solo exhibition by Ruzzeki Harris
28 August - 14 September 2014
By Samantha Segar
"As an artist, Ruzzeki Harris is quite sensitive to his environment. Most of his works are channeling his angst as well as his thoughts towards issues he is facing, either personal or global. His works are an extension of his psyche and represent his effort to exist and to be heard. Neither to preach nor to teach, his works are like graffiti on the road wall ... point blank at the passer by." - Bayu Utomo Radjikin, HOM Art Trans Director
Ruzzeki Harris has been actively exhibiting in Southeast Asia for over ten years. While his initial paintings were abstract, early in his practice he found himself drawn to the work of the great Surrealists Dali and Magritte, as well as contemporary artists from Southeast Asia such as Ronald Ventura and Agus Suwage. Following this attraction, his stylistic preference quickly evolved into one of Figurative Surrealism. As Ruzzeki himself says, "While I felt technically comfortable with either genre, at that moment I was still very much searching for my identity, Pop Surrealism was just a more comfortable fit for me."
A self-proclaimed observer of people and their habits, he is most moved by what strikes him as ironic or poignant. His subject matter is often a cynical response to current events, be they international incidents or dramas on a more personal scale. Expectedly, the surreal characteristics of Ruzzeki's paintings are the most striking. Animals, fruits, and human skulls meld into totem-like representations and provide an acerbic commentary on contemporary life.
In his 2011 solo exhibition, DICTUM, Ruzzeki filled his paintings with dreamscape fantasies, often creating entire atmospheric worlds on the canvas. In Point Blank the focus sits squarely on the subject, isolated and floating on slate grey backgrounds, the figures look as though they were plucked from a nearby alley or side of an abandoned warehouse. Ruzzeki cites street art as an influence and hesitantly admits to having dabbled in the medium, noting graffiti artist Banksy as a personal favorite. That his paintings are visually stunning and show extraordinary technical mastery of the figurative speak to that aesthetic, (1) that they present a street art experience sans street speaks to his frank, point blank attitude. As Ruzzeki says, this presentation is an attempt to "capture the raw emotion of the street."
A slap to the forehead being the universal sign for "You've got to be kidding me," the painting On the Air comments on today's excessively sensationalised mass media, it is also a direct reference to a specific bungling by a particular international media organisation regarding the disappearance of Malaysian Airline Flight MH370. A not so subtle hint pointing toward the offending party can be found in the acronym made by the text. This two-tiered connotation is demonstrative of another curious aspect of many of Ruzzeki's paintings, often what appears to be a sweeping sociopolitical or cultural critique is actually a reference to a unique and personal experience or observation, with the artwork serving to document and perhaps solidify his reaction.
This series of paintings contains a new signature stylistic element of the artist, in these works clusters of colorful dots dance around the subjects and canvas. While heightening the surrealistic effect of the work, the spots actually serve the much more functional purpose of an on-canvas palette.
In Two Faced this palette literally breaks the edge of the painted canvas and extends onto its white plastic Rococo-like frame. Unique to this series, this pre-framed work depicts a skull wearing half a durian fruit as a cap. While the skin of the durian is gorgeously textured, it is too sharp to be touched by the bare hand. This painting is a warning to stay away from menacing objects or people no matter how enticing. The ornate but cheap frame reiterates the message that initial appearances are often deceiving.
Ruzzeki 's use of fruit and skulls as a reoccurring motif is reminiscent of 17th century Dutch vanitas painting, those meticulously executed and luscious still life paintings of flowers, fruits, skulls, and worldly riches meant to remind viewers of the fragility of human life (2) or in the more contemporary approach to the genre, to consider the anxieties associated with our existence as a man or woman in modern society. (3) While these concepts may serve as a subtext, for Harris the skull serves as an effective mechanism to sidestep issues of ethnicity in his work. Socio-political developments regarding race relations in Malaysia have long served as significant subject matter for artists in the region, (4) Ruzzeki's ethnically-neutral skulls allow him to opt out of that specific discussion while simultaneously reminding the viewer that regardless of their particular view, our shared mortality is indeed the great equalizer. In one of the show's lighter moments, the painting Death by Oil demonstrates this commonality and Harris's brand of dark humor as his Jolly Roger serves up a sort of painter's lament.
To the new viewer, Ruzzeki's work may seem somehow familiar and, true to the artist’s ethos, Harris enjoys repurposing and retooling imagery and ideas from those he admires to reflect his personal sentiments. For Ruzzeki, authenticity of character is what is paramount. In this regard, he often goes so far as to paint himself into his compositions as if to validate both the work and perhaps himself as unique and credible entities. In No Keyboard Warrior he places his self-portrait front and center as a declaration of his veracity and challenge to those he feels hide behind brazen and often inflated online personas. While the psychology behind the use of self-imagery is in overdrive in today's out of control “selfie” era, the artist's repeated use of self-portraiture and symbolic reference to self echoes Radjikin's statement that Ruzzeki 's paintings truly "represent his effort to exist and to be heard." How better to substantiate your voice than to literally include yourself in your work?
Sincere in their sentiment and reflective of the surrealist mindset, Ruzzeki's paintings represent the unadulterated thought and emotion of this artist—point blank.
1. Nicholas Alden Riggle. "Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 68, No. 3 (2010), pp.243-257.
2. Hans J. Van Miegroet. "Vanitas." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T087870 (accessed July 24, 2014).
3. John-Paul Pryor. "Vanitas: The Transcience of Earthly Pleasures." Dazed. http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/8770/1/vanitas-the-transcience-of-earthly-pleasures (accessed 26 July 2014).
4. Iola Lenzi. Negotiating home, history and nation: two decades of contemporary art in Southeast Asia, 1991-2011. (Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, 2011), p. 22.
- Ruzzeki Harris