Even though these artists were all trained in tradition of printmaking, a handful of them have demonstrated some variations in their approach to creating works. They are motivated not by the desire to express difference , but rather by fecund imagination that helped them become critical practitioners. Not only are they capable of producing traditional prints like woodcuts, silkscreen and etching, but they are also successful at expanding the meaning of printmaking itself. This is made possible through their experience, thinking and expertise. Some of them even use printmaking techniques in their typical works, sculpture, installation and performing art.
All this serves as a reflection of an exciting growth, for, as artists, not only are they creative being, but they are also clearly being clever at creating works. Such art should be encouraged to thrive, much like the human sprite itself.
“ To be a sufi is to detach from fixed ideals and from preconception; and not to try to avoid what is your lot. Abu Said, Ibni Abi-Khair “
Artists are usually people who yearn for freedom and that could explain why they create works according to their own wants. They will defend each of their creations even if the works are regarded with concealed suspicion by some. This fact is visible in the works of artists like Ilse Noor, Loo Foh Sang and Lee Kian Seng.
German-born Ilse Noor, who migrated to Malaysia in 1974, is one artist who has demonstrated unswering loyalty. Sambal Belacan (chili prawn paste), Rendang ( spiced meat) and Sagu Gula Melaka ( Sago with Palm Sugar and Coconut Milk) are very much a part of the essence of her work. In contrast, lyrical quatrains and surrealist classical Malay literature appear to be no more than a disruption in the visual experience of the younger generation in the country today, who are instead more familiar with the Batman and Superman fantasies. Ilse’s work like Gunung Menara Permata (1994) and from this show, Istana Srinaga (2001) and Cemerlang (2002) are very attentive and refined in technique and imagination, as compared to the veraciousness of printmaking artists in her birth country.
This is true as well for Loo Foh Sang, who frequently commutes between Paris and Kuala Lumpur. Capturing the gracefulness of the Malaysian culture, his lates work really beckons the soul. In comparison, his earlier output revealed only glimpses of this gentleness through lines, colours and composition, such as that in the work entitled Kebebasan (1996).
As for Lee Kin Seng’s lithographs, this series was produced in 1977 and 1978, and was originally given the title “off-fashion off”. These works were often shown separately, but for this exhibition, they are presented simultaneously and thus given a new lease of life under the new title “recyle”. Kian Seng is not only an expert in printmaking, but he is also very adept at sculpture and painting. During his conversation with me, he constantly stressed the element of tradition.
From this printmaking tradition, a few artists have emerged. With her woodcut print, Wong Siew Lee attempts to capture the turbulence of local sociopolitics. She had studies, in the beginning, Buliding Technology at Tunku Abdul Rahman College, but was so inclined towards fine art that ofter working for some time, she decided to take it up at the central Art Academy. Seeing the maturity in her works, I am reminded of other artist like Sharmiza Abu Hassan, Shia Yih Yiing and Nur Hanim Khairuddin. Who work very hard to produce work while at the same time fulfilling their responsibilities as a wife and mother. The fact is, loyalty need no be explicity expressed ; it can be felt with the heart. Artists featured in this group include A. Rahman Mohamed, Low Yi Ching, Ahmad Nor Rashidi,Kelvin Chap,Saiful Rezal, Tan Keng Leong, Khairul Zikri Abdullah and Low Khoong Hoi.
Moving on to small cluster of artists trained in traditional printmaking, I discovered an exciting creative energy that can barely be contained, let alone be kept a secret . an interesting example is Alibi of Pulau Bidung (1980) by Ponirin Amin. This work was produced at a time when the country was experiencing problem with the Vietnamese refugees. A fisherman may think nothing of the threads in the form of a net. In the centre of the piece. When presented as a print work with elements of origami, however, the effect caused a sensation among local artists.
This work constitutes a well-developed, matured piece. The artist has ingeniously equated the bobbin and fold with a mould and block. Not only has it transcended the line of reasonability, this work may even be viewed as a test of the limits of the minds of Malaysian artists who generally seem cold and unbending towards this kind of art. Furthurmore, through his work entitled Pelayaran 2 (2003), Ponirin has diplomatically suggested that we returned to our beginnings, and find our own roots.
Another veteran artist whose involvement cannot be overlooked is Long Thien Shih, or Pak Long, as he is better known. His earlier works reflect not only his inclination towards the execution of delicate and seductive aquantints, but his skills in painting as well. With his London and Paris education and international exposure, Thien Shih has become one of the forerunning catalytic print artists today.
In The Dalang (2005), Thien Shih goes beyond the traditional one print, one colour monotype. This work utilized a multitude of colour and the result looks more like a painting. It might just even make Giovani Castiglione smile in his grave. Thien Shih’s two other work entitled The Link(1995) and Flower Power(2003) also reflects the same symptoms Artist who clearly share this creative vision include Izhan Tahir, Jack Ting, Shahrul Jamili Miskon, Sabri Idrus, Jamil Mat Isa,Suhaimi Tohid, Raduan Man and Ng Kim Peow. Their work have place them in the line of artists who show signs of developing critical thinking as well as a pioneering spirit.
Artist like Zulkifli Yusof, Noor Azizan Paiman and Hazran Rusli on the other hand have proceeded with rather different approaches. Active in producing, installation, sculpture and performing arts, their work typically reflect the summation of the various creative elements. The different techniques of making sculpture , printmaking, drawing, painting an so on, are often combined, sometimes without conscious effort.
Zulkifli Yusof, an artist highly skilled in techniques and processes, uses the kain pelekat( cotton sarong worn by men)as a symbol in his latest work. Nevertheless the element of printmaking is not new to Zulkifli Yusof. His out put form 1991, entitled Power 1 and Power 2, are among the most successful works using combined techniques ever produced.
Nor Azizan Paiman, who often reachers to us with his simple style, offers this time around an arrangement of printed self-potraits. The element of printmaking is often not obvious in his works and that is what adds to their appeal. One of the winners of the 2004 Young Contemporary Awards, Hazrul Mazran Rusli has produced a work with layers of social commentary. For this young artist, the saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” is very apt. The simple style of his teacher is evident in Hazrul’s work entitle Maksud and Pembayang, but with a slight difference - Paiman is much more mischevious than him. The raised text in his work does not merely reflect the element of printmaking, but is in fact presented to mirror the tone of a weighty command - probably one has heavy as the cement block itself. Indeed, printmaking is a flexible art from that provides ample room for the creativity of artists of various disciplines and media. Nevertheless, the execution of this dynamic medium cannot be swift and sure if it continues to be misconceived, in a prejudiced and ignorant manner, as a mere ancillary to other art forms.
“ People oppose things because they are ignorant of them. El-Ghazali “