Lot 080

b. Johor, 1929 - d. Kuala Lumpur, 2011


Signed and dated 'A '65' (lower right)
Oil on canvas
123cm x 77cm

Private collection, Kuala Lumpur; acquired directly from the artist.

ESTIMATE  RM 160,000 - 250,000


"Art is the essence of life. The observation o into the inner self and later expressed to bef sneaetnu rbey i ss oacbiseotyrb aeds the image of the human soul.
– Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal

Celebrated for his immensely invaluable contribution to the development of Malaysian art that spanned over five decades, the late Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal produced art that bears profound personal, social and moral significance in various forms and medium for the masses with his later works lodged in spiritual and religious ethos demonstrating balance and harmony on canvas. From figurative and caricature drawings; abstract paintings; sculptures; textile art; murals; stage and poster designs to writings, the all-encompassing artist, cultural observer and educator has been truly missed by the art community since his passing three years ago.

Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers (HBArt) commemorated the life of this great artist in May 2012, dedicating a special tribute section which featured four works on paper and an oil painting titled Malam Marang (2001), that turned out to be one of the last canvas pieces appearing at HBArt auction besides Gunung Ledang series (Cherryvale) - the earliest canvas work dated 1985 – which was featured in HBArt June 2011 auction, up till now. This phenomenon signifies the exclusivity and scarcity of Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal’s works in the market which ultimately adds valuable importance to every attainable piece in any medium particularly on canvas.

On offer here is an outstanding oil painting entitled Berenang (Swimming) profoundly executed in 1965, a period that represents the creation of the artist’s most personal biographical works. In an essay by academician Hasnul J. Saidon titled 55 Years of Collecting Syed Ahmad Jamal’s Works - published in a monograph in conjunction with a seminal exhibition titled Syed Ahmad Jamal: PELUKIS and in celebration of the artist’s 80th birthday at the National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur in 2009 – the author pointed out that this historical piece, Berenang (Swimming) dated 1965 alongside other significant works namely Relationship (1964), Lost (1965) and Figure (1965) correspond with a life episode that is especially intimate following events of personal obstacles faced by the late Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal. Interestingly, these evocative expressions belong to the collection of private individuals, suggesting its cherished and exclusive provenance.

This painting’s coarse yet fluid surface illustrated in cool and warm palette of dominant blue with yellow and red suggests a tranquil state of mind amidst an act of resistance – an epiphany to the artist’s inner emotions expressed through melancholic but nevertheless vibrant gestures akin to other works produced in the same year namely 19.9.65 – a painting that marks the artist’s birthday - and Figure depicting a lone, anonymous human form submerged in a dual-columned blueyellow and red segments emulating water and/or earth that perhaps symbolises a plunge into the abyss. A similar meaning is conveyed here by adopting the act of swimming as a life metaphor emanating a sense of solemnity for the year 1965 signifies the bitter end of his first marriage. Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal had incorporated the use of incongruity in his early works through the juxtaposition of warm and cool hues, light and dark since Self-Portrait. Executed in 1955 prior to leaving Chelsea to return home, the self-depiction is known to be his first endeavour illustrating himself in a representational manner using contradictory colour schemes.

Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal was granted a scholarship from Sultan Ibrahim Foundation to study architecture at the Birmingham School of Architecture, United Kingdom (1950 – 1951) but decided to change course and was later enrolled to the Chelsea School of Art, London to study Fine Art (1951 – 1955). He then attended the Institute of Education at London University from 1955 to 1956. Upon returning home, he assumed his role as an art teacher at Batu Pahat High School in September 1956. From 1958 to 1959, he became a lecturer at the Day Teacher’s College at the Malay Teachers’ College in Kirkby, Lancashire, United Kingdom. In 1963, he was appointed Head of the Federal Teachers’ College in Kota Bahru, Kelantan an honour he turned down due to his further education at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, United States of America (1963 – 1964). He then resumed his role as Head of the Art Department at the Special Teachers’ College and became Principal of the College (1964 – 1973). Between 1973 and 1974, he attended a course at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, USA. He held various directorial positions namely Director of Cultural Centre at Universiti Malaya (1979 – 1983) and Director of National Art Gallery Malaysia (1983 – 1991). He was a guest writer at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka from 1991 to 1994 where he wrote two major books, Rupa dan Jiwa (1992) which was translated into English titled Soul and Form and an autobiography named Kunang-kunang which was launched in 1999. In 1995, he was awarded with the nation’s most prestigious cultural award, the National Arts Award (Anugerah Seniman Utama) and remains to be the only visual artist to hold the title. The following year, he was conferred the Panglima Jasa Negara which carries the title “Datuk” by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for his contributions in art. He had participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions locally and internationally as well as representing the nation in global forums, symposiums and conferences relating to arts and culture.

Syed Ahmad Jamal: Pelukis, 55 Years of Collecting Syed Ahmad Jamal’s Works, Hasnol J. Saidon, page 364, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 2009.