Need to constantly challenge himself – Ali Nurazmal (Malaymail Paper)

IT’S no secret that I love art, and perhaps would have pursued a career as an artist had I not discovered a love for writing.

Four years ago before I began to pursue a career in journalism, I had completed my foundation course in art and decided to test my luck in applying to three art colleges in the US.

This was during a time when Damien Hirst’s infamous For the Love of God made its debut in the art scene which caused an uproar among critics.

In 2007, English contemporary artist Hirst encrusted approximately £15 million (RM75 million) worth of diamonds on an 18th century skull, something which many deemed “artistic vulgarity”.

One critic from the UK’s The Daily Telegraph commented: “For the love of God! It has little taste and no knowledge of art. I can imagine it gracing the drawing room of some African dictator or Colombian drug baron.”

And so, when I was applying to these colleges, I was informed that many applicants possessed creativity and drive but what they noticed was, just as critics said about Hirst, a lack of display in technical and traditional skills in their student’s artworks.

Perhaps what these colleges were looking for can be described as an artist who possesses the out-of-thisworld imagination of Salvador Dali, pushes the artistic norm akin to Hirst and demonstrates the technical abilities of Michelangelo.

Evidently, they wanted, if not needed, to see a change in the standard of contemporary art.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Scarlette Lee, artistic director of Core Design Gallery (CDG) in Subang Jaya, Selangor and Ali Nurazmal, whose solo art exhibition Alism will be launched at CDG on Sept 2.

Alism reflects the artist’s 20-year artistic journey, through 13 paintings, that will be on display until Sept 30.

When realist artists of the late 18th century in Europe discarded theatrical drama and lofty subjects in favour of commonplace themes in their artwork, Ali instead blended traditional realist expression with modern surreal elements in showcasing his theatrical imagination, humour and wit in his paintings.

Ali, aged 34, is an artist in “mid-career”. Originating from Penang and currently based in Subang Jaya, he has been the talk in local art circles since his Renaissancestyle Imitation Master – After Caravaggio series in 2009 catapulted his reputation. Alism is his third solo exhibition and CDG’s third time hosting a solo exhibition since the gallery opened in June 2010.

“Not everybody can take the pressure of having a solo art exhibition and the mental and physical pressure that comes with it,” said Lee, also the curator for this exhibition.

She said that for each group of fresh art graduates, only half of them will actually pursue being an artist as a full-time profession while after another five to 10 years, another half of them are likely to quit.

“Ali has been a full-time artist since the very beginning.

He demonstrates a level of professionalism and maturity, he understands the business and yet he doesn’t forget himself as an artist.

As a curator and art collector, I do not look at only what an artist produces but at his attitude and potential to make a breakthrough into the international art scene,” said Lee.

“I want Alism to serve as a platform to promote Ali to an international level. I also want this exhibition to be the most talked-about art show of the year, to raise the bar and set a new standard for Malaysian contemporary arts.”

Ali’s artworks are seemingly narcissistic as he often paints himself into his artwork. But he’s approachable, cool, calm and humble when talking about his latest solo exhibition.

“My first solo exhibition was at Pace Gallery in Petaling Jaya in 2009. It’s always an honour to be asked to do a one-man show but it’s never an easy journey.

I only had eight months to plan this exhibition,” said Ali, married since 2002 and a father of two boys.

Ali said he feels the need to constantly challenge himself “Young artists here tend to always refer and follow what’s happening elsewhere and outside our country, which is cool but art shouldn’t be about following others. You can be inspired by others but you should try to create your own path.

We have to keep on moving to create great artwork that will create an identity for Malaysian contemporary art,” he said.

“For this exhibition, I wanted to take elements from what our great artists experimented with back in the 1960s and mix that with contemporary elements.”

Is he satisfied with what he has achieved?

“I’m not satisfied. I feel that if I’m satisfied, I’ll be in a comfort zone where it’ll be difficult for me to produce new works,” said Ali.

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