Contemporary painting abounds with a multitude of different stylistic and conceptual approaches, but what keeps the majority of them floating on the surface is the willingness to represent something new. Such is the case with the burgeoning self-taught artist Tunku Khalsom of Malaysian and British descent, whose vibrant compositions rest on numerous pictorial elements to deliver intuitive narratives centered on the alterations of mood and thought.
The interior architecture graduate, and experienced designer, Khalsom is dazzled with fluidity and color; her works can be found in the homes of private collectors across Asia, the USA, and Greece are saturated with positivity and prevailing concepts such as life, love, and change.
The two recurring motifs she uses are butterflies as a symbol of change, and skulls that symbolize death and the passing of time. Juxtaposed against flashy backgrounds they create different mood boards all of us pass through life while contemplating on the very notion of existence.
To find out more about her creative process and the persuasion that leads her to the final work, we asked Tunku Khalsom a few questions that she was kind to answer in the following interview.
Widewalls: The first impression after looking closely at your works is that you combine Western painting traditions (in this particular case the memento mori genre) and the sensibility of your Malaysian ancestry. Could you tell us more about your painterly process?
Tunku Khalsom: It’s always so interesting to me to see what people take from my work. I love to hear different interpretations and ideas. Yes, I am half Malaysian and half British, to keep it simple, but I don’t particularly identify with one country over the other.
And I don’t really like to overly plan my work, I am very much an intuitive painter. I might have an idea for the colors and textures that I want to incorporate, but more often than not it will change. I like to overlay inks and paints, playing with shimmers, and the opacity of the different mediums, so you begin to see hints of one under the other.
With so many potential combinations, the outcome can be anything! I like to leave it to the viewer to come up with a story of their own, and to decide what they see and how it makes them feel.
Widewalls: When it comes to contemporary art, skulls have been mostly popularized by Damien Hirst who uses this particular motif to explore the thin liaison between life and death, but also to speak about the spiritual implications of the same. Do you use a similar method or do skulls have another meaning in the context of your work?
TK: The skull is actually only a very small part of my body of work, but I love it. You can definitely say that the butterfly is the main character, and the skull is there to give her some extra edge!
I have experienced a fair amount of death in my life, but it is not something that I dwell on, it’s a fact, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s life. My work is about life, love, and change, particularly about personal growth. It’s about my change, my journey to becoming the person that I am, and all the experiences that I’ve gone through to get here, and these two symbols signify that for me.
Widewalls: Have you considered experimenting with other media or collaborating with other artists?
TK: Right now my work is predominantly mixed media paintings, and mixed media combined with digital art, but I’m always looking to learn new things, to develop my creative process, and use different mediums. I love to discover unique textures to incorporate into my work, which is all about textures and layers.
I haven’t yet collaborated with any other artists, but I would love to. I think that we can learn a lot from each other, leading to the creation of even better artwork.
I’d also be very interested in collaborating with designers. So far, I’ve experimented with lighting and skate shoes, but if I’m honest I really want to make pajamas!!
Widewalls: What are the challenges of the current times in the sense of presenting and selling your work? And has this pandemic affected your work at all and if so in what way?
TK: I think the most frustrating thing throughout this year has been not being able to exhibit my work, to get it out there for people to experience in person. They are so much more captivating in real life. Having said that, I’ve been very fortunate to have had a steady stream of work throughout. I’ve sent pieces to Greece, London, the US, Malaysia, Brunei, and of course, Singapore.
I think the pandemic just gave me a lot of time to sit and work on new pieces and to develop my style. Luckily my studio is at home, so there was no escaping work!
Widewalls: Although it is difficult to speak about any future plans at this point, could you reveal to us your visions at least? Where would you like to present your works or how would you expand your practice?
TK: Yes, I’m pretty excited about 2021, as I think most people are. I am hoping to have a few exhibitions. I’m in talks now with a couple of places - here in Singapore and the gallery that I am part of in Malaysia. So that's really exciting.
As for how my work will develop, I just hope to continue to experiment and create a distinct style without becoming too repetitive. I’m also looking into taking a course on color, and the psychological effects that different colors have.
Featured image: Portrait of Tunku Khalsom. Courtesy of the artist and Addicted Art Gallery.
By Appointment Only, Singapore