In Between: Transitions and Dead Ends @ 67 Tempinis Gallery

To a graphic illustrator, a strong mastery of drawing line is of utmost importance – its curvature, thickness, and shading, defines the familiar form and spatial depth within a graphic.  In his first solo exhibition, commercial illustrator Shahril Nizam displays another facet of his artistic talents, with an impressive selection of paintings and sculptures produced in the past 5 years.  Simon Soon's stimulating essay in the exhibition catalogue, 'Urban Flux and Inner Vortex', describes Shahril's art as "plays to (the) concept of the roving, curious and implacable eye".   A general but accurate statement that suspiciously downplays the political title, also sidestepping the issue of force-fitting a theme.

Suitors (2011)

Upon entering Seksan's art repository, one's attention is drawn towards a wall that hangs a collection of 20 small paintings with fancy frames.  These works display a strong affinity towards an early-20th century European expressionist tradition – 'The Interview' reminds one of Henri Rousseau, while 'Pompadour II' contains hints of Gustav Klimt's decorative flair.  The melancholic portraits are symbolic of a society then struggling with rapid urbanisation, not that much different from urban folk in Kuala Lumpur.  Two transgender beings embody surrealist elements in ‘Players’, one with oversized hands holding a pearl, while another dances behind with a head full of fire.  This group of highly stimulating yet eclectic paintings, provides an insight into the artist’s experimentation with his preferred aesthetic, a similar exploration akin to the wall of Rhys Lee’s works I saw in Perth a couple months back.

Melancholic portraits (clockwise from top left): Portrait with Gold & Red (2008) / Headdress (2012) / Crown (2012) / Pompadour I (2012)

Hung around the gallery are Shahril's larger paintings, imaginative and typically containing melancholic figures surrounded by sinuous and fibrous forms.  A perfect example is 'Suitors', where the blindfolded girl is surrounded by a jungle of preying creatures, each exhibiting a desire to seed the egg placed on her open palm.  'The Snake Charmer' portrays the penitent Magdalene facing up to temptation (complete with Renaissance posing), her inner struggle represented by the amorphous folds that cover her dress.  Lurid contrasting colours and an organic glob make up 'Outgrowth', a 2009 work that signifies the strong expressionist tendencies already present in the artist then.  On a whole, Shahril’s mastery in drawing contours contributes much to the attractive aesthetic in his paintings.

The Snake Charmer (2012)

The most enjoyable and impressive works are Shahril’s sculptures, beginning with 'Beneath' that welcomes the visitor; It also graces the catalogue cover.  A beautiful and calm-looking head has an organic branch sprouting out from her side, implying that fresh and vibrant ideas cannot hide beneath a shrouded exterior.  Delightfully intricate hand-crafted ornaments, accompany a set of progressively faded plaster heads in 'Dais', essentially a comment on the game of thrones.  Power is referenced also in 'Soil', where a scissors is linked to a miniature representation of our resource-rich land, the nonchalant golden bust just a witness, as we plunder God's gifts to Malaysia.

Soil (2012)

Easily the best installation artwork this year, 'Monument' calls for viewer participation to remember a political incident, of Teoh Beng Hock's death within the compounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.  Even without this context, the instructions to write a note and slide it within a pile of old newspapers, already triggers a sentimental reflection that is meaningful yet familiar.  The thick red rope implores the viewer to recall the victim’s circumstances, as we pay respects to the perceived sacrifice made.

Monument (2013)

An appropriate space that allows one to linger comfortably, the interested observer whom seeks to view the works exhibited in a chronological manner, will be rewarded to witness the remarkable progress of the artist's stylistic tendencies.  I just realised also the one work that stood out in G13 gallery’s “20” group exhibition earlier this year was by Shahril ('Rise', 2012).  From expressionist portraits to ink illustrations to clay sculptures, and now a transition to realist figures, this exhibition allows the artist to display his considerable all-rounded talents, and a platform that announces his arrival as an artistic force to be reckoned with.

Players (2012)