“Only in our imagination do we live in more than two dimensions, and with its help we attempt to enliven the flatness of our image with depth. All of a sudden it may dawn on us how foolish we are, we faddists of the two-dimensional picture with our constant urge to achieve unobtainable depth.” – M.C. Escher, 1947[i]
“Tindih” is Syed Fakaruddin’s second solo exhibition, featuring stunning landscape paintings inspired by a trip to Pulau Kapas — a pristine island off the coast of Terengganu. Syed Fakaruddin depicts the island’s vibrant scenery using conventional techniques to create a sense of depth, imbued with his signature fuzzy effect and a sophisticated appliqué of dried oil paint – a newly acquired technique.
The 32-year-old multidisciplinary artist — known for his large-scale abstract topography paintings — will showcase his latest expressions at the underground gallery of Rimbun Dahan in Kuang, Selangor, from March 27 to April 11 to mark the completion of his six-month residency. A series of work stimulated during this period is also part of “Tindih”.
“Tajuk ‘Tindih’ sesuai dengan konsep dan idea yang saya ingin tonjolkan dalam solo saya kali ini. Eksplorasi tiga lapisan dalam lukisan: background, middle ground and foreground,” says Syed Fakaruddin. (“The title ‘Tindih’ (Overlap) is in accordance with the concepts and ideas that I want to highlight in my solo exhibition this time. The exploration of three layers of painting: background, middle ground and foreground.”)
The main leitmotif featuring the kaleidoscopic coral reefs of Pulau Kapas is illustrated in the foreground of the landscape, enticing viewers to examine the painting more closely. Syed Fakaruddin experiments with the impasto technique as a discrete “colour study” before applying the dried paint to the canvas to form the tactile quality of coral reefs.
The vast ocean illustrated in the middle ground of the panorama is in his distinctive ‘out-of-focus’ style — a technique he developed in his first solo show titled Bumi Asing (2018) — while the sky in the background is depicted using a classic wash technique.
As a result, each overlapping layer, with varying temperatures of colour, clarity and consistency adds an illusionary perspective to the seascape.
“I visited Pulau Kapas with friends some days prior to commencing my residency programme at Rimbun Dahan. I took photographs and collected data to work on this new series. So, the memory of the trip was still fresh in my mind when I arrived here,” says Syed Fakaruddin.
Throughout the Movement Control Order period, while he was in Rimbun Dahan, the artist focused his energy on inventiveness and being productive, which has yielded a remarkable outcome. Works such as “Kapas: Terasing”, “Kapas: Sekawan” and “Kapas: Tebing Tajam”, which measure 1.5m by 2.4m, burst with arresting colour palettes and bold lines that highlight the majestic underwater marine life on an epic scale.
“The idea of this series is to reinterpret what I experienced during my time on Pulau Kapas, such as snorkelling and admiring the corals. One day, while sitting on the beach looking out into the ocean and enjoying the sea breeze, my view was interrupted by a large rock. As I observed the frame, I realised that I was looking at three things in the distance: the rock, the sea and the sky,” says Syed Fakaruddin.
By accepting the invitation to be a resident artist at Rimbun Dahan, Syed Fakaruddin joins an extensive list of local and international visual artists, writers and choreographers who have lived and worked at the private arts centre owned by architect Hijjas Kasturi and his wife, Angela. Rimbun Dahan has been welcoming artists in many disciplines since 1994.
During his residency from September last year until March, Syed Fakaruddin immersed himself in the lush tropical landscape of the sprawling of the 14-acre garden of the art space. The serene setting could not have been more conducive to work for a landscape painter.
“When I first entered the gates of Rimbun Dahan, I felt a surge of excitement. The idea of isolation with no disturbances and distractions motivated me,” says Syed Fakaruddin.
About 20 paintings pay homage to Rimbun Dahan in the exhibition. “Rimbun: Pagar Sangka” portrays the main entrance to the property, as the viewer is greeted by a dog and a wild boar — a gesture to eternalise the resident animals on the property — among other wildlife in this natural habitat.
“Rimbun: Malam Berkelipan” is inspired by an event that took place one night in the studio. A stray firefly was seen hovering around his paintings. The following night, Syed Fakaruddin explored the forest within Rimbun Dahan in search of more fireflies. There, he was amazed by the sight of the twinkling fireflies in the dark, sparking a fresh sense of wonder to create this work.
