Feted by royalty, prestigious institutions and elite collectors, maestro Latiff Mohidin continues to show privileged art lovers why his latest paintings are astounding and why no other Malaysian artist comes close to his level.
The diminutive artist, who is 157cm tall, turned 80 in August. To commemorate this milestone, he showcased a dozen large works, ranging from 183cm by 239cm to 152cm by 259cm, and several medium-size works of 122cm by 122cm to 122cm by 152cm at a private show, titled simply, New Paintings 2021. The exhibition also marked 70 years of Latiff’s “preoccupation with paints and brushes”, commencing with his first solo show in Singapore in December 1951 at the Kota Raja Malay School.
Totalling 19 paintings, the artworks were displayed at The Edge Galerie in the Mont’Kiara Meridin commercial centre in Kuala Lumpur from Nov 28 to Dec 12. The gallery, which spans 144 sq m, is now a private lounge. Held over a series of viewings limited to about a dozen people each time because of government restrictions to curb Covid-19 infections, the exhibition saw guests being treated to an array of “off series” works.
Latiff’s latest combination of techniques includes meticulous drip work, controlled splatter work, sweeping brush strokes, multiple layering and dynamic colour schemes.
“With these latest works, Latiff continues to astound me as he has done for the last 50-plus years since I first knew him during his Pago Pago days. Bursting Rocks, for instance, is truly spectacular for its conception and execution,” says distinguished art collector Zain Azahari Zainal Abidin, who turns 87 this Christmas.
“I also found Green Landscape and Night Flight to be particularly eye-catching for their strength and Latiff’s skilled use of the colour black. Both paintings, I believe, share origins with a previous 2019 work by Latiff that I happen to be familiar with, entitled Roaring Waves, Fading Moon.
“At the ripe old age of 80, Latiff’s status as the grandmaster of Malaysian art remains unsurpassed,” adds the veteran legal consultant, who viewed the works along with a couple of other erudite collectors.
Some works such as Night Flight, 2020, Bursting Stones 1, 2021, and Tasik Raban, 2019 appear to be three-dimensional, owing to the optical illusion created by Latiff’s painting technique.
According to the artist, when describing a painting, Western art literature would mainly focus on the background, foreground or overall composition. “But the Japanese way of describing a painting would often single out one element, for instance, a strand of hair of a geisha,” says Latiff.
“You can immerse yourself in the very depth of the subject when viewing it up close or move further away to the left or right and see the work from another angle to appreciate the difference. In that way, one can discern the three-dimensional effect of the work.”
Architect Dr Tan Loke Mun says, “Latiff continues to show that he is still The One. He is journeying, discovering, innovating and continuing to push the boundaries of his art to greater heights.
“The new works are exciting, expressive and, as always, full of meaning for the poet and artist.
“Already superbly deft with the brush stroke and layered textures, he has now added a refreshing dimension by incorporating dripping paint into his recent works to express the explosion of water bursting forth from rock. Amazing stuff from the maestro.”
Legal consultant Yoong Sin Min says, “Latiff’s power, skill and imagination in producing these impressive works are in full, glorious display. He’s still going strong and shows no trace of jadedness or fatigue. He continues to amaze me.”
Medical consultant Dr Abang Askandar Kamel, another long-time collector of Latiff’s works, adds, “I am in awe every time Latiff Mohidin produces new works. The magic in them is pleasantly refreshing to see and keeps me intrigued.”
Latiff has held two solo shows at The Edge Galerie — Seascape series in 2014 and Modern Sculptures, 2016. In 2018, the Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou in Paris held a retrospective show for him, entitled Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960-69); subsequently, the exhibition was restaged at the National Gallery Singapore in 2020.
Latiff describes the situation that led to his latest works. “In 2018, after coming back from the Pago Pago exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, I suddenly felt empty. It took me several months to strike the empty canvases. Why don’t I make a new series? The results were three large horizontal paintings Green — Red — and Blue Landscapes and a few unfinished works but no more.
“Then came the pandemic in 2020 with SOPs (standard operating procedures) and lockdowns. I thought, this is a great opportunity for me to remain silent in total isolation in my studio and produce lots of good paintings. Somehow, I lost my concentration in working.
“In our daily lives, we often get distracted, disconnected and, strangely, even stand still. One of the distractions was of my own making. In August 2020, I finished the whole translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus and 40 Rilke Poems from German to Malay.
“Later, I shifted my attention back to paintings, to images of stones and rocks — the central theme of my last (paintings) exhibition, the Seascape series, held at The Edge Galerie in 2014. I thought a lot about their rough surfaces and grainy texture. Again, after a few hasty strikes, I lost the momentum.
“But something else came out instead. Two green paintings, entitled Bursting Stones, and a red landscape, Bursting Rocks. These large canvases were actually inspired by a verse in the Quran Surah Al Buqarah, Ayat 2-74, describing how ‘rivers flow and burst from cracks splitting stones’.
“From my habit of combining two or three techniques in one painting came six works, included in this show, with swipes of large brush strokes and dripping paint. They are the Night Flight painting and two works of Primeval plus three works of Primordial Shell.
“Lastly, this small show is also, for me, a kind of celebration. This year, Pak Latiff is 80.”
This article first appeared on Dec 20, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.