Early Works of the Visionary Artist,
JAILANI ABU HASSAN
BY HIRANMAYII AWLI MOHANAN
THE IMPORTANCE OF AN ARTIST’S EARLY WORKS
From a historical standpoint, an artist’s early works depict how his mature style evolved. Early works are often worth more and tend to be more collectible than later ones whether the artist becomes famous or not, especially those earlier works done in styles for which the artist eventually became best known. In the case of more famous artists, the majority of the earliest pieces are usually in museums, private collections, or with the families of the artists and are not available for sale. On those infrequent occasions when a significant early work comes back into the market, the competition to buy it can be fierce and the selling price high. Later works, on the other hand, tend to be more plentiful and easier for collectors to acquire. No matter how famous the artist, early works tend to be harder to find than later ones.
It’s easy to discern that early artworks tend to be more energised, daring, inspired, passionate, meticulous, exploratory, and raw in nature. When the artists are just starting out in the field, still looking for their foothold and in search of a niche, it translates onto their canvasses. As the artists progress in their careers, they usually become more settled, deliberate, systematic and predictable in their processes and styles of making art. They tend to gravitate more towards creating art with certain signature looks, do less experimentation, and come to understand exactly what and how much they have to produce in order to make a living they need and satisfy their collector base at the same time. This is evident with our local masters including Latiff Mohidin, Awang Damit, Yusof Ghani and more. With the passage of time, the uncertainty, excitement, discovery and trial-and-error of producing new works is often taken out of the mix, and replaced by a mature disciplined sense of direction. At worst, making art can become more of a formulaic or assembly line process than a creative one, where they settle into a system of producing the same basic work over and over again.
JAILANI ABU HASSAN’S EARLY WORKS
Jailani Abu Hassan or fondly known as Jai, was born is 1963 in Selangor. His father was a soldier in the British Army and Jai’s childhood was spent moving from one army base to another around the country. He attended an English-medium primary school in Batu Kurau, a little boy learning to draw imaginary still lifes, taking from the reality that surrounded him including the world of soldiers, cars, village houses.
When he reached the Sixth form, Jai decided to pursue his passion for drawing and painting, subsequently enrolling himself at the Mara Institute of Technology (ITM), and graduated in 1985. At the height of an economic recession in the late 1980’s, Jai partook in Anak Alam, a haven for Malay artists and poets established by artist-poet Latiff Mohidin in the 1970’s, during which Jai survived by doing odd jobs. Nonetheless, he won first prize in the National Art Gallery’s Young Contemporaries Art Competition where he won an ASEAN travel grant to Manila and was granted a scholarship to study at The Slade School of Fine Art in London.
Jai’s years at The Slade moulded and equipped him with a strong foundation, and opened him up to a very different realm of experience. He studied under the likes of Bruce McLean, Uan Uglow and Mick Moon. This was when he birthed the powerful bondage series, which were figurative works, making use of self-portrait, a social statement in reaction to the South African boycott in Britain in 1987. Later, the artist travelled across Europe, West Asia and Pakistan. After London, he returned to Malaysia, and taught at ITM for three years before getting married and receiving a second scholarship, this time to study at the Pratt Institute in New York.
In New York, Jai’s wings began to spread and he learnt to break the rules, enjoyed a sense of personal and artistic freedom that became a driving force for his works ever since. It’s beyond impressive that in a vibrant, competitive city, Jai had the opportunity to hold a solo show in Brooklyn that landed him the first prize for drawing in the Murray Hill Art Competition. At the time, it seemed to Jai that American art was still very much in awe of giants like Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, and there seemed to be an almost decadent climate still celebrating the all-American dream. So, the artist actively scoured for alternatives to the mainstream, consequently getting attracted to works of those considered as ‘outsiders’ such as German Neo Expressionists Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. These artists were also exhibiting their works in New York and their influential hand in contemporary art and radical new approaches to the painting process drew Jai in as a fan.
Jai’s tenure at Pratt Institute saw him develop the ‘Life Form’, a body of giant, compressed charcoal drawings of biomorphic entities, based on shells, cocoons and plants. This was his first serious body of work and remains his most philosophical, attempting to express a sense of totality in regards to nature- birth, life, decay, its sensuous and spiritual elements. Jai and his wife Jas made a longed-for final return to Malaysia in 1994. Having experienced life at the epicentre of international art, the return to a very sombre milieu, where artists continually struggled to find a voice or a place in society, saw him step up to a set of different challenges. He went back to teaching at ITM and continuously developing and exhibiting perennially fresh new series of work. Jai’s works are often described as a complex ambiguity where the significance of each work competes and distorts the understanding of the next. The responsibility of meaning therefore lies primarily in the selection of the viewer…as guided by one’s own experiences.