The word “Thaumaturgist” is defined as a wonder worker, or worker of miracles, and seems an apt description for Haslin Ismail. One of the most prolific young contemporary Malaysian artists, Haslin is known for his immaculate technical ability and the shocking quality of his imagination. Drawing inspiration from a variety of sources including fiction, Japanese pop culture and a host of surreal artists such as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, he expresses his otherworldly visions via a series of works encompassing paintings, sculptures, installations, and artist books, which deeply impact his audience with their ethereal quality, as is seen in his latest painting, Ultramundane No. 11: Thaumaturgist.

Measuring 200cm by 180cm, the main body of Ultramundane No. 11: Thaumaturgist is made up of a painting of a rib cage, set against a coal black background, with two hands at the bottom in either corner. On closer inspection it appears that the composition actually mimics a face, with the two hands in such a position as if about to cover the eyes. Over the finished painted surface are pasted magazine images, occasionally cropped or distorted, thus encouraging a second look, marking a return to the love of collaging Haslin displayed in his early career.

Haslin’s ability to visually engage his audience with his work is the product of a detailed work process, which begins with his fantastical sketchbooks, where he endlessly expresses his untamed imagination, creating a visual journal that acts as a series of notes to be enhanced for finished works. A lateral thinker, Haslin primes his canvas in a thick coat of black paint, thus beginning at the very opposite end of the spectrum from most painters who start with a white surface. The artist was inspired by the “Reverse Technique” taught at art school, where his tutors would use charcoal to colour in paper black before adding light with erasers and their fingers. To add such bright colours and light onto a flat black background is technically immensely challenging, and is achieved by layering extremely mixed paints, for instance, the breastbone in Ultramundane No. 11: Thaumaturgist is the result of careful mixing of ten various shades of paint, standing testament to Haslin’s innate understanding of his medium.

Ultramundane No. 11: Thaumaturgist”, is the eleventh painting in his “Ultramundane” series, which represents the first time the artist has grouped a body of works under a formal series title. These recent works, including Ultramundane No. 11: Thaumaturgist, are a reflection of Haslin’s views on living in Kuala Lumpur, and marry his interest in architecture with his obsession for human anatomy. The branches of each rib could be seen to be slim skylines of a city, announcing Haslin’s love for distortion within his work. It should be noted that the upper section of the ribcage does not match up with the lower segment, mimicking cities, which have differing districts, each with their own unique micro cultures, societies and economies. An introspective man, Haslin’s works tend to speak about his own views, in this case his experience of living in a metropolitan environment, bringing a completely new perspective to the hum of everyday city living. Indeed the role of artists in contemporary societies is to explore the landscape of society, in an effort to represent the fabric of modern living and issues in an intellectual manner.  The hidden face is, as always, a self-portrait of sorts, bringing to mind the late director Alfred Hitchcock, who always made a cameo in his movies as a visual signature.

Haslin’s highly personal narratives, while presented in a darkly quiet visual, burst with light and harmony, and through the multiple stratums of inspiration and fabrication have the unique ability to connect individually with swathes of people across society. Ultramundane No. 11: Thaumaturgist is a brilliant addition to his burgeoning portfolio as a beautifully painted piece that incorporates the reintroduction of his collaging techniques, creating a haunting work that privileges the viewer with an insight into the explosive thoughts of a young wonder worker.

written by Zena Khan

artist             : haslin ismail

type                : acrylic & collage on canvas

dimension    : 200 x 180 cm

price               : RM 15, 000.00


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