Viewing artist Mohamad Sany Abdullah’s latest series of works, one would be forgiven for thinking he has X-ray vision.
To the untrained eye, the strikingly moody and monochromatic pieces look almost like radiographs that see through flesh to reveal the human body’s skeletal structure.
But a closer look reveals that they are “paintings” of X-ray prints – made with generous amounts of powdered charcoal and the skillful use of an eraser.
“I start with a white paper then rub the charcoal on. To make the lighter areas, I then rub it off with an eraser. So essentially I paint with an eraser.
“For the darker areas, I just add more charcoal. It’s a messy process, and after every piece I spend quite some time vacuuming,” says Sany about his works.
Aptly themed X-Ray Series, a selection of 10 pieces are currently exhibited at Galeri Seni Mutiara along Armenian Street in the George Town, Penang.
Notable is Gigi which depicts a person’s lower jaw and teeth across three panels. The actual subject, it turns out, was 49-year-old Sany himself.
“I had a medical check up and did an X-ray of my teeth. The print had a nice composition and it struck me to do a painting of it,” the artist says of the lightbulb moment a few years back.
While he initially replicated the X-ray prints with oil, he eventually found charcoal a simpler and more suitable medium for what he was trying to achieve. Since then, he kept refining his methods.
“I don’t really set out to paint the human anatomy, but rather, the X-ray prints,” Sany point outs.
Besides his own X-rays, he also draws inspiration from similar imagery he finds in books or on the Internet.
Pieces like Parah, Pinggang, Dada I and II, as well as Siku I and II are among those he came up with.
Having already recreated various parts of the anatomy, father-of-two Sany has also started making X-rays of fish.
What’s next, is still up in the air.
“I don’t like producing the same thing for long periods. I’m always keen to try something new and uncommon which others don’t really do.
“I’m not a follower of trends or philosophies, which frees myself to explore and experiment. The most important thing is to perfect the technique of doing something,” says the well-travelled artist.
Though born in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, he grew up in Pendang, Kedah, and later lived in Kuala Lumpur and Penang as well as several different islands around the Malaysian Peninsula, Langkawi included.
He started his art career doing mostly abstracts, but developed a liking for landscapes after moving to Germany and settling down near Wolfsburg in 2004. He now calls Rueil-Malmaison near Paris in France, home.
He was back in Penang for the recent Hari Raya holidays and the launch of the exhibition, when he also said, “In Europe, one can really experience the history of art. The town I lived in had original pieces from masters like Rembrandt, which you can’t find here.”
The show is his sixth career solo and second one at the gallery following another back in 2008. He has also exhibited in many group exhibitions within Malaysia and Germany.
The artist teased, “If I come back to do another show here, it will be something totally different. I want to surprise people.”
Galeri Seni Mutiara director Koay Soo Kau, having curated both Sany’s shows, was full of praise for the artist having constantly evolved and developed his style.
“Before this, he was a realistic and romanticist painter. But after going overseas, he embraced the powers of observation and creativity to come up with works that are truly unique,” says Koay.
“I encourage more local artists to follow his example and venture out of their comfort zone to explore new things – because in the long run, it pays off,” he adds.
The X-Ray Series exhibition runs at Galeri Seni Mutiara, No. 118 Armenian Street, George Town, Penang till June 23. Open: 11am to 6pm daily. Admission is free. Call 04-2620 167 or 016-444 0167.