signed and dated ‘Ibrahim Hussein 01’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
126 x 126 cm. (49 5/8 x 49 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2001
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Private Collection, Germany

Brought to you by

Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay

Situating the context of Ibrahim Hussein's life in relation to his painting of figures allows us to understand the humanist eye the painter possesses. The artist grew up in poverty in a rural Malaysian village to become one of his country's best-known artists. He lost sight in his right eye at the tender age of eight, but perhaps because of that, pursued art with even greater vigour and industry.

He studied at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore in 1956. In 1959, he went to London. Ever since then, the human figure has always featured centrally in Ibrahim Hussein's works, especially in the 1960s and 70s, where his training at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Royal Academy in London gave him access to view and be inspired by the works of the great European masters and modern luminaries such as Francis Bacon. In 1970, he became the first Malaysian artist to participate in the Venice Biennale.

Embracing (Lot 528) is a bold iteration of Hussein's immediately recognizable line series . A couple embraces in the throes of passion – their union sending ripples across the surface of the canvas as finely rendered lines bend and surge around them. The result is an overall impression of movement and resonating energy that draws us into the heady sensuality of the composition. A rare break in the increasingly abstracted forms and colours typical of this period of Hussein's work, the figures in Embracing are distinctly rendered and lovingly sculpted. The use of lines that build the work in subtly varying layers of tone and shade serves as a veil for the lovers, their anonymity further assured as they meld into one another and their faces are obstructed from view.

The predominant hues of cool blue and green juxtapose the warm passion of the lovers, and afford the work a tone of nostalgia and wistfulness. The resultant work is hence contemplative as we are invited to gaze upon the figures unabashedly as the overlapping lines cause them to shift in and out of focus, as if they might completely dissolve into one another and the background at any moment. A solid strip of green runs across the lower background of the painting in an effective and geometric delineation of space that is characteristic of Hussein's works that explore both the rigidity and fluidity of line. In Embracing, Hussein eloquently expresses the beauty that can be found within the necessary transience of passion.

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