Rebel with a Cause

Prestige Magazine July 2014 Issue

From hand-drawn figures with impeccable proportions to martial arts paintings and metal block pyrography prints, HaaFiz ShaHimi is an artist that never fails to thrill. by Zoey Moo

Two questions drive Kedah-born artist Haafiz Shahimi’s artistic process: “What if?” and “Why not?”.
Take for example his action plus painting performances, which started as a cheeky suggestion by a friend to combine silat, one of his greatest interests, with painting for a university assessment. Initial amusement morphed into curiosity as Haafiz gave the idea a go. Needless to say, the Jackson Pollock-meets-martial arts act earned him top marks, the first of many in his artistic career.
Haafiz’s first solo exhibition at Core Design Gallery recently was titled RAGE, which begs the question: What was he angry about? “RAGE is actually an acronym for Raising Awareness towards Greater Existence. Instead of expressing the issues and problems that occur in society, I wanted to express an appreciation for God’s creations as a reminder to be happy with who you are, who you’re with, and what you do.”

At first glance, Haafiz’s work may seem dark and gothic owing to elements like ghoulish human figures striking a silat pose or intricately hand- drawn skulls and skeletons. In truth, his drawings of the body’s structural system are more like an exploration of one’s inner being – the soul and spirit behind the outer mask.
He also paints landscapes but his methods and interpretations are by no means conventional. The idea for his Refreshing Janda Baik piece, for instance, was sparked when he tried to clean a mossy wall and realised that he could form images using water and a washcloth. Ever eager to try new things, he used watercolours to create a similar effect in the form of a surreal scene inspired bywatching the morning sun pierce through Janda Baik’s dense forest, which he describes as “that moment in the movie when an angel descends to the earth.”
Haafiz uses his bare hands to manipulate paint, offering a fresh take on the term ‘hand-painted’. Instead of the normal route of building a painting layer upon layer, Haafiz begins by painting on layers to achieve an accidental image. He then reduces parts of the drawing with thinner to get lines and shapes, frequently adding on gestural drawings made by charcoal with intense, continuous strokes.
“If you really understand your materials and tools, you can expand their usage,” he says before disclosing that he has also used brooms and mops for his art. Once, he even coated himself with paint to make a print. “I’m a technical artist. I can make realistic portraits and landscape drawings. But I began to ask myself, “Where is the creativity in that?” When you’re very comfortable doing certain things or situations, it’s time to seek something new.”
One of Haafiz’s most significant experiments is pyrography printmaking where he heats hand- carved metal moulds to sear prints into PVC canvases. As a pioneer of the technique in Malaysia, he had trouble explaining the concept to his university lecturers because he could not produce any precedents. Undaunted, he researched thermodynamics for years, weaving its principles into his art. He chose fish as his subject, a decision triggered by another joke his friend made about ikan bakar (Malay for ‘grilled fish’).
At his recent solo exhibition, his pyrography skills convened with his childhood fascination with wayang kulit (shadow puppet storytelling). You were able to see the burn marks from only one side of the suspended canvas but when the lights were switched on, ghostly silhouettes of fish stencilled on the other side of the canvas became visible, making it a double-sided artwork.
The experimental artist is not done testing artistic boundaries. He is currently focusing on his other passion: Motocross. He laughs, “Some people have joked to me about using motorcycles to create art. There’s nothing wrong with trying things out. It always starts with those two questions, “What if?” and “Why not?”.”
Why not, indeed.

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