A lecturer by day and an artist by night, Mohd Khairul Azmir Shoib is a multi-faceted man. He is a man of few words; often preferring to let his work speaks directly to each viewer. His works heavily feature fantastical and whimsical characters usually painted in muted, dark, and saturated colours. They often have a story to tell, in which he explores a diverse field of expressions in a constant dialogue between past, present, and future. Khairul possesses a unique ability to create a world of dichotomy, treading carefully between the whimsical and the macabre.
Born in Taiping, Perak, Khairul moved to Kuala Lumpur and obtained his Bachelor of Art and Design (B.A.) and Masters in Fine Art Technology (M.A.) from University Technology Mara (UITM). His paintings have been exhibited in several galleries, both internationally and locally. He is also the recipient of the Juror’s Award from Young Contemporary (2000) and he was the First Prize winner of the Life Drawing Competition from National Art Gallery KL (2005).
On early years
Despite having a knack for communicating through artistic expressions from a young age, Khairul was not always certain of a direction or path to embark on. Khairul credits his friend for kick-starting his artistic career. His friend, who at that time was an art and design student, encouraged him to pursue his interest and to enrol himself in an art and design course. And thus, began his artistic journey in 1994.
“I like to draw monsters and various creatures, but I was not sure of my direction yet. I didn’t know that art and design exist until I was 16,” he said.
During his studies, a great deal of weight was put on observing and replicating. That, however, quickly shifted once he completed his studies. Now an academic himself, Khairul firmly believes that one ought to learn the rules before breaking them. Arguably, education and art are inherently linked.
“We had to follow various rules of the ‘world masters’. After my studies, I gained the freedom to explore my ideas. Learning about art is essentially learning about its history. So that we don’t repeat history, and we can progress from the ‘world masters’”.
Citing Surrealism, Expressionism and Dadaism as his influence in the early years of his artistic career, Khairul now brings the idea of alchemical metamorphosis of base metals into gold in his work, transforming discarded materials into a work of art. He believes that these carefully collected materials have the ability to modify the notion of linear time.
“I like to use recycled materials; you change them to become an art. Something that people appreciate. The things I collect, they come from different time, space, and place. When assembled together they form a mystical creation. I’ve even used my own teeth!”
Khairul’s works are haunting; beautiful yet eerie and unsettling. It is hard to look away. They are a reflection of his childhood and a collage of his collective memories and daily experiences. His paintings often feature recurring elements such as the moon and trees he saw as a child while being in a moving car. He favours the darkest of nights as his setting and relates his fascination with this theme to his nocturnal nature.
Growing up in the 70s, Hollywood and pop culture had a part in moulding the artist he is today. You can find traces of cinema magic in his works, drawing inspiration from the likes of Tim Burton, Guillermo Del Toro, and George Lucas.
On aspiring artists
The creative process involves mental and physical effort. At times, the struggle is inevitable. As an educator and an artist with numerous accolades under his belt, Khairul believes that producing art alone is not enough; one ought to learn to market their work. Venturing into art business and utilizing digital marketing tools, such as online galleries and social platforms, are vital in growing an artist’s career. Perhaps it is high time to redefine what it means to be an artist in a modern world.
“Artists can generate their own business,” said Khairul. “There are opportunities, so start posting your work on any online platform. And then there is also business merchandising; t-shirts, toys, and children’s books.”
As an artist, Khairul believes technology should be fully utilized and used as a means to progress and innovate. He sees technology as a double-edged sword that should be approached mindfully. With technological advancement, art is now more accessible for the masses and can be viewed anywhere and at any given time. Viewing them through the glass panel on our electronic devices robs us from seeing the marks and details made with each brush strokes. He encourages his students to not solely rely on technology and to experience art in a physical space as well.
Khairul Azmir Shoib lectures in the Diploma in Graphic Design program at ICAD. His work can be found at his Instagram page, @khairulazmirshoib.