Artist Khalil Ibrahim flanked by two of his artworks on display at a new retrospective of his works, Khalil Ibrahim: The Art Journey at KL Lifestyle Art Space.
Veteran artist Khalil Ibrahim is a fighter through and through, with a passion for art that surmounts all obstacles.
For most of his artistic career, spanning almost six decades, Khalil had been painting with his left hand. Using that hand, the Kelantan-born artist created many striking and evocative artworks, many of which captivated and influenced the local art scene for generations.
Three years ago, however, Khalil suffered a stroke, making it difficult for him to paint with his left hand again. Rather than give up, or resting on his laurels, the determined artist, now 81, instead trained himself to paint with his right hand.
Khalil’s right-handed works so far include several yet-untitled paintings of pastoral scenes, all of which feature the strong colours and tones the artist is known for.
These works, as well as many of the artist’s older (and left-handed!) masterpieces, are available for viewing at Khalil Ibrahim: The Art Journey, a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s works at KL Lifestyle Art Space, Petaling Jaya in Selangor.
KL Lifestyle Art Space (KLAS) is temporarily housed in this new space as its gallery in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur is being renovated.
“It’s a good chance to see the journey of one of the most important artists in the Malaysian art landscape,” says Datuk Gary Thanasan, the show’s curator and KLAS founder.
“Khalil has probably created about 1,000 works over 55 years. We’ve managed to get collectors to loan us their pieces, and we chose the ones that would represent the periods of time in his work,” he adds.
The exhibition brings together oil -based landscapes, batik pieces, watercolour works, drawings, prints and photographs created by the artist from the 1950s to present day.
One of Malaysia’s brightest
Khalil, who was born in Kubang Kerian, Kelantan in 1934, was one of the few Malaysians to receive a state scholarship to attend art training at the prestigious Central St Martins School of Art and Design in London.
One of the country’s most prolific artists, Khalil has held many group exhibitions in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Switzerland.
His works have been acquired by many collectors, in places such as the Singapore Art Museum, Fukuoka Museum of Art in Japan and Victoria Gallery in Melbourne, Australia.
While he may be most known for his beautiful images of men and women in East Coast fishing villages, Khalil is an extremely creative and versatile creator.
Not only has he worked in a variety of styles (including figurative sketches, landscapes, portraits, abstracts and semi-abstracts), he has also excelled in many mediums, including painting, batik prints and etching.
And this exhibition is certainly a testament to that. Many of Khalil’s picturesque landscapes are present, from tranquil scenes of East Coast villages (Kota Bharu Village, 2004) to early pieces of rural life (Sawah Padi Series, 1956). For international flavour, Khalil’s London (Holland Park, 1964), Switzerland (Lucerne Boathouse, 1987) and even India (Indian Experience III, 2001) works are also on display.
Elsewhere, you find abstracts and semi-abstracts, as well as portraits – including the well-known Portrait Of Jane: St Martin’s Series (1964) – and two self-portraits at different times of his life, and etchings, making their presence felt.
Visitors can also view Khalil’s studies of the human form (Nude Series, 2005) and admire some of his batik prints, such as Kelantanese (1968) and Gadis (1968). Also available is a digital display of sketches from the artist’s notebook from 1960-2012.
For art enthusiasts, some of the most important works in the exhibition are several pieces painted by Khalil in the 1950s, before he left for England to study art.
Evocative pieces like Bachok (1957) and Kuala Besut (1955), are some of the oldest pieces in the exhibition.
Also present at the launch was Khalil himself. The legendary artist, now restricted to limited conversation (because of his stroke), was seen laughing and smiling as he was greeted by his friends, even getting out of his wheelchair to take photographs with them.
And as he signed the books presented to him, Khalil often drew little sketches to accompany them: tall trees, and wavy lines. His hands may have been shaking, yet his spirit was unwavering. It has been a long and colourful art journey for Khalil Ibrahim. But it is certainly not finished yet.
Khalil Ibrahim: The Art Journey is on at KL Lifestyle Art Space at 31, Jalan Utara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor until Aug 31. The artist will be hosting a book signing on Aug 15 , 3pm to 5pm, at the galley. The gallery is open from 10am to 7pm on Mondays to Fridays. For more info, call 03-2093 2668. www.kl-lifestyle.com.my