Irfan Hendrian does not paint on paper. He might shred, layer, glue, compress, and burrow with a router machine into heavy stacks before mounting them on the wall – but he will never paint on it.
His first solo exhibition – Sediments – in Malaysia, currently showing at Wei-Ling Gallery in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, ex-plores paper, not as a receptacle for idea presentation, but rather, as the very material within which ideas are built.
“I want to create this impression of paper being a sculpture-like material, and not just a flat surface to paint on,” says the 28-year-old who is currently based in Bandung, Indonesia.
“Paper is easy to manipulate, it is versatile. So one question I always ask myself is how to present paper as a medium that is stronger than what most people think it is,” he adds.
Each of the 18 works featured in Sediments is the product of a long and arduous process of layering paper upon paper, followed by chipping or hacking, or a gradual moulding into its final form.
The end result is solid in appearance, bearing little resemblance to its original flat and fragile form. His time spent in book production led him to observe that multiple layers of paper can be stronger than plywood, and it can be subjected to much more rigorous treatment than in its initial form.
True to this newfound durability, none of Irfan’s paper works are framed, covered with glass, or protected in any other way aside from a layer of varnish.
It is a conscious decision, borne of his desire to put some distance between his paper works and the impression of fragility so often associated with paper.
“Since I was young, I have always been obsessed with taking apart and modifying things I see around me,” says the son of an engineer mother and mathematician father.
“Today, I consider myself a modern artist who sees himself as an engineer of the every day.”
Paper, for instance, is common and unassuming in its “original” form, and it is precisely this attribute that attracts Irfan’s attention: the transformation of the ordinary into the unconventional, providing a close-up look at the untapped potential of a material.
Irfan’s sojourn into the world of paper seems to be a natural progression: he has a graphic design, printing and book-binding business, which fuels his artistic pursuits in more ways than one. Many of his works comprise discarded paper from his day job that are given a new lease of life.
“To a graphic artist, paper is a finished medium. In art, it is often used as a temporary medium where the image is more important than the paper that it is painted on. But I want to break away from that, which is why I do what I do,” he explains of this body of work.
Much like his approach with design, Irfan does not subscribe to the notion that an artist leave a personal mark on his art.
“As a designer, you need to disappear from your work. People should see the design, the idea – and not the designer who worked on it. So my art follows the same principle. It is able to stand on its own, which is how it should be,” he says.
From a outsider’s perspective, the work process for the pieces in Sediments sounds laborious, repetitive, even tedious. Irfan confirms that it is certainly the case.
“I also make a big mess each time I work on something, it gets really dusty,” he shares.
But is the repetition relaxing, I ask. There must be a special something that draws Irfan back to the same thing day after day, night after night.
“Relaxing?” he asks with a laugh. “No, it is not. But once I start something, I have to finish it. When I have an idea, I want to see it to the end.”
It is a long journey ahead of him, especially as he believes that he has only just skimmed the surface of paper possibilities thus far: “I think there is so much more to explore with paper, and I am still testing the limits.”
Ifran Hendrian’s solo exhibition Sediments is on at Wei-Ling Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, till Apr 18.