Defining Individuality

Contemporary artist Haafiz Shahimi is set to introduce his unique and unorthodox artworks at his first-ever solo art exhibition at Core Design Gallery.

Breaking the boundaries of creativity is what most artists aspire to achieve in their career in art. The importance of establishing their individuality often drives them to constantly think outside of the box. With a growing contemporary art scene, Malaysia’s pool of talents has been slowly emerging over the years and rising star, Haafiz Shahimi falls perfectly into that category.

At 28, Haafiz has already caused quite a stir in the art scene with his distinctive and unorthodox style. His uniqueness has given him the recognition as one of the most cutting-edge local contemporary artists right now. As one of the rare and raw talents within the genre of printmaking, Haafiz is set to showcase his one-of-a-kind pyrography monotype print works at his first-ever solo exhibition from May 31 to June 20 at Core Design Gallery in Subang Jaya.

Traditionally,pyrography or pyro gravure is known as the art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks resulting from the controlled application of a heated object such as a poker. The term actually means “writing with fire”, from the Greek pur (fire) and graphs (writing). In this day and age, the art of pyrography is practised using modern pyrography tools or using a metal implement heated in a fire. Haafiz reinterprets the art of pyrography by applying it into his artwork. To him, pyrography is “drawing with fire” as opposed to writing with it.

We made our way to Core Design Gallery director Scarlette Lee’s home to witness first hand how Haafiz applies this unique technique to his artwork. Haafiz has been working at his al fresco studio at Lee’s home because of the wide space it has to offer. For our demonstration, he opted on using the gas dove instead of burning coals. All of Haafiz’s burning tools are made of metal simply because it sustains heat very well and is a great heat conductor. ” Pyrography still represents a traditional way of producing visual art because it was heavily used to produce craftsmanship. I borrowed the term and technique to be applied in my artwork because of my focus in printmaking,” explains Haafiz.

Haafiz’s passion for experimentation is evident in his artwork entitled Kembali Bernafas. The artwork consists of two layers of canvas overlay with enamel spray paint depicting a mermaid, where carved metal blocks of fishes are then burnt into the canvas. He creates different tool according to the print he will be working on. Using a metal fish marker reminds him of his first pyrography artwork, which he titled as Ikan Bakar. “When people view my artwork, they see the humour in it at the same time. I tend to not plan my artwork too much and usually expect the unexpected. The burn marks might not turn out the way I want it but i work around it instead of throwing the canvas out,” he says passionately.

Haafiz uses two different way to implement his pyrography technique into his artwork. Firstly, he creates the metal blocks according to the print that he wants to work on and then he comes up with a secondary image that will accompany the burnt prints. The secondary image can either be a drawing, stencil or other effects that are relevant to the artwork and it also depends on the concept. “Sometimes I start with creating a background first then I include the print later. The great thing about printmaking is that there isn’t any right or wrong to it. I strongly believe that simple mistakes help a lot when designing, ” he explains. After spending a few years of researching the application of pyrography in art, Haafiz completed a series of impressive artworks with fishes as his theme of the day. HIs somewhat rebellious nature fuels his need for creativity and the art of accidental perfection. Haafiz’s rebellious nature is traced back to his younger years. Just like any growing up toddler, he loves drawing and painting and uses everything as a canvas, including the wall. Haafiz began drawing even before he started going to kindergarten. He recalls his parents buying him blank exercise books. “I would use up all the pages for my drawings and I will always get a scolding from them. They would punish me by getting me to practise writing alphabet but I continued to use those pages to draw,” he recalls fondly.

Coming from an average family with an average income in Sungai Petani, Kedah prevented his parents from fully supporting his passion for art. His parents had initially thought that it would be a hobby that will not last and continued to be baffled as no one in the family was an artist. “They weren’t too encouraging because they were;t sure how being an artist would sustain my life in the future. When I entered secondary school things got a bit better. I had supportive teachers and friends that encouraged me with my passion,” says Haafiz.

