I’m an occasional Internet slave, but being one has its perks. Stumbling upon Sherwan Rozan through a chain of suggestions on Instagram is one of them.
I met with him at Battery Acid Club’s “From Pen to Paper 2.0” stationery market where he was selling some of his prints to talk about architecture, art trends in Asia, and more.
Sherwan Rozan. 26 years of age. Freelance graphic artist from Johor, living in KL. Before art, he worked with Zalora briefly before founding the pop-up store “W6” (We Will Wear Whatever We Want) for men’s retail. His artwork has been exhibited at a number of galleries including “Raksasa Print Studio Sdn Bhd”, a Singaporean studio “Knuckles and Notch”, and more.
As our editor observes; Sherwan’s art speaks well to the millennials as it is in line with the Digital Wave trend bordering on post-Internet art. For those of us who need a Google search to find out what those art terms mean, I asked Sherwan how he would describe his work to which he says is very geometric and digital.
“It’s hard for me to describe because I’m heavily influenced by my mood. My technical skills are limited so I work best with doing what I know and playing around with my limitations. I rarely do art based on people and I’m very comfortable with geometric shapes, which is pretty obvious. They’re alive to me. I can’t hand draw because it’ll take me forever. I have this thing about making every little thing as abstract as possible. It makes sense to me, I express myself best that way and I don’t paint with a lot of colors.”
Scrolling through his site and Tumblr, it won’t take long for one to notice that he frequently uses the colors blue, red, and yellow. I was curious if that symbolized anything in his work and apparently I’m not the first to ask.
“I read somewhere online that depending on where you live and which country you’re from, you’re more likely to lean towards colors in your country’s flag. I didn’t believe that at first but then I was like shit, Malaysia has all these colors [laughs]. Red has always been my favorite color since I was small. I’m comfortable and am used to these colors. The first piece I ever did for my friend as a going-away gift, I automatically started with these 3 colors. For a piece I sold to an art gallery in Singapore, they wanted me to change the colors and asked if I could change the yellow to orange and I’m like no…. [laughs]”
Sherwan cites that both music and architecture influence his art the most. “
“Music puts me in the mood. Whether I’m sad or depressed, music is always important. I always observe structures, objects, and spaces. I like observing how they come together with light or people and then finding its purpose. It’s a way for me to maneuver and emote to form what I do.”
The artist further elaborates that he’s particularly influenced by architecture back in the 80s and 90s, particularly a movement called “Memphis”, which consisted of Italian artists and designers.
“Everyone [in that movement] was doing their own thing and they were using colors which weren’t in trend at that time, because you already see a lot of that in older artists like Mondrian and Matisse. The kind of fancy stuff you would see in a museum or gallery. It’s rare for me to find certain art trends or movements in Malaysia sometimes.”
We went on to discuss his thoughts about the current art scene in KL to which the artist says is encouraging, ever since a big number of new and independent galleries as well as art shows, started popping up around town. He noted that the Art Row in Publika particularly is very supportive of the local arts scene. However, in terms of developing the arts scene in KL, Sherwan says it’s getting dull for him and compares it with our neighboring countries.
“A lot of people still have the same mindset that art only comes in the form of canvas, landscapes, oil paintings or something Renaissance. I’ve seen sculptures and performance art pieces in KL but not as much as there should be. Comparatively, Jakarta, Thailand, and Singapore have always been a few steps ahead of us when it comes to fashion, music, and art. The trends there are always up to date.”
One fine example Sherwan pointed out was riso printing. It made its appearance in Japan, which was then picked up by Jakarta and Singapore a few years ago. This technique has only started gaining traction here recently. Despite ever-changing art trends being the norm in other countries, he states that he still has faith in the local arts scene whenever he sees murals done by locals.
I’ve been told that Singapore’s art scene is booming and I wanted to know if that was true. Since Sherwan has frequented Singapore pretty often for his art, I had to ask.
“Yeah. What’s good about Singapore is that when they do something, they know how to make a living out of it thanks to their country and education. I met this girl who only does designs for book covers, mainly to support the local writing scene. But she has her own intern and everything. Kinda made me question what I was doing with my life. [laughs]”
There’s always a stigma people attach to being an artist in Malaysia.
