When we talk about local artists, we think about traditional artwork like the batik or local comics made by Lat a.k.a Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid. But we don’t really think of modern, unconventional art, created by local talents, whether for political reasons or personal ones. So here are 13 artists that’ll catch your eyes and your soul:
1. Kenji Chai
Also known as Chaigo, Kenji Chai was born and raised in Sandakan, Sabah. As a kid, he was always surrounded by comics, cartoons and storybooks, and thus his distinctive art style was created. In school, Kenji always entered art competitions and he followed this passion by doing a course in graphic design. He became a graphic designer for a short time before he was introduced into the world of graffiti art and he was instantly addicted and quit his day job.
Since then, he has created art of several cafés, companies, festivals, and more. He has also done work for Urbanscapes, CIMB, L’Oreal, Pestle & Mortar, Royal Selangor and many more. One of his biggest art work was for Nando’s where he repainted a 3-storey wall for one of their outlets in KL, which took him 4 days and 90 can sprays to finish.
A graduate of illustration, Cloakwork started his career as a full-time graffiti artist and illustrator in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The name ‘Cloakwork’ points to how he often does his graffiti at night without being notice, thus ‘cloak’ and ‘work’. His clients include BMW, Volkswagen, Adidas, HYPEBEAST, Lane Crawford, AirAsia, iFlix, Levi’s, Converse and more.
3. Monica Lee
Lee is obsessed with details and is an illustrator who creates highly-detailed photo-realistic artworks with graphite pencils. One can hardly differentiate her art work from photographs. Lee worked in the digital art scene for 12 years before making the jump to illustration, and today she spends about 3 – 4 weeks for one artwork. She ascribes her love for hyperrealism to her father who works in photography.
Seremban-born Chong is a digital artist and illustrator known for his detailed illustration of Asian cityscapes. His artwork mixes animation, sketching, manga and digital art together. His work also features a human figure in the foreground surrounded by a colourful but eroding city. Also the co-founder of Running Snail Art Studio, Chong claims that he had set a personal challenge to always discover inspirations to give him new expressions to the regular observation he makes daily.
5. Haris Rashid
Rashid is a Kedah-born and Kuala Lumpur-based artist who had his first solo exhibition, “Beauty in the Beast”, at the Artemis Gallery, Publika. He claims that he finds his inspiration through nature and the patterns of nature. He also likes the organic shapes and lines he sees in nature and see it as art in itself. Though his artwork comes out in many forms, his main creative outlet is in paintings and when he was younger, he already gained a strong social media following due to his beautiful illustrations which showcases extravagant patterns and motifs.
6. Ng Wei Li
Due to her Chinese name constantly being mispronounced, she started using her nickname and brand “Weili Wonka”, with ‘Wonka’ representing her first love for the illustrations in children’s books; Roald Dahl has her favourite author of all time and Willy Wonka was her favourite character. Her artworks boasts her own whacky sense of humour as she also aspires to create her own children’s books in the future.
With a little over 63k followers on Instagram, Dribblack is one to follow. He is a vector artist who has recreated the portraits of famous Malaysians such as former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahatir, Lee Chong Wei, Yuna and more. His abstract artwork is vibrant and stunning whilst his hyper-realistic drawings are astonishingly intricate. He also has an apparel store with his artwork on it.
You might’ve heard her name before because she’s Malaysia’s darling-of-installation-art and has been making headlines for a while now as the ‘artist who paints without a paintbrush’. Her installations are never short of creative with her using simple, everyday tools – from straws to teabags – to produce beautiful 3-dimensonal artworks.
9. Vince Low
Suffering from dyslexia during his younger days, Low discovered an interest in the arts which became a turning point in his life. His artwork showcases a scribble style of drawing, representing himself and his chaotic imagination. He found this unique style when he was scribbling while looking for something that is simple yet complex from within. He saw potential in that art style and since then has decided to take up the challenge to scribble and capture the souls and characters of those in his artwork. Today, Low is active in dyslexia awareness campaigns and he hopes to help change the life of dyslexic children.
10. Samantha Lee
Lee has 715k followers on Instagram and a series of mesmerizing artwork on her account. She’s far from being a conventional artist and is a mom-turned-artist when she had to create food art to help her eldest daughter eat independently. Her adorable food art has captured many of our hearts national and internationally, along with the hearts of other artists.
Our fate lives within us. You only have to be Brave enough to see it. If you could change your fate, would you? #princessmerida #brave (More than 3 years ago, my friend Karianne made a Princess Merida foodart that inspired me to make my own version a few weeks later and lucky me, it went viral. Thank you @freeandwildchild ??)
Koh’s artworks features a mix of pencil portraits, watercolour artworks that are detailed and dreamlike, along with other mixed media on canvas. She is a jack of all trades, devlivering artworks in simple sketches or water-coloured sceneries, or even detailed portraits. A significant art initiative Koh did was in collaboration with her friends Aleff Ahmand and Sliz whereby they created an artwork (image above) titled “A Nation’s Prayer” which was a tribute to the MH370 incident. The artwork displayed the ancient Japanese Senbazuru legend which symbolizes hope of a with granted to anyone who folds 1,001 paper cranes.
12. Ruby Subramaniam
Subramaniam had quit her job and went on a solo travel through Europe and South America, leaving a part of herself everywhere she went. She traded her career in digital media marketing for a life of art and draws inspiration from the term ‘multipotentialite’ which is defined as “a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life”. Subramaniam never had any formal art lessons but this had never stopped her from experimenting with different media; her artworks range from acrylics to markers to even collages. Today, she organizes community art events and even though she has been through hard times, she acknowledges that her greatest challenge has sometimes been herself.
“The biggest step is dealing with (your) own insecurities. There are really no rules with art. You are free to do anything and that liberation can be a bit scary.”
13. Fahmi Reza
Reza is famous for his political artworks, the most famous being a giant clownish take on the Malaysian PM’s face, which has now become the icon for the country’s anti-corruption campaigns. 37-year-old Reza has taught himself many things; he is an amateur historian, human rights activist and even a documentary film-maker. He has a background in electrical engineering and a self-taught graphic designer who got into the business in 2002 to help struggling civil societies who couldn’t afford ‘real’ graphic designers. Today, he creates posters by himself for causes he believes in.