When deejay-turned-visual artist Nicholas Choong was thinking of doing his first show this year, he was thinking big.
“I had in mind to use really large walls because my paintings are quite large,” says Choong, 39, in a recent interview in Petaling Jaya.
Choong’s Retrospektiv, a solo exhibition looking back at the last five years of his artistic career, is on at the Port Commune independent art space in Petaling Jaya. This show runs till June 19.
On display at this unconventional setting – paintings hung on wooden rafters or placed on steel hooks – are 36 carefully selected works.
Many will remember Choong as a deejay (he was then called Nicky C) and dance music producer, who started his music career back in the mid 1990s.
Those late nights are long gone, but Choong says he does deejay occasionally when time permits.
“In a way, I’m thinking about art (generally) like how a deejay would select songs for their playlists. If a song is good, I keep it in the folder. If the song isn’t, I archive it. This can go on forever, because there is always something new to learn/hear/see,” he says.
In 2011, Choong started to get serious about art and painted his way to prominence in the community art scene here.
“Painting was something that I did in my spare time when I transitioned from being a full time deejay to a career artist. Then, when I got more recognised, I took part in group shows, held my own solo shows, and networked by going to other artists’ shows. As a newcomer in the art scene (back then), getting to know the Malaysian art market was very exciting,” he says.
In 2014, Choong took part in an art residency programme called “sembilan”. For a few months, he lived, painted, drew and photographed in Seremban.
“This led to me being a part of a growing community. The sembilan family are a great and supportive bunch of people.
“Around this time I got invited onto the panels of several workshops, talks and discussions about art, design and being a career artist. I look forward to these things.”
His Retrospektiv exhibition showcases a diverse variety, notably Choong’s new Abstrakt series, which is essentially playful, no-holds-barred mixed media. These abstracts incorporate woodcut prints, acrylic, collage, and the occasional plastic spoon.
“Abstrakt was a way for me to experiment with different mediums, compositions and tools. I wasn’t aiming to paint something which told you the answers. On the contrary, I wanted the paintings to ask the questions. It’s about unresolved issues and how I resolve them, in the subsequent paintings,” he explains, referring to two new works called Highway Patrol and Drift.
Now a retrospective look five years into Choong’s career as an artist may seem a little premature. But Choong is keen to move ahead after this show.
This year has brought big changes for the self-taught Choong on the artistic front.
He moved house, and, at the beginning of the year, opened his own studio and gallery Satu Arts in Petaling Jaya, where he reads, sketches, paints, writes short stories and tutors students on a one-to-one basis.
On a daily basis, Choong spends hours refining his techniques and ideas. His paintings have been featured in group and solo shows in various galleries in the Klang Valley, notably Artemis Art, Pelita Hati Gallery and Atelier Art Space.
As a youngster, Choong studied illustration, watercolours, woodcarving and batik. After working in the entertainment and graphics industry for many years, he began work as a career artist in 2011 with his first solo show at the Epicenter Art Gallery in Petaling Jaya.
Street culture, if anything, has also been a big part of Choong’s early days.
“While skating, I did some graffiti work and got into music performance as a rapper/emcee/ recording artiste, then as a deejay and finally as a music producer and music label owner. I performed a lot when I was younger, because there wasn’t anything much to do at home,” he recalls,
He mentions he had no art teacher or formal guidance when he hit the canvas in 2011. He started from scratch.
“I used everything that I learnt from the previous couple of years and tried to put something together. I started with acrylic, but I still got back to watercolours, and I’m most comfortable with it,” he says.
So what was it that made him want a career change after some 15 years as a musician, producer and deejay.
“I think I was also looking for a way to escape from the music then. I think that was a phase, looking back, I’ve got like phases. I was also getting a bit older and now Johan, my son, is 10 already. So I sort of transitioned towards painting. It’s a very calm and rewarding career.”
The past five years have been good for Choong. He has also led several workshops at Alliance Francaise KL, L45 in Bangsar, and was also featured in the Young Art Taipei art fair in 2015.
For this exhibition, Choong describes Retrospektiv as a meditation of how time, fear and faith influence the creation of art.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way in my art career. But the journey is long. For me, there are more stories to be told,” he promises.
Nicholas Choong’s Retrospektiv is on at Port Commune, No. 3, Jalan 51/201, Seksyen 51, Petaling Jaya in Selangor till June 19. Call 03-7781 2228 or 012-291 8301.