Not quite the type you’d find in a laboratory, but usually present in a studio, Haslin Ismail is the art world’s Mary Shelley with his beautifully grotesque and deranged looking creations
Words: Fiona Goh, Photos: Haslin Ismail
No one would have guessed that the root to 31-year-old Malaysian Haslin Ismail’s success today, has been comics. The otaku shares that comic books, amongst movies, nature and society, are his greatest source of inspiration, particularly those of a sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genre. “Ever since I was a kid, I have loved reading horror and violent comic books. I find the expressions and emotions in them very exciting.” Ismail loves his books and comics so much he touts the book shop as his second home, a place he frequents often to feed his artistic cravings.
Having turned professional in 2007, the up-and-coming artist is most known for moody and dark works that have a Frankenstein-like quality to them. And the Johor-born Ismail has made Kuala Lumpur home since travelling there to pursue his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art seven years ago. Today, he is regarded as one of Malaysia’s most promising young artists. To this accolade, he tells us in jest that his younger self would have never bet on himself being the artistic sort. “All I know was that I had manga to read. That was great, and I was a happy kid.”
Ismail is slightly aloof, but perhaps just pensive. Observing the bizarre and slightly twisted perspective he takes towards his craft, we don’t find his reticent persona surprising at all. Despite his cool front, Ismail is a family man at heart, and he shares that his two children – a boy and a girl – are also a big source of his inspiration.
Watching Ismail do his thing is akin to seeing a kooky mad scientist at work – experimental, fluid and inconclusive at first glance. He begins by doodling – simply drawing or painting, and letting the strokes take him along; “This way, the final work will always surprise me.” Unlike most artists who prefer to utilise a single medium, Ismail’s works are presented through a variety – from oil paint, pencil, collage and more. His purpose for doing so is to showcase the characteristics and uniqueness of every medium, rather than to simply get comfortable with one. “My audience will be able to have a more vibrant experience when they view my art pieces telling a story in different ways, but with the single voice from my mind. It’s displacing, but also what makes it so much more exciting.”
As a young artist in Asia, Ismail had to go through his share of struggles from the get-go. Like a coming-of-age ritual, he feels it’s simply something every fresh artist has to go through. “Today, the art scene in Malaysia is thriving tremendously, and many galleries are constantly scouting for new talent. It’s so much easier to have a voice these days, which is really great. We need more young artists so that we can have more varied perspectives and visions on our world.”
This story was first published in Vol 5 of Gallery & Studio.