Art and Soul of Husin- Focus Malaysia

Husin Hourmain: Awal Hurouf Asal Hurouf
Focus Malaysia (February 16-22)
Art and Soul of Husin
The Jawi calligraphy artist could be on the verge of greatness as his latest series is a monumental work that could be called a national heritage, a truly Malaysia Contemporary Art.
HUSIN Hourmain’s voice wavers and cracks as he struggles to hold back three years of pent up emotions. He recalls the tests of character and talent he has endured in working on his 30-piece collection, Awal Hurouf Asal Hurouf. Already an established name on the national art scene, the former art director of an advertising firm could be on the verge of greatnes as his latest series has been described as monumental, and perhaps even a national heritage.
His work has been sought aster by renowned collectors in the country, including an ex-Cabinet minister and corporate bodies in the country and abroad, while some of his pieces are on display at the National Art Gallery. However, his past successes will pale in comparioson to the epected response to his cultural significance to the country. Husin’s attempt to remind himself and society about the dwindling interest and use of Jawi has resulted in an important body of work that pays tribute to the first written script of the Malay language.
“The word Jawi is derived fromt the Arab word al-jawah, referring to the Sumatera Island and also indicating the Malay Archipelago as a whole.” says Husin. “The relationship between the Malay Archipelago and the Arabs can be traced back to the 11th century. The first physical evidence of Islam was a stone inscribed with Arabic letters dating back to 1303 AD, found in Terengganu River.”
The inscription of the stone recorded an edict to promulgate Islamic legal provisions and proclamations ordering rulers and governors to uphold the Islamic faith and teachings of Prophet Muhammad. The Terengganu Stone is inscribed in the Malay language written in a derivative of Jawi.
The Jawi alphabet comprises 29 Arabic characters and six additional letters devised by the Malays to accommodate local phonetics. Its use and importance started to diminish after the British invented the romanised Malay script in the 18th century which thrived and became the accepted form of writing of the national language. The use of Jawi dwindles is now considered to be an endangered script.
“I too was losing touch with Jawi,” says Husin “In the 1950s and 1960s, Jawi was also read by non-Malays in Penang and Kelantan. I knew a Kelantan-born Chinese in the advertising trade who was well-versed in Jawi, and he could express himself very well in his writings in Jawi. I want Jawi readers to be as proud of their script as the Chinese are with the Cinese calligraphy.”
The three years he spent on his Jawi series turned out to be his journey of self discovery as much as a test of his talent and character. The demand he placed on his creative self sees him reaching deep within and it has left him close to being emotionally and financially drained.
This transient soul is leaving a permanent mark in this world. “These aremy footprints through life,” Husin says. “It is one man’s journey and a big part of his life on earth. This is what I am leaving behind. I was in a period when I was making a lot of decisions, and at the same time I was challenging myself to reach a different level artistically.
“The years 2010 to 2012 were challenging. I was ill and financially drained as I had spent so much on art materials. I did 50 pieces for the 30 piece collection. Some of them are darker in appearance due to the tough times, but I was aware that I had an audience, and could not be self-indulgent. I felt relief after finishing the series since I was taking a risk for myself and my family, not knowing how this collection would take shape.
“If I were to spend a shorter period of time to finish it for the sake of finishing it fast, the artwork in the collection would be too similar. Each painting shows the character of the artist. One of the pieces took me two years to finish as there was a lot of layering. I almost abandoned that piece, but it turned out very well. Art is basically expressing your soul on the canvas, and when someone understands and appreciates what you have done, I feel it is a big achievement,” says Husin, who wears his heart on his sleeves.
As his work progressed through the years, the paintings go from being systematically structured to having stronger strokes and bolder colours. The colours and strokes in his later pieces may not blend as harmoniously as in his earlier ones as he changes his approach. His artistic journey also sees a transformation of styles where in some pieces, he uses layering for a depth of field while in others he employs a more minimal approach with emphasis on the countours.
