Lot 095

b. Kedah, 1936 - d. Kuala Lumpur, 2009


Signed and dated 'ibrahim hussein 1980' (lower left)
Acrylic on canvas
99cm x 99cm

Private Collection, United Kingdom.

ESTIMATE  RM 250,000 - 400,000

“It is all very well when one paints something, another soon recognises, but it just stops there, leaving others to paint stories. The actual story itself the artist cannot tell in words. It is all very well other people can write books about your creation, but to the artist himself, there is always something there that cannot be explained. Perhaps it is his soul, his unison. The artist cannot explain this, but he knows it is there and it is very real for him.” ~ Datuk Ibrahim Hussein

Under the spotlight is a rare and stunning representation of international art icon Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s magnum opus of abstract art, a 1980 acrylic on canvas titled Blue Nude.

Executed in pastel hues of blue with tinges of pink, green and purple, a sensual cloud suggestive of a morphing nude figure emerges as the central motif, radiating a sense of bliss, while glimpses of the artist’s hallmark lines peak through around the edges of the figure. A sense of soothing and dreamy serenity prevails more so in a great expanse of sky-blue with its cooling ambience. There are no geometric ‘anchoring devices’ for the floating blob of fragmented forms to create a slightly bobbing movement and even viscosity as well as to offset the weight of the human dirigible. It is as if the oval form is getting soft sound-bites inside a womb.

Ibrahim, otherwise affectionately known as Ib, is arguably Malaysia’s most recognisable artist. His art career started when he briefly attended the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, in 1957. But his precocity bloomed when he studied in London, first at the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting (1959 -1963) and he had the honour of being invited to join the elite Royal Academy in London (1963 - 1966) by the academy’s Keeper Sir Henry Rushbury. In 1967 to 1968, he was awarded the Rockefeller Fund scholarship to tour the United States, where he held two solo exhibitions in New York – at Galerie Internationale and Newsweek Gallery. In 1970, Ib became the first Malaysian to participate in the Venice Biennale. In 1977, Ib was invited to show with Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, two of the world’s greatest artists of the 20th Century, in Kuwait.

It is undisputable that Ib had not only produced an astounding opus of work which established him at the forefront of Malaysian art locally and internationally, more importantly, he had helped elevate the value and status of Malaysian art, while influencing and inspiring the younger generation of artists in the country.

One central motif can be seen throughout Ib’s impressive oeuvre – the human figure. His early training in the British art schools had given him a firm foundation in drawing the human figure. Ib’s figures had transformed from simplified and stylised shapes as seen in one of his earliest works Reclining Women (1957) to aerial views of semi-abstract figures entangled and rolling in fluid unending motions, suggesting scenes of struggle and tumult. Ib’s pictures were inspired by events of human struggle and conflict, among others the demonstrations at Trafalgar Square, London in 1960, the 1969 racial riot in Malaysia, and the 1982 Sabra massacre. However, he was not concerned with the depiction of specific events directly or literally, but rather to convey universal statements on humanity itself.

He once said: “My role as an artist is to portray man’s basic needs on planet Earth and humanity’s universal sharing in God’s little acre – the art of our time provides us ways of seeing, understanding, criticising, and appreciating the world which we live in.’

Ib had always believed that art is the only way to bring people together, and ‘it is the duty of every artist to limn for his fellowmen the suffering and ecstasy of his age, by bending his strokes, colours and mood to echo the temper and utterances of his times until chaos shall coalesce into harmony’. A celebrated quote by Ib goes, ‘Art is the most important and unifying force that there is – and that it is a celebration of life that can help nations, races and religions come together as one.’

Nevertheless, like all presumption on the concepts and source of inspiration for Ib’s work, one can only guess and wonder while admiring in awe at his out-of-the-world creations. This sense of awe would be further heightened if the viewer learns the fact that the artist was blind in his right eye, due to an accident that came about from playing darts when he was eight years old.

Now that the artist is no longer around, and with the Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation closed, it is all the more precious for an opportunity to view the works by this gifted mind.

Ib is the most decorated Malaysian artist. Among his awards are the Japan Foundation Cultural Award (1988), the Order of Andres Bello of Venezuela (1993), the Order of Bernardo O’ Higgins of Chile (1996) and the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (1997). In 2007, the Malaysian Government awarded him with the Anugerah Tokoh Melayu Terbilang. He had the distinction of being bestowed the ‘Datuk’ titles by three different royalties. He was given a retrospective by the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur in 1986. In 1991, he and his wife, Datin Sim, set up the Ibrahim Hussein Foundation Museum which was launched in Langkawi in conjunction with the Langkawi International Arts Festival (LIFA) in 2000. Besides LIFA, Ib and Sim had also organised with great success the Club Mediterranee Asian Arts Festival in Bali in Indonesia and in Cherating (Pahang).

Hailed from a distinguished private collection in the United Kingdom, the piece has been preserved in pristine condition for over three decades. Now, this precious gem will finally appear on public view for the very first time.

Ibrahim Hussein: A Retrospective, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 1986.