In an artwork titled “Rimbun: Kolam”, Syed Fakaruddin explains: “Landskap kolam ini tercetus apabila saya dan artis residensi yang lain beberapa kali minum petang bersama tuan rumah iaitu Pak Hijjas, Angela dan anaknya Bilqis. Di kawasan minum petang itu sangat menenangkan kerana terdapat kolam air hujan semulajadi yang unik dan cantik dipenuhi dengan bunga-bunga teratai, daun-daun yang besar dan panjang. Lukisan bertajuk ‘Rimbun: Kolam’ itu ialah salah satu memori penting di residensi Rimbun Dahan kerana disitulah tempat kami berkumpul dan berkongsi pelbagai cerita.” (“The pond landscape is based on several afternoon tea sessions
with the host, Pak Hijjas, Angela and their daughter, Bilqis. The afternoon tea area is very calming because there is a unique and beautiful natural rainwater pond filled with lotus flowers, the leaves are large and long. The painting titled ‘Rimbun: Kolam’ is one of the important memories in Rimbun Dahan residency because that is where we gather and share stories.”)
The main house that features the said water garden is described in Rimbun Dahan’s website: “The main house and guest house are linked by a covered loggia that overlooks the water garden and cascade to one side. The 500 square meter gallery is underground on the other side, beneath the entrance plaza. The gallery is enclosed and dehumidified, and can be air conditioned when necessary. The rest of the house relies on through ventilation and ceiling fans.”[ii]
I was given a virtual tour of Syed Fakaruddin’s work space at Rimbun Dahan during our video call. He occupied two studios – one to accommodate his tools, materials and canvases.
During our hour-long conversation, I was struck by the orderliness of the space, with the neatly stacked paintings against the walls ready to be exhibited, months ahead of the scheduled time. This indicates Syed Fakaruddin’s qualities as an artist: earnest, meticulous and strategic.
He walked me through every corner of his work space while explaining in detail his methods, materials and progress. Hundreds of tubes of oil paint, neatly organised on rows of shelves, had been emptied to produce a substantial number of paintings.
We talked about his artistic practice since graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) in Shah Alam, Selangor, in 2012.
While he has been taking part in local group shows since 2009, his “ADA Show (Ara Damansara Artists)”, an exhibition at Segaris Art Center, Publika, Kuala Lumpur, in 2015 caught the interest of the art world and introduced him to the wider public.
Syed Fakaruddin majored in sculpture but the challenges in pursuing it full-time due to costly machinery and space constraints encouraged him to explore painting.
He has exhibited several installations and sculptures in the past, including “Dari Mata, Turun ke Hati”, an installation that made him a finalist in the Bakat Muda Sezaman 2019 competition, organised by Balai Seni Negara, Kuala Lumpur.
Recently, his video titled “Apa Sudah Jadi” was one of 80 submitted by local and international artists in response to the Covid-19 pandemic for a video art exhibition titled “Stay Art Home: One Minute Video”, organised by Kapallorek Art Space in Seri Iskandar, Perak, from Feb 5 until March 18. The same frosted mirror in “Dari Mata, Turun ke Hati” is highlighted in this short 40-second video.
In January 2022, he will have a third solo exhibition as one of the five winners of the Malaysia Emerging Artist Award 2019 (MEAA2019) organised by Galeri Chandan and HOM Art Trans, Kuala Lumpur, in 2019. Apart from a cash prize and a travel grant, winners of MEAA2019 get to present a one-man show of their work.
Our conversation touches on influences. Syed Fakaruddin tells me that his work is influenced by personal experiences, memories and environment that relate to earth and nature. His approaches may vary depending on the visual narratives and expressions.
“I am influenced by Damien Hirst’s multidisciplinary practice. He has different concepts for each work while staying true to his themes of art, life and death,” says Syed Fakaruddin.
“Similarly, I have ideas to create different types of work when I reach certain phases in my life, like working towards a five-year plan.”
When Syed Fakaruddin conveys the concept of “Tindih”, he references Redza Piyadasa’s “The Great Malaysian Landscape” from 1972. The award-winning conceptual artwork illustrates how to create the ideal landscape painting — complete with text explaining the essential elements that a painting should represent. The artwork features three images in a step-by-step format of a specimen landscape work in progress and the end product.
As I thought about diverse adaptations in the contemporary art world concerning perspective, Ai Wei Wei’s “Study of Perspective” — a photographic series produced between 1995 and 2017 by the Chinese contemporary artist and activist — instantly comes to mind.
“Tindih by Syed Fakaruddin” is a celebration of his natural advancement from his multidisciplinary oeuvre, from installation art such as “Under Construction Series” (2012) and “Feel Series” (2013); to landscape painting in “Outline Series” (2015), “Soulful Series” (2016) and “Blur Painting Series” (2019). His participation in the residency programme at Rimbun Dahan has proved to be a critical chapter in his development and progression as an artist and, from the current outlook, he could be destined for greatness.
Sarah Abu Bakar
February 28, 2021
[i] #4 Graphic Artists of the Netherlands Speak of Their Work, Phoenix, Jaargang 2, Juni 1947.
[ii] Rimbun Dahan, The Main House, www.rimbundahan.org/architecture/the-main-house