Written by : Zena Khan
Abstract Expressionism is a genre of experimental, non-representational art characterized by the involvement of individual style and freedom of technique to produce highly expressive works defined by energy and spontaneity. Interestingly, it is a style that lends well to calligraphic painting due to the qualities of rhythm and control that must be present in calligraphy, and the manner in which the gesture of the brushstroke infuses meaning into the canvas. Much like in abstract expressionism, a calligrapher’s art marries formal elements with the idea of rule breaking to create an identifiable signature, and in Malaysia the foremost contemporary calligrapher also exemplifies the spirit of abstract expressionism, Husin Hourmain.
Born in 1963, Husin was encouraged by his father, a journalist and lasting influence on his life, to study graphic design at the Malaysia Institute of Art in 1982. Until 2001 he worked in Advertising as an Art Director, but subsequently quit to concentrate on his dream of being a full time painter. 2001-2003 was spent debating this decision, and Husin credits his wife’s support as a main factor in whole heartedly pursuing painting full time. In 2003 he restarted his life as it were as Husin Hourmain, the fine artist. Although he was largely self taught, Husin credits senior artists such as Malaysian Abstract Expressionist Yusof Ghani and Indonesian painter Widono Sudono as guides and inspirations to him, along with unsurprisingly Jackson Pollock.
Jackson Pollock is perhaps one of the best-known Abstract Expressionists, and his influence on Husin’s body of works is strongly evident, particularly in the 2008 series Zero to Something, Zero to Nothing. Husin painted this series as a discourse on the stages of life, indeed individual works such as Eight actively highlight the predicament he found himself in at that period, deciding which direction his life should take. When discussing the production of this series Husin revealed an interesting parallel between his and Pollock’s methods of working by describing his preference for moving while painting, which probably gives rise to the decidedly energetic marks on the canvas. There is a hint of fatalism when painting in such an expressive manner, which suits Husin who likens it as a metaphor for life itself commenting, “Life cannot be controlled, you can plan, but it’s not your decision how it turns out.”
Aside from artistic influences, one of the main inspirations for Husin is his identity as both a Malay and as a Muslim. One of his earliest works was a colourful calligraphy of “Allah” in Arabic.
Husin had witnessed a gallery rejecting a painting by one of his peers for the inclusion of Jawi lettering, and advised the artist to erase the Islamic overtone for fear the work would be unsalable. This did not sit well with the religious Husin. He objected to the rejection of the Islamic influence, especially given the contemporary Islamic setting of modern Malaysian. Contemporary artists are meant to represent the direction society is travelling in, and after Zero to Something, Zero to Nothing Husin felt there was a growing awareness of religion amongst the younger generation of Malays, and a desire to balance tradtition with the modern way of life in the twenty-first century. Husin duly immersed himself in the study of calligraphy, which can be seen as a study of the increasing infusion of Malays into urbanized Malaysia and the updated landscape of contemporary Malaysian society. As the Malay race gain ever increasing cultural and economic relevance so the popularity of contemporary calligraphic paintings has demonstrably risen. Testing the waters, in 2012 Husin displayed a calligraphy, Allah Hu, a monochromatic work which is spread out over a three panel canvas measuring 153 X 230 cm. Allah Hu is seen as critical both as evidence for Husin’s development of his personal style within a calligraphic framework, and as a precursor for his wildly successful seminal solo Awal Huruf, Asal Huruf, with Core Gallery.
A series of 30 paintings representing the Arabic alphabet, Awal Huruf, Asal Huruf took three years to complete before being debuted in early 2013. Husin views the series as a two dimensional installation beginning with Alif and ending with Ya, and including the addition of Hamzah and Lam Alif.
Highly detailed and expansive works, in the energetic expressionist style that has quickly come to be the artist’s signature, the series questions what constitutes the notion of knowledge, and where is knowledge itself derived from? Remarkably, the works were not produced in the chronological order of the Arabic alphabet, rather Husin began with Nun before proceeding to Ha’and continued in this unsequential manner. He felt removing the obvious progression would infuse a sense of unexpectedness in the individual works, give them each a distinct personality and also foster extra growth for him as an artist. A sell out show, Awal Huruf, Asal Huruf launched to rave critical reviews and is easily considered as one of the stand out shows of 2013.
Husin has said “Art is life, life is art”, an apt statement for a man who has chosen to dedicate his life to his art, and is utilizing it as a platform to verbalise issues that are close to his heart. Husin speaks about deeper cultural and religious issues, which society as a whole responds enthusiastically to, marking his discourse as highly relevant within the context of Malaysia today, and thus rendering him an indirect socio-political commentator. In the moderate Islamic society of Malaysia, Husin’s lead in the field of contemporary calligraphy renders him one of the key artists on the contemporary art scene today, highlighted by the prodigious content and technique demonstrated in his painting for the Great Malaysian Contemporary Art Show, Yasin.
Born 1963 in Perak, Malaysia
Institute Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN) Selangor, Malaysia (Photography)
Malaysia Institute of Art (MIA) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Graphic Design)
Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf, Whitebox, Publika,Solaris Dutamas, Malaysia
Zero to something/ zero to nothing, PACE Gallery, Selangor, Malaysia.
‘ENERGY’, Galleriiizu, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Aliya and Farouk Khan, Kuala Lumpur.
Dato Nazim Razak, Kuala Lumpur
Tun Daim Zainuddin, Kuala Lumpur
Dato’ Mazlin, Kuala Lumpur
Dato’ Chew, Kuala Lumpur.
Dato’ Mohd Shukri Baharom, Kuala Lumpur
Dato Ali Kadir and Datin Tina Ali, Kuala Lumpur.
Datin Fauziah, Kuala Lumpur
Suriyani, Kuala Lumpur.
and many others