Celebrated by royalty, prestigious institutions and elite collectors, Maestro Latiff Mohidin continues to show privileged art lovers why his latest paintings are amazing and why no other Malaysian artist comes close to his level.
The little artist, who is 157cm tall, turned 80 in August. To commemorate this milestone event, he presented around ten large-sized works, ranging from 183 cm by 239 cm to 152 cm by 259 cm, and several medium-sized works ranging from 122 cm by 122 cm to 122 cm by 152 cm during a private exhibition, simply titled, New paintings 2021. The exhibition also marked 70 years of Latiff’s “preoccupation with paints and brushes,” beginning with his first solo exhibition in Singapore in December 1951 at the Kota Raja Malay School.
Totaling 19 paintings, the works were on display at The Edge Galerie in the Mont’Kiara Meridin shopping center in Kuala Lumpur from November 28 to December 12. The gallery, which covers 144 m², is now a private lounge. Organized over a series of screenings limited to around a dozen people each time due to government restrictions aimed at curbing Covid-19 infections, the exhibition saw guests offered an array of ‘special’ works .
Latiff’s latest combination of techniques includes meticulous drip work, controlled splash work, quick brush strokes, multiple coats, and vibrant color schemes.
“With these latest works, Latiff continues to amaze me as he has done for the past 50 plus years since I first knew him during his Pago Pago days. Glowing rocks, for example, is truly spectacular for its design and execution, ”said distinguished art collector Zain Azahari Zainal Abidin, who turns 87 this Christmas.
“I also found Green landscape and Night flight be particularly eye-catching for their strength and Latiff’s skillful use of the color black. Both paintings, I believe, share origins with a previous 2019 work by Latiff that I know well, titled Roaring waves, fading moon.
“At the age of 80, Latiff’s status as a grand master of Malaysian art remains unmatched,” adds the seasoned legal consultant, who has viewed the works with a few other scholarly collectors.
Some works such as Night flight, 2020, Shattering stones 1, 2021 and Tasik Raban, 2019 appear to be three-dimensional, due to the optical illusion created by Latiff’s painting technique.
According to the artist, when describing a painting, Western art literature would mainly focus on the background, foreground or overall composition. “But the Japanese way of describing a painting would often isolate one element, say, a lock of a geisha’s hair,” says Latiff.
“You can immerse yourself in the very depth of the subject when looking at it up close, or you can step away to the left or right and see the work from another angle to appreciate the difference. In this way, one can discern the three-dimensional effect of the work.
Architect Dr Tan Loke Mun says, “Latiff continues to show that he’s still The One. He travels, discovers, innovates and continues to push the limits of his art to greater heights.
“The new works are exciting, expressive and, as always, full of meaning for the poet and the artist.
“Already superbly skilled with the brushstroke and layered textures, he has now added a refreshing dimension by incorporating drops of paint into his recent works to express the explosion of water gushing from the rock. Amazing stuff from the maestro.
Legal consultant Yoong Sin Min said, “Latiff’s power, skill and imagination in producing these awe-inspiring works are fully and gloriously on display. He is still going strong and shows no signs of weariness or fatigue. He continues to amaze me.
Medical consultant Dr Abang Askandar Kamel, another longtime collector of Latiff’s works, adds: “I am amazed every time Latiff Mohidin produces new works. The magic they contain is pleasantly refreshing to see and keeps me intrigued.
Latiff has organized two solo exhibitions at The Edge Galerie – Seascape series in 2014 and Modern Sculptures, 2016. In 2018, the National Museum of Modern Art of the Center Pompidou in Paris devoted a retrospective to him, entitled Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960-69); subsequently, the exhibition was reconstituted at the National Gallery of Singapore in 2020.
Latiff describes the situation that led to his last work. “In 2018, on the return of the Pago Pago exhibition at the Center Pompidou, I suddenly felt empty. It took me several months to hit the empty canvases. Why am I not doing a new series? The results were three large horizontal paintings Green – Red – and Blue landscapes and a few unfinished works but no more.
“Then came the pandemic in 2020 with SOPs (standard operating procedures) and blockages. I thought this was a great opportunity for me to remain silent in total isolation in my studio and to produce a lot of good paintings. In a way, I lost my focus on the job.
“In our daily life, we are often distracted, disconnected and, strangely enough, we even stay still. One of the distractions was of my own making. In August 2020 I finished the full translation of Rainer Maria Rilke Orpheus sonnets and 40 poems by Rilke from German to Malay.
“Later, I returned my attention to the paintings, to the images of stones and rocks – the central theme of my last (paintings) exhibition, the Seascape series, held at The Edge Galerie in 2014. I’ve given a lot of thought to their rough surfaces and grainy texture. Again, after a few hasty strikes, I lost momentum.
“But something else came out instead. Two green boards, titled burst stones, and a red landscape, Glowing rocks. These large canvases were actually inspired by a verse from Sura Al Buqarah of the Qur’an, Ayat 2-74, describing how “rivers flow and burst out of cracks that split stones”.
“From my habit of combining two or three techniques in a single painting, six works were born, included in this exhibition, with large brushstrokes and drops of paint. They are the Night flight painting and two works by Primitive plus three works by Primordial shell.
“Finally, this little show is also, for me, a kind of party. This year, Pak Latiff is 80 years old.
This article first appeared on December 20, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.