“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn,” goes the famous saying by British novelist C.S. Lewis.

At Core Design Gallery in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Scarlette Lee, director and in-house curator, shares a similar philosophy.

She handpicked the artists for the gallery’s anniversary show Grande III based on their creative development and experience.

“I didn’t want just an anniversary show. For this show, I pushed the artists to produce something truly outstanding,” reveals Lee, who opened the gallery in 2010 and began curating exhibits since 2012.

All 19 works on display at Grande III, themed “God Is In The Details”, were made specifically for the exhibition, commissioned just months before.

Though there were a few recurring names in this third edition of the Grande (Great Art And Design) exhibit series, Lee says no artist stays on indefinitely if they could not top their previous year’s output.

Pyrography artist Haafiz Shahimi is one of the consistent few to stick it out for all three years at Grande, and found the baptism by fire had accelerated his maturation as an artist, pushing him to experiment with new types of pyrography.

He has moved on from the usual heated metal brands to now “painting” with fire.

Haafiz Shahimi's Ular Yang Menyusur Akar Tidak Akan Hilang Bisanya (90-degree inverted burn, fire burning and acrylic on canvas, 2016).

Haafiz Shahimi’s Ular Yang Menyusur Akar Tidak Akan Hilang Bisanya (90-degree inverted burn, fire burning and acrylic on canvas, 2016).

You might recall his bug-some pyrography wonder Selera Langau Tidak Pada Garam back in 2014’s Grande. However, Haafiz’s technique of choice now is inverted burning: where he sprays petrol on a canvas to mask it in burn marks. He then etches off the soot to create forms and colour gradients.

During a recent interview at Core Design Gallery, Haafiz shows us a video of the process, where he uses a plastic spray bottle to haphazardly sprinkle petrol droplets on a burning canvas, causing bursts of flame that leave light clouds of scorches across the surface.

“Yes, I’ve burnt down my studio, tools, the paintings themselves and even my hands!” admits Haafiz, an adrenaline junkie, who also gets his kicks riding dirt bikes.

His latest work Ular Yang Menyusur Akar Tidak Akan Hilang Bisanya draws its title from his love of Malay proverbs (peribahasa). Haafiz feels the usage of peribahasa creates a challenge for him to translate words into images, while also imprinting his racial identity onto the piece.

At 153cm x 305cm, the 90-degree inverted burn and acrylic on canvas work is the largest pyro-work Haafiz has ever done.

Kecil-kecil kawan, besar jadi lawan (a small flame’s a friend, but once large, a danger). You have to respect the flame,” he says, quoting another Malay saying.

Haslin Ismail’s Out Of The Silent Planet (altered books, board and paper collage on plywood, 2016).

Haslin Ismail’s Out Of The Silent Planet (altered books, board and paper collage on plywood, 2016).

Fellow exhibiting artist Husni Osman says his second stint with Grande has brought him growth – artistically and literally. His latest piece Morphosis is his largest ever work at 61cm x 61cm. Not fully comfortable to explore a single huge canvas, Husni’s piece spans nine panels.

It was painted one at a time as he built up to the big picture: of a phoenix rising into a bleak blue/red-hued landscape.

Both Husni and Haafiz are UITM alumni, though he graduated from the landscape architecture course in 2008, more than a decade before Haafiz completed his fine arts degree (printmaking) in 2011. As we find out, most of the artists at Grande III are in their 30s.

Husni plied his trade in architecture firms, doing projects for housing developments and supermarkets, and only started painting full time in 2008.

His series of sketches and portraits, posted to Facebook almost daily for a year caught Lee’s eye, prompting her to invite him to the Grande series. Other artists participating in the exhibition include Al-Khuzairie Ali, Ali Nurazmal Yusoff, Anniketyni Madian, Faizal Suhif, Haslin Ismail, Husin Hourmain, Husin Othman, Masnoor Ramli and Suhaimi Fadzir.

Anniketyni Madian’s remembrance (mix of hard wood and steel, 2016).

Anniketyni Madian’s Remembrance (mix of hard wood and steel, 2016).

Other striking works include Sarawakian artist Anniketyni’s Remembrance, which uses techniques not commonly associated with woodcraft. In this work, she carves out the Iban Pua Kumbu patterns (usually inked on cotton) and uses square wood pieces to create a pixelated effect in her portrait of absurdist artist Salvador Dalí, complete with his famously flamboyant moustache.

Husin Othman (who almost shares a name with Husni Osman) goes for social comment in Kehidupan Yang Judi, which deviates from the image of kampung children playing traditional games. Instead, he dresses the boys in chic modern clothes though they are still playing “tikam”.

As you take a spin through the gallery, you’ll notice Grand III’s works favouring greys, black and deeper shades of blues and reds.

Why such a dark and sombre-looking slant to an exhibition?

Lee says it is a coincidence that there appears to be a singular voice among the pieces, adding that she made a point not to be controlling on which direction the artists should go.

“My only rule is to show progress,” she declares.

Grande III is on at Core Design Gallery, Subang Jaya, Selangor, till July 1. coredesigngallery.com.