"[Y]ou can go right through the forest, go through the picture, you can touch it ... you go deep, into the very bark of the trees, as if you are reaching for the invisible" (T.K Sabapathy, In Conversation: T.K. Sabapathy & Latiff Mohidin in Latiff Mohidin: Rimba Series, Galeri Petronas, Kuala Lumpur, 1998, p. 28)
In talking about the series of paintings he executed in the 1990s ,esp during the period from 1995 to 1997 collectively known as the Rimba series, Malaysian modern artist Latiff Mohidin seems to call for a highly tactile, highly visceral appreciation of his works. It is an unusual way of speaking about a painting. But when one considers the context by which the present lot, Splinters: Barks, Rimba Seris from the series derives from, one would not find the particular description that strange anymore.
Nature has always fascinated the artist, especially the relationship between human beings and Nature in its various manifestations. Rimba translates as primaeval forest: an entity that stands the tests of time and change, an entity that symbolises growth and a sense of continuity across space and time. Conventional imageries of forests tend to see them from a distant or picture them as utopian and idealised arenas for human inhabitation. Latiff Mohidin's forests, on the other hand, are projected at a microscopic level. They go upclose to examine the intricate details of the various parts of Nature, especially trees. Tree bark; trunk; leaves; twigs; flowers - these are all elements of the tree that the artist is interested in examining.
To Latiff Mohidin, the elements he has painted in the Rimba series are pregnant with life; by the very law of Nature, they are continuously in flux, growing, merging, rustling in the wind, woven into one another in dense environs etc. The Rimba series paintings bear much trace of their employed materials. Latiff Mohidin explained that he used a number of unconventional mediums to execute paintings in the series, including bark and coarse brushes.
The brushwork in Splinters: Barks, Rimba Seris is strong and distinctive. Be it this particular lot, or other works in the series, the painterly gesture is unabashedly present. The brushwork is vigorous and used to construct key elements of the painting such as its tone, hue, texture and of course, a sense of dynamism. A distinct sense of energy emanates from Splinters: Barks, Rimba Seris. Compositionally, there seems to be centre focal point in the painting from which bold and decisively executed strokes of yellow, maroon and navy radiate from. The title of the work alludes to the imagery that we are supposed to see represented in the painting. Although neither splinters nor bark is naturalistically represented, what is unmistakably present is a sense of the hard and sharp nature of these two elements.
Latiff Mohidin has remarked that "a series allows for a way of developing your study into complete works. I use the study of nature extensively, the study of leaves, twigs, stone, grain, fruit and so on" (Ibid, p. 26). Splinters: Barks, Rimba Seris clearly demonstrates how he has closely examined elements of nature and derived a particularly striking visual vocabulary through and of Nature.