Early formative years
The term “Islamic Art” is still the point of argument by scholars and intellectuals today. Derivation of Islam in art history mostly comes from the specification of cultural activities in the Muslim world. “My work is derived from my consciousness towards my relation with Islam. I’m not making an Islamic art, but in the sense that I am a Muslim whose creating something regarding to my belief”. In fact, the term “Islamic Art” never crossed his mind during his art construction. “I’m dealing with the contemporary issue”.Husin describes his early interest in art, one that heavily influenced by his cultural upbringing and life back in the place he grew up. He was born 1963 in Kuala Kangsar, the royal town in the northern state of Perak. As the school boy, Husin was fascinated by modern transportation. He would spend his time drawing car and plane in his exercise book. Memory of the first acquaintance with so-called artwork, a gigantic painted cinematic billboard around his hometown, is clear to him as crystal. This inspiring moment became a turning point for young Husin to take on his destiny into a colourful artistic journey. “I wonder how a person could produce an enormous painting. It made me curious”. In such tender age, he tend to feed his curiosity by rationalising and questioning, enabling him to learn about his surroundings, the trait that grew naturally. Husin ventured his curiosity to another extent, searching for the ultimate reason behind the connection of man and nature. This evoked an eternal search for a purpose of being a supreme being, a human.
He received formal art education from Malaysian Art Institute (MIA) majoring in graphic design in 1982 before furthering his study in Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN) a year later, majoring in photography. “I started my career in advertising agencies. Back then, the art scene was not as well received as today, especially in fine art. My father supported me to pursue my study in graphic design for it has better work prospects. It was just a matter of time before I switched my career into fine art,” he recalled. To risk the possibilities of being let down by the uncertainties in the height of an economic recession (the 90’s), it was a bold decision to take. “Fine art gives me the authority to express my feeling”. Husin reiterates that both graphic design and fine art have grounded on the same fundament. The difference is that the former is client-oriented while the latter provides freedom to express himself. In 2003, he picked up his ambition and transformed himself into a full time artist.
From the beginning of his career, Husin’s artworks have made reference to the connection between man and its environment, repetitively. His first solo in 2004, the group of paintings titled Energy, confronted the audiences with its whimsical forms and structural lines emulating physical and spiritual presence of human activities and his location. For instance, Tiananmen (2002) was distinguished in the binary relation between peace and chaos, solemn and tragedy. It is heavily invested in textural quality, resulting in the thick paint layering and the scratching effects. Husin encapsulated the landscape, filling the pale of empty canvases with a particular 2 colours in order to rephrase the energy bounded in a certain area. The meaning is not exclusive, but rather shows his collective inter-personalisation marks of experience.Husin continued his fondness to the nature, thus extended his observation towards capturing a natural beauty and order. Alas, this god given gift mainly goes unappreciated by man. Worse still, we seek to dismantle this most precious gift. Simplicity within complexity is the common denominator of art and music. And mother nature forms the basis of inspiration for most artistic creation.
