The present lot, Smoker, is a work from one of Ahmad Zakii Anwar's most recognizable and celebrated series, the Smokers series - a series of elegantly moody and strangely compelling paintings of brooding male smokers, whose faces are shrouded in cigarette smoke, veiled in shadow, turned away or deliberately cropped. Evasive and mysterious as they may be, these figures are nevertheless fashioned as unwavering presences; traces of their selves linger unseen but tangible, not unlike cigarette smoke that persists in the air long after a cigarette has been extinguished.
Born in 1955, Ahmad Zakii graduated as a graphic art major from the School of Art and Design, MARA Institute of Technology Malaysia in 1977. Initiated right after into the world of commercial advertising and graphic art, he worked as a freelance illustrator and designer in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore for over a decade. He then gave up his career to become a full-time artist at the age of 36.
Ahmad Zakii's smoking protagonists have been characterized as "the artworld's answer to the shadowy celluloid villains of pulp fiction and film noir-like the latter, assuming iconic importance in their own right due to their oblique but recurring appearances in the artist's oeuvre. They are self-possessed and inscrutable figures whose origins, identities, and affiliations are not immediately comprehensible but who exude definite psychological depths." (Wang Zineng, Ahmad Zakii Anwar: Seeking the Divine, C-Arts Vol. 02, Mar-Apr 08)
There are a number of plausible readings of smoke as a pictorial device employed by the artist. It has historical significance in traditionally being used to symbolize the duplicitous nature of Man; at the same time, the "cigarette smoke also functions as a masking device to indicate our relectuance to show ourselves" (Anurendra Jegadeva, Ahmad Zakii Anwar & The Search For Divine Truths in Disclosure, solo exhibition catalogue, Petronas, Kuala Lumpur, 2008, p. 14). The elements of mystery and of depth beyond perceptual reality are strongly present in the present lot. The protagonist of the picture has his face cropped out of the picture surface. The artist depicts a trail of smoke emanating from his dangled cigarette that is seemingly an ominous cloud that is looming in the background of the picture.