Exhibition: Raduan Man: Ascension to Abstraction
Artist(s): Raduan Man
Gallery: Whitebox, Publika Shopping Gallery
An Act of Freedom
Raduan Man’s arrival at abstract expressionism is neither an act of impulse nor coincidental. For an artist who has built a name for a certain “style” and to “abruptly” go off course may sometimes be met with criticism.
The ultimate question most people want an answer to is “why?”
I, too, ruefully was one of the curious cynics.
To comprehend Raduan’s decision, however absurd or brilliant – I go for the latter – it is crucial to dig deep to the very core.
What do we know about the art of Raduan Man thus far?
The Malaysian art fraternity is familiar with Raduan’s woodcut and printmaking technique on canvas since his first solo exhibition entitled Fresh Markings held at NN Gallery in Kuala Lumpur in 2003.
With a master’s degree in both painting and printmaking, Raduan ingeniously incorporates both styles to create artworks with attractive subject matters from cats, dragons and roosters to airplanes and motor vehicles.
Woodcut and printmaking require discipline, patience and technical expertise. With years of experience repeating these tedious processes, it is no surprise that Raduan yearns for another form of expression beyond the constraints of relief print and layers of screen printing.
Raduan endured a melancholic period after his father’s demise in 2008. During this time, he journeyed to the holy land of Mecca in search of peace within himself.
On his return, Raduan approached the canvas with healing verses from the Holy Quran and created five unique works based on his pilgrimage. One of the works entitled Ayat Kursi is derived from verse 255 of the second chapter, Surah al-Baqarah (The Chapter of the Cow).
After thirteen years of practicing art professionally, Raduan presents his latest solo exhibition with a fresher than ever perspective.
Journeying to the Zenith
Raduan Man: Ascension to Abstraction is the artist’s eighth solo exhibition featuring a new body of work created in the form of “action painting”.1
A fresh endeavour for Raduan Man, who is a master in printmaking – literally and academically – the exhibition showcases over twenty abstract paintings and one colossal work consisting of nine panels measuring eight foot by eighteen foot entitled Sky Fighters from his War series, created between 2011 and 2015.
Raduan’s arrival at abstract expressionism is the result of an emotional and cerebral
“I needed to break away from my comfort zone,” says Raduan.
For him, the meaning of “comfort zone” refers to the daily grind of preparing stencils, carving images into the surface of a block of wood, transferring screen prints on canvas, layering, mark-making, painting and cleaning his tools.
“I am grateful to have chosen printmaking as a major subject as an undergraduate. It taught me discipline and patience.
“But after years of undergoing rigid processes, I am ready to rise up to the challenge and to be free from the routine,” adds Raduan.
Since 2003, Raduan has produced sought-after series namely Animal, Signature, War and Dragon encompassing mixed media techniques. The transition to abstract expressionism in its purest began in 2015.
In a particular work entitled Sky Guard dated 2015, Raduan expressively paints the canvas in multiple hues of blue, red and green with white gestures dominating the background and warplanes in opaque green and black floating on the foreground.
Now, try visualising the subject matter being reduced, and then absent altogether from the canvas, resulting in the viewer being confronted with a large-scale abstract work on canvas. This is precisely how Raduan’s new works are being presented, devoid of any object and imagery.
Hailing from Kampung Lengkong in Pahang – a village approximately 30 kilometres from Bentong town – Raduan, who now resides in Selangor, regularly visits his hometown to partake in agricultural activities and to relish in his personal interests like fishing, hunting and hiking in the forest.
Thus, it is only fitting that this body of work is inspired by his days and nights spent in the wilderness.
“Being with nature is very therapeutic. I find solace in harvesting bananas and durians, and reaping the fruits of my labour,” says Raduan who has taken up farming in the countryside during his spare time.
It is through this experience that Raduan rediscovers the magnificence of Mother Nature and feels the urge to convey them in a way that he knows best. Hence, the start of a new artistic journey.
“I have always admired the works of Willem de Kooning and Jean-Michel Basquiat,” confesses Raduan.
Sharing the same viewpoint as de Kooning in relations to art making, Raduan’s inquisitive spirit allows him to go above and beyond the constraints of a “mature signature style” such as that already developed by Raduan.
He challenges his own facility by exploring new styles and methods in an attempt to rebel against adherence to any form of orthodoxy.
Raduan’s gestural works require physical endurance as much as creativity. Evident in every composition is the dynamism of his brushstrokes and rhythmic mark-making.
For instance, Gong Rimba exhibits the qualities of a spirited action painter: full of energy and enthusiasm.
Presented in a diptych, the pulsating artwork combines formalistic merits of colour, form, line and space. Raduan’s choice of colour palette includes a mixture of cadmium yellow with lemon yellow, prussian blue, cerulean blue and cyan, titanium white as well as ivory black.
The vibrancy of the artwork is achieved through deliberate engagements with the canvas and intuitive movements for colour application.
Harold Rosenberg (1906-1978), an American art critic and an advocate of American abstract expressionism wrote in an essay entitled The American Action Painters in 1952:2
“At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act— rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or “express” an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.
The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter.”
He later described:
“A painting that is an act is inseparable from the biography of the artist. The painting itself is a “moment” in the adulterated mixture of his life—whether “moment” means, in one case, the actual minutes taken up with spotting the canvas or, in another, the entire duration of a lucid drama conducted in sign language. The act-painting is of the same metaphysical substance as the artist’s existence. The new painting has broken down every distinction between art and life.”
