Animal portraits are no easy feat. Sure, it could be as easy as photographing your subject and painting the portrait based on that image.

But you’d potentially miss out the very essence of the animal itself.

“For me, animal portraits need to be more than that,” says KL-based British artist Rachel Gray during a recent interview at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in Kuala Lumpur.

As a professional pet and wildlife portrait artist for over 10 years, Gray, from Britain’s north-eastern town of Hexham, points out that it is vital to capture the soul and the emotion of the animals.

And that’s exactly what you’ll get with her Instinct And Experiences exhibition, currently showing at the NVAG’s Creative Space until Oct 14.

The exhibition, Gray’s first solo, features 32 paintings by the 30-year-old artist, each one stunning and bursting with colours.

It consists of Gray’s digital wildlife portraits that capture the rich diversity of Malaysian wildlife and also her abstract oil paintings, both of which took her nearly two years to complete.

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A work from Gray called Impact (digital painting, 2018).

Her wildlife portraits were all painted from her own wildlife photography, taken during her travels to Sandakan, Taman Negara and even our national zoo. Her abstract paintings, on the other hand, were inspired by her experiences in Malaysia and Asia as a whole.

Gray, who graduated from Newcastle College with a degree in illustration and animation, moved to Malaysia four years ago.

Interestingly, Instinct And Experiences marks a momentous moment for Gray as she is the first British female solo artist to showcase her artworks at the NVAG.

This is Gray’s third exhibition in Malaysia. Her first Malaysian exhibition, Life Uninterrupted, was held in Petaling Jaya in 2017.

The group exhibition featured several Malaysian artists, including Ajim Juxta. Her wildlife portraits were showcased earlier this year at Galeri Shah Alam, together with works by Hairul Azizi for the Pameran Seni Digital exhibition.

For her wildlife portraits in the Instinct And Experiences exhibition, Gray says she spent hours simply observing the animals, taking countless photographs and making sketches.

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In Thought (digital painting, 2018).

“I study each animal for as long as they allow me to,” says Gray.

Simply put, digital painting is an art form in which traditional painting techniques such as those using oil paints or watercolours can be applied using digital tools.

All you need is a stylus, a specialist digital drawing pad and a computer. The results are stunning, often producing hyper-realistic artworks.

Take for example Scent. The breathtaking digital painting shows a crouching leopard, its eyes locked at something. At any moment, the animal could’ve pounced.

The tension on its shoulders, the killer instinct in its eye and the sharp vigilance predators are known for are all masterfully captured in this artwork.

“This is what I want to show in my wildlife paintings, the character, instincts and emotion of the animal,” shares Gray.

As for her abstract oil paintings, Gray says “they are more moments in time, my experiences of where I am”.

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Visitors at the Instinct And Experiences exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery.

To achieve this, she says she uses vibrant colours, brush strokes and palette knives.

“I use palette knives as I am fascinated with broken stripes, each as different and unique as a fingerprint.

“And I live and love colours. So my oil works are striking, vibrant and loud. Within the background of each piece, I brush layers and layers of oil paint onto the canvas until the perfect hue is created,” she explains.

This can be seen in Content. The painting is a rich hue of wine red and on it are thick stripes of gold.

“When something is content, it’s normally full, up to the brim. Which is why in this painting, I wanted to throw some really heavy lines to show a certain confidence and boldness. The stripes here are quite thick and fat. To me, this is content,” says Gray.


Instinct And Experiences is on at the National Visual Arts Gallery, Jalan Temerloh, off Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur till Oct 14. Opening hours: 10am-6pm daily. For more information, call 03-4026 7000 or visit artgallery.gov.my. Free admission. More info: www.artstation.com/rachelgray.