From keronchong to Kandinsky, M. Nasir is a man with many artful twists.
And yet his Wikipedia page makes no mention of a recent addition to his extensive resume. Datuk M. Nasir – the visual artist. This omission doesn’t really bother the 57-year-old renaissance man, who has maintained and enjoyed a long-standing career – singer, songwriter, composer, producer, actor and film director – in the entertainment industry in Malaysia since the late 1970s.
“‘I didn’t know you painted,’” says M. Nasir, sounding slightly amused. “I get that comment very often when people find out about what I have been busy doing outside my music work.”
While music has clearly made M. Nasir a household name, art has always been something knocking on the back door of his career. It’s just that the knocks have gotten louder in recent months, or so he claims during an interview last week at Tapak Galeri in Shah Alam, Selangor.
“At one point in my life, I was full of messages. That was some 20 years ago … I wanted the world to listen to what I had to say through music. Then I came to realisation that it didn’t have to be like that. Sometimes, having an idea in itself can be outdated.
“Through art, I’m just expressing my existence now. I’m enjoying the process of making art,” he adds with a philosophical nod.
Back to art
In 1996, M. Nasir nearly went back to art after his songs were frozen on RTM channels following his infamous “Siapa Mahathir?” outburst. He survived that stormy period.
An interesting – here and now – thread is developing for M. Nasir when it comes to art. He is not passing through the studio door, seeking to re-enter the past.
“This is me making art now. It’s coming from the inside. It’s how I feel now. I’m not trying to look back.”
It’s easy to see why some people would think he’s on a nostalgic trip. It was back in 1977 when the Singapore-born M. Nasir graduated in Fine Arts from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
He even participated in a handful of group shows in the late 1970s – including a two-man batik show with S. Amin Shahab (artist/composer) at National Art Gallery Singapore in 1978 – before moving his career towards music and theatre work in Kuala Lumpur.
But it took M. Nasir more than 37 years to finally agree to a solo exhibition and veteran artist Yusof Ghani, after much insistence and encouragement, had to pull out all the stops to organise M. Nasir’s first solo show at Tapak Galeri last August.
“I’ve known M. Nasir for a number of years now. We were part of a group show (Maya at Maybank Art Gallery) in 1999. We kept in touch. Through a mutual friend – Dr Rizhar A. Rahim, who writes music and paints – I found out more about M. Nasir’s art.
“About two years ago, Rizhar and I talked to him about doing a possible solo show. He agreed to give it some thought, and here we are now – two shows in nine months!” says Yusof, 64, who owns Tapak Galeri.
M. Nasir took more than a year to develop the first Tanda exhibition series at Tapak. Tanda, featuring 15 abstract paintings, definitely put his name and works out in the public domain as a solo artist.
The show was a success – selling out before it opened last August.
Busy with art
M. Nasir has been prolific since that first show, working the canvases diligently at his home studio in Sungai Buloh, Selangor.
“I wake up early and hit the studio before 8am,” he says.
“I paint during this time. For me, it’s a way of putting my thoughts and what I see in my head – the colours, the shapes – in an artwork.
“You want to perfect the vision in your head. Art is just like music, that’s the way I feel. You’re alone with your thoughts a lot in both,” he says.
But just in case you think he’s given up everything else, he stresses:
“I’m still working on my music … that’s my afternoon work.”
Even in his music circles, art is not too far away. He mentions Kopratasa duo Sani Sudin and Usop, present-day collaborator Buddhi Hekayat, S. Amin Shahab and the late songwriter Loloq, as some of the people in his life who come from an art background and have made music a career as well.
This spurt of creativity – outside music – has clearly reinvigorated M. Nasir.
NEXT PAGE: M. Nasir talks about Tanda II and the influence of Wassily Kandinsky on his art.