Upon learning Rafiee Ghani’s latest title of his new exhibition, “Rainbow Warrior”, some elements come to mind. First, it is the black and white film “Hang Tuah”, directed by P.Ramlee, that was then manually rendered in colour. Perhaps, it is the word ‘Warrior’ that is associated with the great warrior Hang Tuah who displayed his utmost loyalty to the king and the country. There after comes to mind too, is the title of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”, which has paved the way for the term “Technicolour” connecting the title “Rainbow” with its seven core colours. However, the obvious is the paint colours interwoven within the artworks of impressionists, post-impressionists, nabis and fauvism like Gaugin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Eduoard Vuillards and Paul Serusier. Whilst reading the writing of Mulyadi Mahamood (1996) “A Stylistic Analysis of Rafiee’s Intimisme” in ‘The Painted Garden’, the mindful display of the metacognition does not wrong me. Mulyadi’s interpretation of Rafiee’s artworks has similar link as that of France Big Artists which I named “The Modern Art Gods”. Rafiee’s artworks, which contain overlapping elements, between Nabis and Fauvism as well as the East and the West, of which Rafiee describes as timeless quality, has given birth to something new that is also universal.
The art movement group that called themselves “Les Nabis” (French Post-Impressionist Avant Garde circa 1980s) did not stay for long and had never been put forward in entirety, they were only highlighted in Paul Serusier’s artwork entitled “Talisman”. Paul Gaugin became the advisor of this group and in championing the cause of “Les Nabis”, promoted the reading approach, as well as the studio mindset and practicality. Until now, observation proves that Rafiee Ghani still practises these rituals, from the little black moleskin sketchbooks to the bigger rendered artworks, to test the colours, before being spread to the pencil drawings on paper or oil paints on canvas.
From the writings on his adventures of art-searching in Asia, Australia, Europe and America, as well as his conversations, we would know that he is an avid reader of either on arts knowledge, philosophy, as well as history, or on still images and symbols. For an artist who takes care of the creative process, he almost definitely appreciates memory, experience and expression, and hence, these have been what that are being brushed onto canvas or paper. The memory-experience-expression is what that has been arrayed in the colours of the rainbow which blossom in feelings and soulfulness.
Matisse, famous for his strong, vibrant, and original use of colours, and his character in using colours expressively, has made him one of the great icons of modern art. Hence, the character of the artwork of Rafiee Ghani; and for that Rafiee has always been known as Malaysia’s Matisse circa 1980s. Even though his artworks in the “Hanging Garden Series” are more inclined towards Abstract Expressionism, observers remember him by his artworks from the “Kebun Sultan Series”, “Le Jardin Series”, “Room of Flowers”, “Oriental Afternoon” and “Painted Garden”. As a talented and trained artist, he has also created artworks using water-based paint, oil-based paint, as well as printmaking (etching), focussing on scenery, buildings, still life and figures. However, his most famous artworks have only inclined towards scenery paintings, interior and exterior, containing no human elements. Perhaps, this is due to the influence of the abstract expressionism movement in Malaysia during that time that had steered away from the figure paintings of the teachings and influences of his teachers in Institut Teknologi MARA, art competitions at The National Art Gallery, as well as the infiltration of Islamic values inside the lives of the Muslim Malays in Malaysia. Rafiee has never included figures in his artworks during the 1980s and the 1990s, and as such differs that of his idol, Matisse, who placed feminine figures within the internal space. If it is said that Matisse had painted from within nature, including those of human figures and still life, Pablo Picasso, on the other hand, had produced artworks from his imaginations. Meanwhile, Rafiee has brought forth both elements of nature and still life, as well as imagination in his artworks, hence, the combination of imagination and observation. Rafiee has not been labeled as an Islamic Malay artist who presents his Islamic artworks, as there have been a few Islamic art icons during that time. His best friend, Yusof Ghani, however, is labelled as a Malaysian Abstract Expressionism artist.
Rafiee Ghani in truth is a “Nabis Islamic” artist, without presenting the khat writings and thuluth as well as arabesque designs in his artworks. On the contrary, he has successfully interpreted and presented the life of Islamic culture of the Mediterranean countries that have the western and eastern influences among them. Across the Mediterranean Ocean, there were many similarities among the local people or the Malay archipelago, which have always been categorized by the French as Asiatic (not including those Africans and Arabs). These influences not only come from his fascination with the French Gods of Modern Art, but also of other lives such as in Africa and Pacific. Even though their search and clues towards a new form in the art world during that time in Europe were characterized as Orientalist, they had successfully found new forms as well as colours.
This adventure and experience has also brought Rafiee Ghani to the lands of Africa and Europe, as a new experience to the search. Rafiee Ghani had migrated, worked and lived in Seychelles (a small African country in the Hindi Ocean – 1000 miles from Africa, 7 hours flight from Malaysia, a few hours to Johannesburg, two hours from Mauritius), which was a bit isolated, as in his mother’s birthplace, Kelantan. Kelantan, as history goes, was under hindu-buddha Chih-Tu (Tanah Merah), Langkasuka, Chermin, Sri Wijaya, ,Majapahit, and Ayutthaya governments. It then had a strong connection with Champa’s Islamic government, Pattani and Malacca, creating intricate Islamic artworks in wood carvings, songket, silver, gold, batik, games including wau, rebana ubi, wayang kulit, limar, as well as batik sarong. Looking back at his childhood, it was apparent that it had been full of colours, not just the memory of the red Ford belonging to his mother, but also his father’s blue paint blocks, and the colour of the magic pens during his school years.
Evidently, this is the memory that has been the backbone of Rafiee’s latest artworks, “Rainbow Warrior”, which looks back to his childhood days in the form of his son as the model. This is also a reminder to the title of a Hollywood movie in 1985, “Back To The Future”, written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Michael J. Fox as the lead role. Most of Rafiee Ghani’s collections in this “Rainbow Series” potray the physiques and portraits of a child of spontaneous and natural in character but filled with style and attitude. At times, it is observed that the child’s physique is in dancing mode and this is the attraction. In Malaysia, we have been presented by the inspirational creation of study on figures and from the work of Amron Omar, Yusuf Ghani and Sivanatarajah. In Indonesia, artworks on dance have begun since the colonial days of Le Mayeur, Antonio Blanco as well as Indonesia painters like Srihadi and Affendi, that have thus far been a kind of tradition on the painting of body and dance. In the West, it is inevitable that we mention the art on dance effect in Edgar Degar’s “Dancers at the Bar” and “Ballet Rehearsal”. Nevertheless, the indispensable has been the “Woman in Bath” by Edgar Degar, potraying only the rear body part of a female, as well as the physique study by Henri Matisse, Francine Van Hove and Auguste Rodin.
The attraction in Rafiee Ghani’s figure and body creation is the choice of pre-puberty male child as the subject that sustains his stand on Nabis Islamic. Nevertheless, the obvious is not only on his study of body movement and language, but also about dream, hope and aspiration of a child as Edward de Bono once introduced in his “Lateral Thinking” on creative thinking. To be creative one has to be a child again, to be free to think and to create endlessly, beyond what that can curb our view. Here, Rafiee Ghani allows himself to display the child who is free to think, to dream and to be what he may desire to be, a fire brigade officer, jasmine flower picker, shadow whisperer, nature observer, wader of the wave or a superhero that clinches to save the world from a catastrophe. Despite the dream, aspiration, feelings and hope, its shadow still exudes the colourful lights that sustain the bright night for he is the Rainbow Warrior.
DR ZULKIFLI MOHAMAD