Haafiz started working on various pieces for small art exhibitions in secondary school. Fortunately for him, art was encouraged in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Ibrahim. it was previously an English colonial school and there were already studios for the young artist to work in. He was selected by the Balai Seni Negara (National Art Gallery) to represent Kedah with his artwork as a secondary school student.

Haafiz has definitely come a long way since his days as a budding young talent. His solo exhibition, RAGE stands for Raising Awareness towards Greater Existence. his inspiration behind the collection is based on current issues that surround our daily lives. “Some might perceive the theme as me literally showcasing rage based on the angst that I’ve gone through in life but that’s hardly the case,” he says. Haafiz’s first solo exhibition will feature a variety of his pyrography monotype print works. One of the things he highlights aside from his pyrography technique is his distinct way of mixing his paints. “I like to create mixtures of oil paints mixed with thinner and at the same time. I rarely use paint brushes solely because I believe there are various waysin creating images other than applying traditional methods,” adds Haafiz.

It is natural for people to draw comparison between relevant individuals. Haafiz has ben compared to the likes of Jackson Pollock because of his interests in abstract art and impressionism.

Creating his distinct skills in an unorthodox manner is also a way for people to stop drawing comparisons between him and other established artists. Haafiz first came across the idea of exploring the pyrography technique while thinking about the limitations in prinmaking. Traditional print-making techniques include etching, wood growing, linocut and screen printing but he realised that there are other methods in creating print aside from abiding by the traditional rules of the technique. “When i started studying printmaking I identified some of the limitations that come with it. While my classmates actively referred to other artists’ works for inspiration. I closed all the textbooks for me to concentrate on my own ideas instead, ” he proudly proclaims.

Haafiz sees his unique technique as something positive art scene. not only does he get to form his own methods but he also gets to share his knowledge with art lovers on his alternative method aside from encouraging them to appreciate art. Introducing his work showcasing pyrography wasn’t an easy task as his idea have been rejected several times by institutions and scholars. “They view my artwork as not fulfilling the requirements of printmaking. I just want to show people that there are other ways of making print images,” he explains.

This is one of the challenges he has to go through to get his ideas to be understood by others. Rejection hasn’t dampened his spirits in defining his personal style. Haafiz has spent countless hours researching and experimenting with different methods to get to where he is right now. Nothing makes him happier than people wondering what his artwork is all about. “I can’t avoid the fact that people will still want to make comparisons but at the end of the day, I have [my] own way of creating art and that’s the only way for me to create original pieces,” says Haafiz.

Haafiz has beeen conceptualising and experimenting with his unique ideas since his days of an art student in UiTM in Perak. Although he received proper teachings on the various skills and techniques in practising art, students aren’t encouraged to formulate their own concepts or ideas.

Core Design Gallery’s Lee recounts a story that Haafiz had told her once before about an etching class project he had to do. The assignment was centre on the theme of heritage buildings. His classmates did the norm and produced etchings of heritage buildings. haafiz on the other hand produced something unexpected, a portrait of himself etching inside a heritage building. “It’s an unconventional way of addressing the class project but I can understand it from his artist’s interpretation, placing himself in a heritage building trying to understand the inner depth of the building. Of course his lecturers questioned his work and wondered what on earth he was up to,” Lee says. Despite the criticism Haafiz continued to think out of the box to make sure he wasn’t doing the things his classmates were.

He remembers a time when they were preparing for an assessment and noticed that all his classmates sticks to the traditional way of painting but he presented his work in a slightly different manner. ” For the whole semester I didn’t produce any artwork but on the final day, I presented the artwork through dancing. My lecturers were so impressed and said it was a brilliant job and ended up giving me an A+ for it. I’m a silat performer so I “bersilat” while painting my artwork. from that day onwards, I’ve been known as the silat-performing artist. I’ve done this for quite a number of times too,” says Haafiz proudly.

Haafiz has worked hard to define his individuality in the art scene. As a student, getting good grades wasn’t a priority. “What is the purpose of learning all these things in university if you’re not going to expand your creativity? Many people don’t realise that they work to just fulfil the syllabus requirements. it’s not actually a bad thing but it does reflect on the individual’s ambition.

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