All in Jest – Ali Nurazmal (The Edge Paper)

Imbued with humour, irony and a tinge of darkness, Ali Nurazmal’s art captivates visually and cerebrally.

At Ali Nurazmal’s breakout solo exhibition in 2009, one particular painting caused quite a sensation. Titled Imitation Master-After Caravaggio, this piece is an almost minute reproduction of the Italian Baroque master’s seminal work. The Cardsharps, which depicts two well dressed young lads playing a game of cards, with the cardsharp holding extra cards in his belts behind his back, while an older sinister man peers over the dupe’s shoulder. But Ali’s version does not end there- to this scene he added a figure of himself, standing a stone’s throw away, taking it all in with a gleeful expression, as if he was the one who would gain from this whole set-up, somehow.

Well, you could say he did. Ali’s audacious, tongue-in-cheek treatment of Caravaggio’s work cast him firmly on the radar screen of art enthusiasts and collectors as an up-and-coming artist. This work and others in the exhibition were imbued with his own brand of humour and sense of irony-Ali showed himself to be a truly interesting narrative painter. When you meet Ali, you immediately see the connection between the 34-year old and his works- Ali is jovial and easy going and quick to break into laughter. That debut solo, Satire in Paint, came about rather serendipitously, says the UiTM fine arts graduate. A gallery owner happened to visit the studio he shared with a friend at the time, and upon seeing his works, promptly offered to do a show for him.

The show was a huge success and a sort of vindication for Ali, as he had, against his family’s wishes, given up his advertising and printing business to focus on painting full time. Many of the works presented in the show were immensely personally in that they gave a glimpse of the struggle he had gone through. For instance, two of the works speak of the tension between him and his wife- Ali deppicts himself as a clownish character that his wife is not at all amused by. “The first show was about me being an entertainer,” says Ali. “When I closed down the business, I had no money, I had nothing. So what I did was entertain my sons and wife. I portrayed myself as an entertainer. I also entertain myself when I paint. I had nothing but colours and canvas. I didn’t want to let negativity affect me. Everyday was an adventure to me.”

That debut solo was quickly followed by a second solo a year later, tittled Telltale. Ali presented a series of dark fairytales, cryptic surrealistic mindscapes weaved from th hodgepodge of characters and imagery from pop culture, such as the sinister Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland, Bert from Sesame Street, Lego fihurines, Superman, the Hulk and Pac-Man. Viewing the artworks is akin to falling down the rabbit hole into the artist’s remarkable imagination.

This month, Ali returns with a third solo at Core Design Gallery, and he is showing an eclectic body of work. Most significantly, he is revisiting his Imitation Master work with new interpretations of Caravaggio’s other masterpieces, namely The Calling of Saint Matthew, Saint Jerome Writing and The Inspiration of Saint Matthew. Ali has once again inserted himself into the works in a darcical manner. When asked to explain his fascination with Carravaggio, Ali says: “I like his style. I like the way he used light and dark technique. I like the way he painted the figures, how he controlled the colours and created the ambience of the painting. To me, he is a genius artist.”

Another interesting piece is the four panel work of three Greek gods-Zeus, Adonis and Apollo-as well as Ali, seated on their respective marble thrones. The artist is once again paying tribute to an old master, in this case, Michelangelo. He says: “I admire Michelangelo and the way he did the sculptures-very detailed. I wanted to paint them and make them mine.” Curiously, one of the statues is discreetly holding an apple. Ali reveals that this work actually comments on the cronyism in Malaysia. He says: “You have to know somebody to get to the top, or give something to get the job. I give an apple so it will bring me to Zeus.”

Another noteworthy piece features sharks floating on the canvas. Ali explains that it is his visual interpretation of the Jaws them, but beyond that, it speaks of how consumers are constantly being bombarded by slick marketers who tell us we need such and such a product to be happy and fulfilled. “To me, they are like sharks, we need to be careful,” he says.

With these works, Ali once again manages not only to engage the viewer visually but also cerebrally. The artist reveals that he is closing the chapter on the kind of works that have defined him as a solo artist thus far, and will be moving on to something entirely different next. “I don’t know the future yet, but I want to break out of my comfort zone,”he says.

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