For two decades, Raduan Man has perfected the art of woodcut since completing his undergraduate studies majoring in printmaking at MARA University of Technology (UiTM) in 2001.
The journey has been laborious, one that is inculcated by the rigours of technical discipline essential to the printmaking process. In printmaking, the basic method entails creating a design on a flat surface such as wood, metal, or glass known as matrix, which is then inked to transmit the image on the desired surface. This is followed by printing from the matrix that requires the application of controlled pressure such as a printing press for the mirror image of the design to be transferred onto paper or fabric.
In 2003, Raduan presented his first solo exhibition titled Fresh Markings, which consisted of works in woodcut technique on paper as well as oil and acrylic on canvas. The collection took two years to complete.
At the time, he had already experimented with transposing the carved image onto canvas instead of conventional paper and applying more than one colour, demonstrating his early attempt at modernising the woodcut medium.
Raduan’s position as a young artist then had influenced the narrative of Fresh Markings through the “assimilation of art traditions and cultural sensibilities in his work”.[i] He displayed a natural aptitude for creating innovative works early on, embedding metaphorical subject matters that are personal to him.
In 2016, a new series of abstract paintings was introduced for his 8th solo exhibition titled Raduan Man: Ascension to Abstraction that marked his first foray into pure abstraction. A prequel titled Kayangan was presented in 2021 and subsequently his most recent abstract series titled Khayalan in 2022.
As a progressive artist, Raduan also ventured into NFT art in early 2022, producing 20 artworks titled The Iconic Series and Superheroes Series. His artworks have entered the one-of-a-kind trading of non-fungible tokens, the crypto-media trend that brings ownership to the cyberspace.
Fast forward to 2022, Post-Contemporary Woodcut: Lines of Labour by Raduan Man is his 10th solo exhibition that celebrates the evolution of his artistic practice in woodcut technique. In honour of the modest medium, Raduan has embraced the process by creating 21 complex and sophisticated woodcut paintings in oil on canvas illustrating domestic interiors inspired by a period of isolation during the pandemic.
“In this series, my aim is to elevate the status of woodcut by eliminating the concept of editions and to create unique major artworks in the form of woodcut print and oil on canvas”, said Raduan.
Traditionally, original prints on paper are produced in the count of a limited edition with an artist’s proof. Raduan has found an ingenious solution to break the mould of conventional ways in artmaking and spearheading the unpaved path to the success of this strenuous technique.
The result is a body of mesmerising work depicting still life objects in a domestic setting, in dazzling colours and harmonious lines that create spatial perspective and tactile quality due to the repetitive relief print method. This process demonstrates the absence of direct paintbrush marks on canvas making the artworks distinctively Raduan’s.
“The soul of my work is in the matrix. It is the first point of contact for my ideas to be expressed. A regular painting can be forged but it would be complicated to replicate this body of work due to its technical demands,” explained Raduan.
In Meja Bonda, Raduan illustrates a red dining table with an array of tableware, fruits, and vegetables as well as potted plants spread across the composition. The blue background creates a soothing ambience in the painting.
“The images are based on my recollection of my mother’s house that features various household objects and its arrangements in the kitchen and dining table. I never noticed them before, but these observations become more visible during the Movement Control Order,” described Raduan.
The subject matter of domestic interiors that embraces episodes of daily lives is popular among European artists particularly Dutch painters in the 17th century such as Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675).
Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) created three oil paintings titled Bedroom in Arles depicting his bedroom in the Yellow House in Arles, France where he resided for a short period of time. In a letter to his brother and art dealer Theo, he mentioned that the interior is deliberately “flattened and left out the shadows so that his picture would resemble a Japanese print.”[ii]
Raduan’s post-contemporary woodcut paintings mirror the characteristics of post-impressionism paintings through its bold lines, distorted forms, and vivid colours.
Woodcut is the ancient relief printing technique of printmaking, which originated in China from the Han dynasty that was later brought to Europe and is known to be the oldest technique to produce old master prints in the 13th century. The European woodcut technique found its way back to China and Japan in the 1930s propelling the movement’s popularisation.
In the Asian context, woodcut is known to be a “democratic” medium as it is an effective and economical way to convey propaganda messages for political and social movements such as the dissemination of information for
independence from colonial rule, democratisation against the dictatorship, reformation of labour situation, and to campaign against environmental pollution.[iii]
Historically, “woodcut has contributed to such activisms by conveying the hardship of people, disclosing problems of societies, seeking the solidarity with other communities, and mobilising actions for better societies.”
As a medium that symbolises freedom, the history of woodcut in Asia does not only “represent agony, struggle, or propaganda — it is a history of liberation in the subjective expression of oppressed people.”[iv]
The early introduction of woodblock prints to Singapore’s art scene is attributed to the early “Wenman Gie” publications or The World of Culture and Cartoons by Dai Yunlang in 1936 as a Sunday art feature on Nanyang Siang Pau. The knowledge of woodblock print was shared with the educators of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts when it was established in 1938.[v]
In Malaysia, veteran artist Dr. Choong Kam Kow was appointed the Head of Fine Art Department at UiTM in 1970 and introduced “printmaking as a core subject like painting and sculpture in year two and year three and as a Minor area of study in final year’s syllabuses of the fine art department.”[vi]
He wrote: “…as far as I can remember, those artists who have been invited to do part-time teaching in printmaking during the initial years were Latiff Mohidin, Long Thien Shih, Carol Rotsiger and Ghafar Ibrahim. They all have made considerable contributions to the implementation of the printmaking curriculum at ITM.”
In observing the appreciation for printmaking in Malaysia, Dr. Choong described: “Over the last five decades, we have witnessed the gradual increase of groups and solos printmaking exhibitions held both in public and private art galleries with the aims to promote appreciation and recognition of modern fine prints as a unique art form. However, in the art market today, private collectors, corporations and public institutions are still very much lacking of enthusiasm in acquiring fine prints for collection. Many of them are still having the misconception that printmaking is reproduction due to its multiple editions, hence lower in value. The value appreciation rate is slow and limited as compared to painting and sculpture.”
In 2018, Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery presented a major exhibition highlighting the significance of the printmaking medium and narrative in Malaysian art titled Seni Cetakan: Sepanjang Zaman (The Art of Printmaking: Lasting Impressions). Raduan created a colossal work that was featured in the show. Titled Banjaran, the woodcut and oil on canvas work measures 8ft by 20ft (2m by 6m) and is the artist’s largest interpretation of the forest in Banjaran Titiwangsa created exclusively in woodcut technique.
For Raduan, he aims to make an impact through his artistic endeavours. “I am constantly setting the bar high to challenge myself to create impactful works. I have arrived at a stage where I make art for my personal fulfilment. The healing nature of the process is what I enjoy most,” said Raduan.
[ii] Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom, www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/collection/s0047v1962
[iii] Blaze Carved in Darkness: Woodcut Movements is Asia 1930s – 2010s, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, 2019, www.asiawoodcut2.wordpress.com
[v] Woodcut Prints: Artistic Significance of Woodcut Prints – Heritage of Singapore Traditional Art, Ng Woon Lam, www.composition.com.sg/woodcut-prints/
[vi] Development of Malaysian Modern Printmaking Through ITM Academic Programme, Dr. Choong Kam Kow, September 22, 2021, www.malaysianprintmaking.com/post/development-of-malaysian-modern-printmaking-through-itm-academic-programme