There is a bored Donald Duck, a lost Pikachu and an eager Snoopy all pumped up for the trip of a lifetime in Fawwaz Sukri’s latest solo exhibition Life Is Wonderful at Nadine Fine Art in Petaling Jaya.
These are just a few of the quirky characters featured on the 32-year-old artist’s busy canvas.
“These are depictions of every day scenes, but reimagined in cartoon-style, with a touch of whimsy and fantasy. When I observe people in my surroundings, I am often amused when they say or do something that reminds me of characters from animated sitcoms or cartoons I used to watch as a kid. So I find ways to allude to this, through incorporating different characters into my work to represent the different characteristics we see and experience in life,” says Fawwaz.
In Life Is Wonderful, he captures the chatter and bustle of daily life scenes, whether by a bus stop, a dumpster, a food truck, in the arcade or walking past a row of shoplots. In this world, every painting feels like the quintessential sunny day painted in bright and happy colours.
But it is also this same bright light that throws into stark relief the graffiti and scribbles from restless souls in public spaces. There are the usual lori sewa (truck rental) numbers, money lender ads and dodgy massages that promise you the world. Then there are the disgruntled messages – “Young, Dumb and Broke”, “Life Is Just 4 A While” and “If My Life Is For Rent” – scrawled on any available surface.
In one of his works, Selangor-born Fawwaz even adds a distressed-looking Companion (US artist Kaws’ signature cartoon character), who is sitting on a pool table, closing its eyes. Did the character lose a gambling bet?
“I wanted my paintings to look lively and cheerful at first glance. It is only when you look at the details that you realise that life might not be as wonderful after all. No matter how great it looks on the outside, life can truly be stressful, hard and unfair.
“Maybe it is through graffiti that people have an outlet to express their feelings, to share all the things they cannot say. So maybe it is through these things they write that you can get a feel of the true pulse of the community,”says Fawwaz.
There is no shortage of whimsy in these paintings where broken bottles, cat poop and open cans litter the ground, and Super Mario, a morose Mickey Mouse and a gleeful Charmander wander around the premises. Jerry (from Tom And Jerry) is unperturbed by the drama around him, and we see him scampering away with a wedge of cheese in his hands.
“I use all the characters I know from my childhood, and also TV programmes like Family Guy and American Dad that I still love till this day because of their astute observations of life and politically incorrect humour,” says Fawwaz.
Life is Wonderful is his second solo exhibition, which comes five years after his Asian cinema-inspired debut show Saturday’s Matinee in 2014. It was held at the same art space, formerly known as Pace Gallery. In that exhibition, Fawwaz cartoonised scenes from old P. Ramlee and Shaw Brothers’ movies and went heavy on a collage technique.
In 2016, Fawwaz shared a double-header show with Bambang “Toko” Witjaksono, one of Indonesia’s most prominent names in Pop Art.
Fawwaz is eager to show us how much he has grown as an artist with his current works, balancing visual appeal and a healthy dose of social comment.
In Life Is Wonderful, he allows for more exploration, opting not to place limitations as he did in the first show. The result is a world that combines reality with imagination and fantasy. The visual textures in these paintings are created by first laying down a silkscreen print, then painting over it, but leaving some bits and pieces peeking through.
“I have been working on this collection for around eight months. It ended up being visually more uplifting than the works in my first solo exhibition, but the same deeper messages about life and love prevails – you might just have to search a bit deeper. I also retained the girls and women in my paintings, as a representation of femininity and beauty in the world,” he says.
Like life and TV shows, music serves as a big part of his inspiration, in particular the hip hop genre, as the lyrics or underlying messages strike a chord with this artist.
“The songs are about about life and culture, the struggle of the common man, and how we get by in life. I find it very relatable and it is a never-ending source of inspiration for me,” he says.
Even while this exhibition is on-going, Fawwaz is getting the wheels turning for his third solo, where he promises something a little different as he will be painting on discarded cardboard boxes laid flat.
A sneak preview offers us a glimpse of a chain-smoking Elmo with his leg in a cast, and a Cookie Monster who is blue, more than just literally.
Yes, life is wonderful indeed – but only on the surface. And we just might be seeing more of that from this artist.
Life Is Wonderful is on at Nadine Fine Art, 64, Jalan Kemajuan, Petaling Jaya, Selangor till April 12. Opening hours: 11am to 5.30pm (Monday to Saturday). Call 03-7931 5069.