So when asked if anybody has ever said anything weird or memorable to him knowing he’s an artist, Sherwan says, “I never usually introduce myself as an artist because I’m still in that stage where I cringe when I tell people that. Even my mom doesn’t know what I do [laughs]. She sees my prints and asks ‘what’s this what’s all this’, like ‘why are you painting the wall?’ because I painted one of my works (Self-Portrait) onto my bedroom wall.”
As much as some people may think that being an artist isn’t a realistic career choice, especially in Malaysia, it’s not impossible.
If anything, it’s the support young creatives lack in the country. Sherwan goes on to explain that there is room to be successful as an artist here.
“Everyone knows Lat, the cartoonist. Donald Abraham’s work is everywhere in Publika. But as for being a successful and well-known artist here, that’s a different story. I was at an exhibition showcasing Penang artists and they all have jobs in the field of art education. So I thought like ‘oh, that’s the only way you can survive as an artist…by combining being an artist and an art teacher.’ That’s okay, but sometimes it’s hard to change their interest into a day job.”
We can all agree that local artists need extra support from Malaysians themselves. Unfortunately, the struggle to get any support is what many have to go through here. I talked about the lack of faith local talent get in an earlier piece on KUL about the perception of local music. The unavoidable and harsh truth is that there are still people who think that Malaysia is falling short when it comes to talent, be it in art, music, or fashion as compared to international talent.
“Young creatives in Malaysia have this problem of undervaluing ourselves because of where and what we’re surrounded with. You grow up wanting to be something but then someone tells you it’s a waste of time. We’re sort of conditioned to be like that. It’s especially unhealthy for people at a young age to hear that. If someone wants to dance, do it lah! Don’t tell them ‘oh no no no, go play sports instead’. It’s tiring and it makes me question what I do every day. What I don’t understand about Malaysia is that sometimes it seems like all it takes is a white foreigner to really change what people think and see, enough to make them go ‘oh wow’. It’s always like that. Why can’t we be cool ourselves without any help? [laughs]”
When asked to describe at what point he can say he’s “made it” as an artist, Sherwan said, “When someone understands where I’m going with one of my pieces and how I see it. The minute they look at it and say “oh I get it, is this why you did this?” Then I’d feel like I’ve touched a soul [laughs]. It definitely makes me very happy. That’s the whole reason I’m doing all this. I want to express my feelings and this is the best way I do it. That’s what I want to achieve.”
I brought up a much-debated topic of whether or not he believed in going to art school to get an art degree, to which he says yes and wishes he attended one.
“I don’t know what I’m doing half the time and there are certain things schools teach you which can be valuable. You can still be an artist without going to art school; after all, there are so many famous artists who didn’t. But I still believe in education. University is where you get to develop yourself, get more exposure, and hopefully discover enough about yourself to not go through 26 years of your life not knowing [laughs]. I haven’t been doing art for a long time as I graduated with Communications in university.
There are pros and cons. I kinda wish I went to One Academy because they’re good and they drill you from shit [artists] to good [artists] in terms of technicality. The students are well-rounded, they can draw, illustrate, color, and etc. However, based on stories I’ve heard from friends who have since graduated, you face the risk of losing yourself in your work because they can’t see themselves in their work. I’ve been to a few of their shows and they’re definitely good technically, but they’re so focused on that that they lose their flavor. Some of the government schools actually have good art programs. I once met a UiTM lecturer who was selling his paintings at a market which were really good.”
If Sherwan could spend the rest of his life anywhere in the world, it would be without a doubt, London.
“It’s always alive no matter how shitty the weather gets or how often it rains. I’ve never been to New York City or Tokyo, but I feel like there’s always something to do in London and there’s always someone drunk. [laughs] I did my last semester in Liverpool and I stayed in London for a while. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to go back every year for a holiday.”
Sherwan says that he’s been itching to do murals lately and is trying to contact a few cafes to do that. “Everything’s so minimalistic there [laughs]. I want to put something on their walls. It’s also my dream to design vinyl and CD album covers. I did a piece [“My Love Letters to Ta-ku” series] for this artist on Soundcloud called Ta-ku. I’m a huge fan of his and I was inspired by his music, particularly his first album and his SoundCloud.”
If anybody knows of an empty café wall, which let’s be honest isn’t hard to find, screaming and begging to be filled with art, hit him up.