Travelling Into Imaginaria: A Visual Poetry @ Segaris AC

The exhibition catalogue informs that Shahrul Hisham Ahmad Tarmizi commutes regularly between Shah Alam and Machang, where he teaches. A lifestyle of frequent travelling has potentially affect his works, as the current solo show displays a remarkably positive trajectory, when compared to the artist’s previous output. Moving objects to the foreground, to establish visual entry points. Moving from aspirational storytelling to illustrating contemporary observations. Moving from slanted perspectives to a horizontal and straightforward picture plane. Moving gestural metaphors to object-based associations. Moving beyond canvas to draw on fabricated plates. Even moving from a large size to a more intimate scale! 

One Thing After Another (2015)

Objects as metaphors are popular catch-all devices utilised in contemporary painting, especially in Southeast Asia where surrealism and pop are commonly referenced to the point of being cliché. Combine that with a poor sense of scale, and many pictures fail in its meaning-making allusions. Shahrul Hisham does well in presenting objects with the optimal scale and configuration. A whole chicken is left out in the hot sun, a broken egg beside it. (‘Ordinary Day’) A toy tractor approaches a water container leaking from holes shot into it. (‘For Sale’) Even in the busy picture ‘Family Matters’, a frog and a horse appear to be symbolic references to personal acquaintances, which one can excuse its forceful inclusion into the picture. 

The Family Gathering (2015)

Three distinct mediums are featured in this wonderfully coherent solo exhibition. Oil and watercolour paintings present individual metaphors, which freehand illustration qualities and melancholic washes, present itself as preparatory drawings as compared to the larger ball pen on canvas works. Bocor is a main theme, where leakages flow from hydrants and water containers, to fire extinguishers and sinking ships. Lightning bolts, broken furniture, and headless arrows feature in a number of canvases. We are all at sea; it is amazing how some objects can encapsulate Malaysian concerns from past years – a financial scandal and a leadership void, aviation crashes and flood disasters, TPPA and COP21 commitments, sale of power assets and water shortages… 

Hydration Re-act-ion (2015)

Shahrul Hisham’s skill in cross-hatching contributes significantly to the attractiveness in this series of line drawings. A cat’s soft fur in ‘Storm of Heroes’ and an eagle’s feathers in ‘The Great Landing’ are beautifully drawn, while rushing waters in the latter pair well with an abstracted and simplistic rendition of mountains and clouds. A white parasol occupies and anchors ‘Masked Matter’, where the variety of objects and terrain surfaces are clearly discernible. When combining pen with charcoal, the results are less appealing. The embedded figure and coiling snake in ‘Unravel’ are tiresome tropes; however, the singular vase perched upon a stool with a slipper lobster in ‘Monumental’, resembles a playful jibe at the style popularised by Ahmad Zakii Anwar.

Un-monumental (2015)

Material culture and a directionless ship come to mind while looking at ‘Un-monumental’, where rapids gush forth from a supermarket trolley affixed with sails, the landscape implying strong winds. A duck whose head is trapped in a table clamp is featured in ‘Ugly Ducking Turntable’, which scene of a washed up shoreline (after the flood?) below it, lends the sardonic picture a wistful tone. Parallel lines illustrate both perspective and time in the landscape work ‘One Thing After Another’, while the lonely journey is made manifest via the duck strapped to a slipper at sea in ‘Voyager II’. Daily observations are injected with a comical twist to create lyrical metaphors, and the relative monotone offers an introspective experience when appreciating the artist’s works.

Voyager II (2015)

Curiously left out from the exhibition catalogue, the third set of works consists of heavily-rusted metallic plates engraved with objects such as sea creatures, a chair, and an erupting volcano. Made from a mixture of sulphur, bitumen, and charcoal, these textured creations look like aged graffiti. Straightforward depictions of objects are imbued with metaphorical associations by the viewer. In more inventive pieces like ‘The Family Gathering’, floor patterns invoke nostalgia, while the wooden construct in ‘Moon Transmitter’ describes a yearning to communicate with celestial bodies. Malaysian artists typically use symbols for finger-pointing or meaning-making, but in Shahrul Hisham’s works, the symbols become charming signposts for our contemporary livelihood. And that is refreshing.

Moon Transmitter (2015)