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Newcomer Artist Loves To Slip Easter Eggs Into His Paintings

About The Article

Media:                Malaysiakini                                                                                                                                    Title:                   Newcomer Artist Loves To Slip Easter Eggs Into His Paintings
Medium:            Print & Online

Date:                   March 3, 2024
Author:               Zarrah Morden

Article Content

Newcomer artist Syul Hezri says his art needs to be looked at from multiple perspectives, partly because he enjoys hiding Easter eggs in his paintings.

It could be a name, lyrics, a phrase or something grander like a world map, depending on the piece and its concept, but part of the observer’s enjoyment will be in trying to detect just what he managed to slip in.

“I don’t know how I started doing it,” he told Malaysiakini, smile lines embedded deep in his face.

The 40-year-old Sarawakian is just someone who does not take himself or his art seriously.

To him, what determines the quality of his artwork is not its aesthetic value, but how good of a story lies behind it. Hence, the Easter eggs are now incorporated into his style of art.

Forming the world map

One example of this is his art piece titled “(Travelling Turns You Into A) Storyteller”, which looks like a simple painting of a large tree. Upon a closer look, however, the clumps of leaves form the world map.

The bird’s nest lodged between east and west Malaysia indicates that his home lies there. Syul also placed pins on places he had visited.

Interestingly he does not sell his original pieces, instead opting to sell customised versions of them for customers in which he hides whatever they ask him to.

It is how he establishes an emotional attachment from the client to the artwork, he explained.

He thinks that he probably got his interest in art from his mother, a schoolteacher who experimented with art in her free time.

His most valuable art piece is not his own, but rather a copper tooling self-portrait made by his mother, Noraini Daud.

“This is my Mona Lisa,” he said proudly, gesturing at it.

He related an anecdote about how the reigning queen visited a bazaar where his mother had a booth selling her artwork.

Johor Permaisuri Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah had wanted to purchase the copper piece but the booth assistant was unable to get ahold of Noraini as the latter was teaching a class at the time.

“It was a blessing because now I get to keep it for myself,” Syul said.

However, he owns little of his mother’s work as they moved around constantly due to his father’s job in the military.

Elephant in the room

When met, Syul was busy curating his exhibition “Ambil Peduli… (Addressing the Elephant in the Room)”, which also displayed his piece of the same name: a drawing of an elephant.

Like most of his pieces, it seems simple at first glance, but the entirety of the elephant’s body is made up of words.

The trunk reads “climate change” and the other parts of its body are made up of the seven causes of climate change highlighted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The front right leg is “powering buildings” while the front left leg reads “generating power”. The rear legs are “consumption” and “deforestation”. The ears read “manufacturing” and “transportation” while the body says “food”.

“I had to wait for the COP in Dubai to be over before I finished this piece,” he said, referring to the Conference of the Parties organised by the UNFCCC to assess progress made on dealing with climate change.

“Who knows, maybe they could have changed the causes of climate change or added a new one!”

He attributes his deep concern for climate change to his origins in Sarawak.

Being in tune with nature and loving the environment was just part of being Sarawakian, he said.

“Nature comes naturally to us,” he explained.

First exhibition

As for the exhibition, it was Syul’s first. He has painted for over a decade but has only just decided to exhibit his work.

He was inspired to organise it to show artists that maybe they had to indulge in more creativity when it came to marketing themselves.

“I hope to disrupt the art scene with this,” he said.

He is not telling other artists what to do, especially as a newcomer, but wants to show that artists do not have to wait for commercial opportunities to come to them, or only resort to traditional ways of marketing their art.

Simply put, he wants artists to be more independent.

He plucked at the shirt he was wearing, merchandise of his own that featured his artwork, as an example of what artists can do to make their art more accessible.

Those who sell art tend to focus on the elite as collectors, but anyone who has the money to spend can collect, he pointed out.

“If you can’t afford to buy a painting, then maybe you can buy a T-shirt,” he said with a shrug.

Despite it being his first exhibition, he found it relatively easy to organise thanks to his corporate background.

He was a project manager for a large company in his younger days, he said.

Syul said he does receive criticism about his art – one critic told him that he needs to improve his brush strokes – but he clarified that he has never aimed for perfection.

“But the art is about stories, which involve even my mistakes,” he said.

A clump of paint thicker in one area compared to another told the story of how he had made a mistake and tried to cover it up, he said as an example.

His style tends to be impulsive as he neither plans out what he wishes to paint nor sketches anything out beforehand.

He also rejects hyperrealism as he finds it more difficult to hide things in the style because it would be much more time-consuming and laborious to produce a piece.

Caravaggio obsession

As a self-taught artist, Syul learned from YouTube documentaries about art, which ignited a love affair with Italian Baroque-era painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, famously known by his last name.

Caravaggio’s influence can be seen in Syul’s art, particularly with the play of light and shadows which the latter frequently uses to do his signature “hiding”.

As an act of pilgrimage, Syul often goes on backpacking trips to visit Caravaggio paintings. He reckons that he has fewer than 15 paintings by the Italian maestro left to see.

It is one of those trips to Europe that culminated in his painting “That Flamenco Girl”, a depiction of a flamenco dancer.

He had awoken from a night journey in Spain to find that his passport and half of all his cash were stolen.

In the deep flounces of the skirt, Syul had hidden the names of friends who helped him in that time. The dancer’s upturned hand had her middle finger turned to the sky, an obscenity that expressed his feelings of suffering at the time.

“But when I came back home, I realised what a good story the trip made for,” he said.

When asked about his next move, Syul said that he might want to organise another exhibition, this time on mental health.

He indicated his painting “Terus Berharap & Masih Berharap”, depicting a man holding up a large leaf over his head in the rain.

The piece could be a commentary not only about increased rainfall but also about how one becomes lost in their struggles, forgetting that they are one of many people, all of whom have their problems to deal with.

“Maybe it’s not my art that is flexible, but the nature of art that is,” he mused.