With his signature muted colour palette, local artist Safaruddin Abdul Hamid’s layered paintings depict iconic buildings and characters. Gwen Pew takes a closer look.
31 Jul 2014: At first glance, Safaruddin Abdul Hamid’s art looks almost digital, as though a bunch of photographs had their contrast level jacked up to 100 and flatly re-coloured with just a few shades; but squint harder and you’ll see the layers of acrylic carefully spread over their canvas frames. It’s partly the visually arresting painting style and partly the instantly recognisable local buildings in his works – his previous pieces have depicted The Cathay, the dome of the Old Supreme Court Building, Singapore’s old playgrounds and more – but it’s impossible to walk past the works and not be drawn into their vivid worlds.
‘It all started when I was still in art school doing my diploma. I was experimenting with different styles and was particularly interested in flat colours, hard lines, and amorphous, camouflage, pattern-like shapes,’ explains the locally born and based Hamid, who also goes by the moniker Dyn. ‘I was very strongly influenced by computer graphic art and imagery; one of my objectives back then was to create art pieces that looked as if they were computer printed but were actually hand painted and one-off.’
Ever since he earned his Diploma in Fine Art from Lasalle in 2003 – he went on to receive a Bachelors from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia and a Masters from Open University in Lasalle – he has been making the rounds in galleries both here and abroad, including the Singapore Art Museum, the former Valentine Willie Fine Art and Utterly Art. This month, he returns to Chan Hampe Galleries with a collection of new works under a series entitled Everyday Heroes. As the name suggests, Hamid had decided to move away from buildings as his subjects, and instead shifted his focus to people.
‘My work basically deals with nostalgia, and I feel that architecture is a good subject matter and trigger for that, but I began to realise that people also play a big part in creating nostalgia,’ he says. ‘I recently went back to the old neighbourhood where I grew up and the place brought back a lot of memories, but I realised that something was missing. The people I grew up with played a big part in my experience as well, and without the people, the experience felt very different. That became one of the key reasons why I started working on painting people.’ The resulting pieces feature a collection of people who played an integral role in the shaping of Singapore, from Samsui women to the candy and satay men. As with his older pieces, the new paintings are largely based on old photographs from his own personal collection, many of which were taken by his dad. ‘He used to be a photography buff when I was a kid and my childhood was well documented,’ he tells us, but admits that he eventually had to turn to archives and other outlets for the images to have a wider range of perspectives and angles for his works.
By combining a relatively muted colour palette with a poster art look, his subjects turn into vintage memories, just as the physical presence of his characters have now faded into silhouettes of the past. Through these images, Hamid invites viewers to take a break from the city’s dive into the future, and instead travel back in time to remember the local heroes who helped take us to where we are today. ‘To me, Singapore is moving at a fast pace and is ever changing; at times, things and people get forgotten easily. I believe that our past plays an important part in determining who we are now,’ he insists. ‘Even though some of these characters were not from my personal childhood – I only saw them in newspapers and television back then – I feel they played a part in helping to create this nation.’