Zulkifli Lee considers himself a natural artist. He enjoys finding inspiration outdoors and he shapes artworks true to what nature spreads out in front of him. His art offers a spectrum of contour, sandy shimmer and colour across the earth’s varied landscape.
In a recent interview, the KL-based artist was in a lively mood, looking back on his Rimbun Dahan Yearlong Resident Artist 2017 programme, which he just completed.
At the leafy, village-like Rimbun Dahan grounds in Kuang, Selangor, which used to be a fruit orchard, Zulkifli worked directly with nature, using materials such as lime stone, leaves and soil.
For his residency exhibition Material, Order And Chance in Rimbun Dahan, the artist has created a series of very “grounded” works. This is because each of the exhibition’s 30 pieces is created using soil, the first time he is working with this medium.
“There is always a first for soil. It’s an interesting medium. Before this I used corrosion as my main material. It’s a big break for me, being able to experiment with the new. For me, art is about exploration. It’s about going into territory that is not familiar,” says Zulkifli, 39, describing his new works at an interview in the Rimbun Dahan gallery.
“When I first started, I wondered if my paintings would all turn out be brown. But as I explored more and more, I found that the colour of soil is much more than that!”
Indeed, Material, Order And Chance features a rich visual language. Each of the works are in earth colours, but there are a variety of shades, textures and hues available. According to the artist, the works are all influenced by his faith, and his themes spanned the beauty of nature, the beauty of numbers and geometric form, the beauty of humans and the beauty of God.
“My art relates to my traditions and background. If you look at traditional Malay art, it’s always from nature. And I am trying to look at nature from a different way,” reveals Zulkifli.
This the first solo exhibition for Zulkifli, who holds a fine arts degree from UiTM, Shah Alam. In creating his art, the Raub, Pahang-born Zulkifli would first collect earth and materials from nearby, occasionally even from construction sites. The artist would then bring these samples back to his Rimbun Dahan work studio, separate them by type, and then pound them into powder with a pestle and mortar. He would then mix this powder with binder, apply it to a canvas, and then stencil a pattern on it.
Zulkifli wasn’t fazed by the tedious methods of crafting his new collection.
“I submitted part of the image-making to the law of nature, to forms and dispositions of art elements outside my personal control,” he admits.
“The marks are created by chance, and they deformed or transformed the images created by me, and vice versa.”
His creations are also not based on narrative, but on aesthethics. His patterns are created with references to traditional Malay and Islamic designs, and based on six formal characteristics: abstraction, modular structure, successive combination, repetition, dynamism and intricacy.
The artwork’s titles, such as Berlarik Dinamik, Raut, Monopola and Sepadu are all references to the idea of “oneness” or unity.
Despite moving ahead with a new medium, this exhibition, says Zulkifli, is also partly a reaction to the expressive and spiritual qualities of art, and how the “push and pull on canvas” connects to community.
“In Malay culture, mostly the individual is not so important. What’s important is the home and the community. So I’m talking about togetherness. So this is not really about my individual self-expression. It’s challenging the modern, Western view of art, which states individualism. But in my culture, it’s an expression of community,” says Zulkifli.
Material, Order And Chance is on at Rimbun Dahan Gallery, Km 27 (entrance before Lorong Belimbing), Jalan Kuang, Kuang, Selangor till Dec 10. The gallery is open from 10am to 6pm on weekends, and by appointment on weekdays. For more information, visit rimbundahan.org or facebook.com/rimbundahan. Call 016-230 1570.