife, and how to treat animals with respect, ” says Nazrin in a recent interview.
“Through art, I believe I can simplify the information (about conservation) and present it in an imaginative way, ” he adds.
Browsing through Nazrin’s art and sculptures is like wandering through a menagerie of magical monsters.
His sketches and paintings depict fantastical beasts, all drawn in a cartoonish style. The works straddle the worlds of wild and cute. His sculptures look like something you’d see in a natural history museum.
“I love nature, especially animals. I watched a lot of (natural history) documentaries when I was a child. I haven’t stopped drawing and learning about animals since, ” says Nazrin.
Pop culture and bits of science loom large in his diverse works spanning oil on canvas, pencil drawings and digital art. You can see why Nazrin lists down conceptual artist Mark Dion and the legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat as his major influences. He also mentions reading A Primate's Memoir, a book that written by Robert Sapolsky, a foremost science writer. It tells the mesmerising story of his years in remote Kenya with a troop of Savannah baboons.
"You can find inspiration and research in so many things, it's a matter of how you process these elements and translate them into ideas (for art)," he says.
Nazrin, who based in Kuala Lumpur, works as a content creator and part-time artist. He has a degree in media art from Multimedia University, Cyberjaya, and also studied fine art at the Birmingham School Of Art in Britain.
Locally, he has participated in several group exhibits, including last year’s Kecik-Kecik Group Show, Art Expo Malaysia and Our Story.
Nazrin enjoys exploring serious topics in a humorous manner.
“My main medium is drawings. It all starts with a simple sketch. The ideas can be converted to digital works, a painting, or even a bone sculpture, ” he explains.
“I will usually sketch and write every day. During the weekend, I will pick a few ideas and expand on them, ” says Nazrin.
His paintings and multimedia works, with a strong Basquiat nod, offer a raw gestural art style with graffiti-like images and scrawled text.
But his most notable works are undoubtedly his bone sculptures, which include 2019 works like Tenere and Trimeresurus. Made of fish, chicken and rabbit bones, these are some of his favourite works.
Art enthusiasts might be reminded of Chang Yoong Chia’s use of crab shells, eggs and dried leaves here.
Nazrin is coming into his own with his bone sculptures.
“I go to the wet market often to get fish bones. I clean and process them at home. It’s the same for the chicken bones. They are all leftovers that I have cleaned and salted. The process also includes deep cleaning with chemicals, ” says Nazrin.
“For the rabbit bones, I bought them from an antique shop. They were already cleaned... I think it was meant for taxidermists.
“Right now, I am currently open for any donation of bones and it will really help me a lot to create a new specimen.”
It takes Nazrin about a month to create a bone sculpture or two. Once the parts are cleaned, he sorts them out by sizes and parts, and then assembles all the pieces together based on his drawings.
Nazrin mentions he has no upcoming exhibition this year, .
But he is busy creating a series of drawings reflecting the post-pandemic situation. He shares them regularly on Instagram and is thankful to have a full-time job to get him through this difficult period.
“I am playing around with the idea of isolation. Are there any new creatures that could benefit from this pandemic situation? Is there any room for them to breathe?” he concludes.
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