And Rosenberg continued by indicating the significance of “gesture” that proves relevant till today beyond the borders of America.
“The big moment came when it was decided to paint…. Just TO PAINT. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from Value—political, aesthetic, moral.”
After more than six decades of writing, action painting has become increasingly alive as attested by Raduan’s body of work.
Tools of the Trade
Disciplined and organised, Raduan’s virtues are reflected in his workspace. The light and airy ground floor studio is spacious with plenty of room to work on large canvases.
Oil bars and tubes of paints, turpentine, linseed oil, brushes and other materials are neatly organised on the floor within arm’s reach, ready to be used wherever the mood takes him.
Raduan’s meticulousness is apparent right down to selecting the right type of tools for his expressions. High quality Windsor & Newton’s oil paints are used lavishly in Raduan’s composition. His unconventional utensils comprise brushes of all sizes, nylon broom bristles and his bare hands.
In order to achieve the heavily textured base of his paintings, Raduan prepares a palette full of dried oil paint, as thick as the dense forest. Then, he emotively applies them on the canvas before vigorously layering more paint over it.
A classic example is also seen in The Unbeaten Path, illustrated in different shades of green, blue, yellow with hints of white and red, and scrawls of thick black lines adding to the textured composition.
The outcome of this emotional experience is beyond the notion of existentialism that portrays “an act of necessary self-assertion, an expression of freedom and authenticity”.3
For Raduan, expressing himself in this manner is liberating and fulfilling. This may just be the start of a lifelong experimental journey. In a bright foreseeable future, could we anticipate sculptures and other forms of art by Raduan Man?
“The possibility is endless with art,” declares an optimistic Raduan.
Past, Present and Future
In the context of abstract art in Malaysia, its young history was first etched by a handful of artists from the mid-fifties to 1960s.
These remarkable talents include Tay Hooi Keat (1910 – 1989), Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929 – 2011), Datuk Ibrahim Hussein (1936 – 2009), Yeoh Jin Leng, 87, Cheong Lai Tong, 84, Khalil Ibrahim, 82, Khoo Sui Hoe, 77 and Abdul Latiff Mohidin, 75.
Mainly graduates of art schools in United Kingdom, the United States of America and even Germany, they committed themselves to being either art educators, cultural advocates, full-time artists, or altogether upon returning to Malaysia.
These ‘pioneers’ of Malaysian abstract art have paved the way for generations of abstract artists to come, resulting in an ever bourgeoning and vibrant scene until today.4
In a pluralistic landscape, abstract art has become accessible to many due to its organic and non-representational characteristics. Colour, line, form and space are the main elements that determine its aesthetic value albeit subjectively.
Art collectors have become well-informed in the development of Malaysian art with the rise of primary and secondary markets in Malaysia within the past six years, thus becoming more sophisticated in their collecting method.5
Appreciation in Malaysian art is also extended to private corporations and public institutions. As a universal visual vocabulary since World War two, the demand for abstract art has amplified globally.6
The growing prevalence of the abstract in modern art has resulted in a socio-historical explanation associated to Theodor W. Adorno (1903 – 1969), a German philosopher, sociologist, and composer known for his critical theory of society Adorno believed that such abstraction is a response to, and a reflection of, the growing abstraction of social relations in the industrial society.
“The abstractness of the new is bound up with the commodity character of art … The absolute artwork converges with the absolute commodity. The modern pays tribute to this in the vestige of the abstract in its concept.” 7
Progressive artists are constantly experimenting with new ideas and throughout art history; an artist is never bound to a single medium.8
Documenting Raduan’s early formation in expressionism at present is a stimulating venture, as this is the start of an exhilarating journey for the artist and his audience. History is currently in the making.
- The term was first coined by American art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952 in an essay entitled The American Action Painters, which signalled a major shift in the aesthetic perspective of New York School painters and critics.
- Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” from Tradition of the New, originally in Art News 51/8, Dec. 1952, p. 22, http://www.artnews. com/2007/11/01/top-ten-artnews-stories-not-a-picture-but-an-event/
- Among some of the recognised abstract artists in Malaysia who continue to create exceptional abstract paintings in their own styles are Datuk Sharifah Fatimah Zubir, 68, Datuk Tajuddin Ismail, 67, Yusof Ghani, 66, Awang Damit, 60, Drew Harris, 56, and Rafiee Ghani, 54. The list continues with cohorts like Suzlee Ibrahim, 49, Sabri Idrus, 45, Fauzul Yusri, 42, Wong Perng Fey, 42, and younger peers in their thirties whose artistic careers are as volcanic as the works that they produce.
- Auction houses in Malaysia include Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers (2010), KL Lifestyle Art Auction (2012), The Edge Auction (2013) and Masterpiece Auction (2013).
- In 2012, Gerhard Richter’s abstract painting entitled Abstraktes Bild (1994) from the personal collection of rock star Eric Clapton was sold for £21.3million at Sotheby’s in London, establishing a record for a living artist at the time. In November 2016, the personal collection of the late David Bowie will be on offer at Sotheby’s including an artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat entitled Air Power (1984), which is estimated at £2.5million – £3.5million.
- David Cunningham, Asceticism against Colour, or Modernism, Abstraction and the Lateness of Beckett, p. 110, New Formations, spring 2005, Issue 55.
- For instance, Impressionist painter Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) was also a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, whom towards the end of his artistic career created decoupages or cut-outs in colourful abstract. Matisse aptly stated: “An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success…” in a book by John Elderfield, The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, p. 8, George Braziller, New York, 1978.