The succession of his second solo exhibition in 2008, entitled Zero to something/Zero to nothing, reflected his philosophical quest of existence, the connection between past, present and future. It was a journey he took to embrace himself as a human, being able to appreciate his environment and understand the relation between man and nature. He always occupied himself with the reason of being a man or khalifa. Zero to something/Zero to nothing series was regarded as a personal manifestation of his interrelationship between himself and the Creator, and everything that fills spaces in between. Technically, Husin’s works in this series analysed a different approach in comparison to his earlier style. Lines intricately weave onto each other forming a web of paint – squirted directly from a tube. The dripping technique gives a spontaneous impact, layering upon the already expressive brushstroke as shown in one of the series, Eight (diptyich) (2007)
Meanwhile, Husin has experimented with calligraphy rigorously throughout his career as an artist. The use of calligraphy in his body of work was preoccupied while working on a commission artwork. Precursor to Awal huruof, Asal huruof series, Allah – Study (2006) was his early attempt to situate the calligraphic style within the contemporary framework. It manifested the capability of different types of art to integrate within the cultural dimension. The word Allah is dominant while hovering the semi-spherical shape in the background. “Words are images too. With words we communicate. There are things that are impossible for us to visualise. Words are active mediator to conceptually project the meaning”. Husin’s style escalated towards sublime and expressive gestural brushwork. The paint was thickly layered onto each other, creating vague illusionary depth on the flat surface. Husin asserted that he was not referring to any particular calligraphic style. The work emphasised on the form and meaning, but nevertheless referring to the calligraphic style as a process of understanding. The actualisation of the work progressed with his own interpretation and ongoing research.IIn 2009, Husin had produced numerous calligraphic series which were seen as a significant phase towards his Awal huruof, Asal hurouf series. For one of his significant work, Abjad Dua (antara 1 dan 3), Husin had arranged the numerical Roman figures, each of which was printed repeatedly in different sizes; filling up the shape of the main subject matter – Arabic numbers. The Roman type number unifies itself into a single pattern, perceived as a form, but at the same time provides a separate field for each individual letter, so that each part of the pattern – each module – remains distinct on its own. The Arabic number one in the far right, was left alone, juxtaposing the remaining figures – two and three. It gives a strong visual impact on the focusing eyes to keep intact with main subject: number two. This kind of experimentation is continued in his subsequent work, Menanti Senja (2010). The painting is divided into three parts – narrating the sunset. Each panel is echoed with arbitrary scratching effect, scribbled throughout the surface in form of calligraphic nuance. The use of colour is minimised, yet anticipated by the textural effect, engaging the eyes to browse through the whole painting.
Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf
Awal huruof, Asal huruof is consequential a two dimensional installation comprising of 30 paintings of Arabic calligraphy starting from Alif to Ya, with the addition of Hamzah and Lam Alif. Although Hamzah and Lam Alif do not appear in the Arabic alphabets, they are part of the Jawi or Malay lettering. They also have been added out of respect and allusion to the 30 juz or parts of roughly equal division of the Quran. Husin used “khat” as pictorial form, constructed by abstract expressive modes to compliment the composition. Each alphabet imbued with personal nuance is often referred to his childhood while studying Muqaddam. In his own words, he described, “As I was in the process of doing research and working on this Jawi series in 2009, the childhood memories came back to me clearly. The challenge and difficulty I face in the process of making this series is when I have to ensure that each alphabet has its own character and attitude. Just like in the Qur’an in every Surah, there is a different story and message to tell. It is just like when I first started to learn the Muqaddam, you have to be focused and have determination. You have to go through the Muqaddam page by page and step by step to be able to read well. Practice makes perfect. Sometimes it takes years to complete the Muqaddam and the Quran to be able to read well. I went through the same process when I was working on this Jawi series, layer by layer, alphabets overlapping each other, knowing when to control the brush stroke. The focus and determination showed in the complete work of art”. The process and development of the installation reflects Husin early introduction to Jawi. By learning the script, we learn the characters, and from the characters we learn our alif, ba, ta. Thus, we learn the words of God.
The three phases of Awal huruof, Asal huruof reflect the progressive attitude, endowed with the artist’s determination to break the physical and psychological boundary. Husin Hourmain, being an artist, bears a responsibility to confront and challenge the normality lies in the comforting silence. The energy is transferred to the flat surface, converging into powerful mediator to convey its meaning. “My part is to actualise the idea to the world. Other than that, it depends on how the audience perceive and digest the art “. The memory of perception is a secret, it cannot be transmitted, it can only be shared – as something wonderful and extraordinary that is imposed but not explained. It is a process that cannot be understood: everyone perceives, receives information through the eye and responds to these impulses, but no one is able to define the experience. Husin search for resolution to contemplate his curiosity. The act of knowing, observing and learning become a primary force to explore the possibility and improbability, visible and invisible, short-lived and eternal.