“Art takes time to nurture. We cannot push creativity. We have to let the creative enterprise flow out of your soul,” Husin says of his first piece, Alif, which was painted in 2009. Eight paintings that were completed during the year were the Ba, Ta Tho, Ra’, Fa’, Qaf, Nun and Ha’. His early Awal Hurouf Asal Hurouf paintings possess expressive gestural lines and are saturated with bright colours. Each subject is centred in its field and the size and proportion are just adequate for the frame to contain it. The forms are arbitrarily structured and overlap each other. A clear-cut figure ground differential is set up, which Husin the breaks down by integrating the subject with its surround space.
In the second year, there is a bolder use of line integrated within the layered lettering composition. The artwork in this period is in the experimentation phase as he tries to break away from his earlier styles. For instance, Sin (2010) keeps the structural and expressive lines but has bolder use of brushstrokes. Compared to Shin (2010), the composition is less crowded. The figure is not placed in the centre and it extends out of the picture frame, leaving the rest of the alphabet letter to be imagined. In this transitional work, Husin uses large open brush strokes to exploit the fluidity of the medium.
“This was the difficult period of the production as I was moving into a new studio,” he says. “It took time to readjust to life and work ina new environment. I even stopped painting for six months just to get into the mood. I had to work faster in order to finish before the deadline to the point that all my paintings started to look similar.”
Consequently, most of his pieces were rejected. “Luckily, my deadline was adjusted. It gave me total control of my art direction. So I started to look for new inspiration, and got into a discussion with several friends in the art scene,” he says.
In 2011, he adopted several aspects of minimalist painters’ work in his paintings. The use of colour is restrained to give a monochromatic effect. He shifted his focus to a more distict shape of the letter rather than blending it in with the background. The minimal approach is complemented by a multi-layered background.
“Here, less is more,” he says. Husin may be describing how simplicity and clarity can lead to good designs, but this is an apt description of his collection. A simple idea of paying tribute to the first written script of the Malay language has resulted in a monumental work that will find its place in the annals of Malaysian art history.
A chance encounter leads to destiny
IT WAS a chance encounter when he was 10 years old, but it was a defining moment that set Husin Hourmain on his career path. On his way to watch a movie at the Lido cinema in Ipoh with his brother, Husin came across a hroup of men painting a giant movie poster.
“ They were working near a car park somewhere between the Lido and Cathay cinemas,” the artist recalls. “I was amazed that they were drawing such a big poster, and I believe it was about 20 ft by 30 ft. As a child, I was always keen on drawing and when I saw this group of artists painting, I realised that I could make a living out of art.
When it was time for hime to attend collehe, he chose art. His supportive but practical father asked him to opt for graphic design so that it would be easierfor him to land a job after graduation. His stint as a graphic artist did a lot for his drawing skills as computers were not in used in the 1980s and all the illustrations were done in freehand.
“After 16 years in the advertising line, I wanted to move into fine art,” Husin says. “I tried doing both, setting up a small art agency while I dwelled in fine art, but advertising required my undivided attention as I had clients to tend to. So, it didn’t work out.
“In 2000, I decided to leave everything and went into fine art full time. For the past 10 years, I think it was a process of getting noticed and recognised, and to be on par with leading contemporary artists. After the struggle, I feel satisfied that I have been recognised.”
But to leave a job with a fixed income for that doesn’t offer any guarantee requires a lot of sacrifice. It was a tough decision to make as his family was a dependent on him, “To walk aways from a job with a stable income at 40 , you have to be very serious with what you are doing. I could not have any debt with the banks, so I sold my house. My wife understands I have to fulfill my dreams, so this success is not a personal achievement but a family achievement.”
Husin says he is glad that his work has been accepted and collected. With galleries inviting him to hold his show, he realises that all the hard work has paid off. “But more than that, my family has lived to understand my career as an artist. My children grew up seeing my paint,” he says, adding that his wife is his pillar of strength.

Date: Feb 1-March 6
Preview venue: Core Design Gallery
No 87, Jalan SS15/2A,
47500 Subang Jaya,
Gallery Oppening Hours: Monday-Sunday (10am tp 7pm)
(This preview will showcase 10 paintings of the Jawi alphabet collection)

Official Opening Reception
Date: March 9 at 8pm
Exhibition venue: White Box, Publika,
Level G2-01, Block A5, Solaris Dutamas 1,
Jalan Dutamas 1, Kuala Lumpur
Exhibition runs from March 9 to March 20

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