13 June 2017

Small Works @ Segaris

One admires the brutal honesty and self-awareness that Hamir Soib portrays. In a recent interview with a journalist, the artist remarked, “(a)fter my mother’s passing, I’m feeding off her energy and want to reflect that I’m not untouchable. I look at myself as a misfit among the elitists. That’s another reason why I’m starting from zero and putting large paintings aside. My parents always came to see all my shows and now there will be a big void.” “I’ve always been painting for others and that’s not fair to me. I’ve decided to liberate myself without needing to seek permission from others. This way I hope to gain more friends and new collectors. Now people cannot say my paintings are only for the elitists!”

Installation snapshot of Siri Lalat (2017)

It is perhaps fitting that “Siri Hospital” – paintings made when the artist was accompanying his late mother at hospital – stand out among this show of 100+ works. Relatively simple depictions of a doorknob, a blood bag, a cut pomegranate, etc. are small, yet powerful when hung on the wall in a single row. Leaving an equally strong impression is “Siri Lalat”, ten paintings of flies of different species, each with the jotting “The most influential figure in Malaysia art scene. When it (f)lies, people listen.” Loud collectors who buy art to show off are obviously in the artist’s crosshairs, as preparatory paintings for giant works that fetched six-figure prices, still sell for a few thousand Ringgit.

Study of ‘Hot Seat’ (2014)

One gallery wall features a painted collection of luxury handbags, some done by Hamir’s assistants as a commentary about authenticity, although the contrived presentation cannot stop visitors from relating Birkins to a politician's spouse. Objects are typically visualized from one side, the flat perspective rendering fishes, a truck, and a crab, as uncanny things that belong in this world yet in reality take an alternate form. This surreal quality in the artist’s works is exceptional, especially those pairing bitumen figures with a dark sky blue tone, e.g. the toll booth in ‘UNESCO Malaysia’s Heritage Building’, the dragon and sailboat in ‘Broken Rice Bowl’, the exposed brains in ‘Talk Cock’, the cloaked cat in ‘The Salary Man’, and the divine finger in ‘The Blame Game’.

The Blame Game (2014)

With its oily properties, bitumen is utilized to great effect for illustrating Hamir’s mythical and tongue-in-cheek creations ‘Toyol Kontemporari’ and ‘Si Penjual Telur’. Upon encountering the beautifully drawn ‘Study untuk ‘Torso’’, I noted that several outstanding displays are culled from private collections, hence implying the artist’s purposeful effort at staging this exhibition. While the intent and statement is clear – the visitor is welcomed into the gallery by the jarring self-portrait ‘Berapa Cukup Kah Cukup?’ and the wide Joker-lips of ‘Senyum Seorang Kolektor…’, – “Small Works” presents an anecdotal flair that is charming, and asserts the high-minded desire to achieve more parity between collector and artist. Big ideas, indeed.

Study untuk ‘Torso’ (2010)

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