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Rumah Lukis ‘debuts’ with renowned artist’s works

Carta, the first exhibition by newly-launched independent art gallery Rumah Lukis in Kuala Lumpur, is certainly an art show with a difference.

The exhibition is dedicated to the formative years of renowned contemporary artist Jalaini Abu Hassan, 53. Not only does it display many never-before-seen sketches, etchings, doodles and skeletal drawings produced by Jalaini between the 1980s to 2000, but it also features many items belonging to the artist himself, including his old photographs, sketchbooks, lecture notes and even identification cards.

What results is not so much a grand show of his works, but more of a visual narrative of Jalaini’s artistic journey, highlighting how he became the artist he is today. This is Rumah Lukis’s concept, which highlights the process of making art, architecture and other creative fields.

“I’m more interested in the process of things, the act of making. I think the way artists work, the process they do things, is very important, and needs to be shared with the public. Here, the public even gets to see the errors that went into a work,” says Mohamad Pital Maarof, Rumah Lukis founder, who is also an architect and avid art collector.

“Rumah Lukis is interested in how an artist builds up their personality, their method of working, how they design their studio, and so on. For me, that is part of the process, and, I think, we get to know the artist more than their end results,” he adds.

Established last September, Rumah Lukis initially started out as a residence for Pital’s family. After the death of his father and his aunt, however, and his mother decided to move back to her hometown in Johor. Pital, 49, then decided to convert the house into a gallery.

Carta contains more than 60 drawings and sketches from Jalaini, a longtime friend of Pital, who he met while they were both studying in New York.

“I said to myself, you have a good friend, let’s use him!” says Pital with a chuckle. “But it was an idea I’ve always had. I’ve told Jai for a long time, you should compile your significant work, get an archive.”

In the homegrown art circles, Jalaini is fondly known as Jai.

“We’ve talked about it since 20 years ago. And finally, when I had this space, I floated the idea to him once again and we went with it.”

Jalaini Abu Hassan's lecture notes and sketches.

Jalaini Abu Hassan’s lecture notes and sketches.

Since his first solo show in London in 1987, Jalaini’s works have appeared in almost 60 exhibitions in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. Some of his major works are housed in permanent collections of institutions such as the National Visual Arts Gallery and Galeri Petronas.

Sections of the Carta exhibition are devoted to his works made in London (where he pursued his degree at the Slade School of Fine Art at the University College of London), New York (where he completed his Masters in Fine Art at the Pratt Institute in New York) and Shah Alam (where he is an associate professor in the Faculty of Art & Design at Universiti Teknologi Mara).

Many of the works on display in Carta are also from the artist’s personal collection.

“Some of the sketches here I’ve seen every day! But to see them in a context like this, it’s interesting. There is actually a progression. When you put the work chronologically, you see the development of an artist, which I myself didn’t realise until I’d seen it,” says Jalaini.

“I’ve changed tremendously, in terms of skill, competency, confidence, thought and knowledge, things like that.”

Highlights of the collection include Jalaini’s first still-life from his student days, various floral paintings, which he was previously commissioned by a hotel to do, and a watercolour piece, which won first prize in an art competition in 1996.

Part of the show is also dedicated to his Jabil series of drawings, which commemorates the birth of Jalaini’s first child Jabil. The series contains spontaneous sketches he made of his wife during pregnancy, the face of the baby just after birth, and the serenity of a sleeping Jabil.

Touring the Carta show, says Pital, is also an option, but there are no plans right now.

Instead a second part of this show, focusing on Jalaini’s works from 2000 to the present day, is on the cards later this year.

A range of sketches, early works, notes and drafts from Jalaini Abu Hassan's personal collection.

A range of sketches, early works, notes and drafts from Jalaini Abu Hassan’s personal collection.

Rumah Lukis also has many plans for the future, including another art show from an emerging local artist, whose identity Pital cannot disclose yet.

Whoever Rumah Lukis choose to feature next, it is obvious the focus will remain on the process and growth of an artist. For Pital, it is certainly a fascinating project, helping to dispel the popular misconception that many artists achieve success merely through natural talent.

“Hopefully, people realise that being an artist is not always just about learning about technique, but is about being passionate about what you’re doing. It’s about having this tremendous curiosity in your mind that you record things in your notepad, your lecture notes,” reveals Jalaini.

“It’s not so much about whether you pandai lukis or not. It’s all about passion and curiosity, all documented in your sketches, your doodles, your photography. These things show not just what you can do, but also who you are as a person,” he concludes.

Carta is on at Rumah Lukis, 11 Jalan AU5D/4, Lembah Keramat, Hulu Klang in KL till Feb 17. Open 11am-6pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Weekdays by appointment. For more info, e-mail or call 03-2201 6242.

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