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24/01 Thursday 08:03AM

art'ista talking

Artista, Located at The Souq, level one at the Airport Mall. At a glance you would think it's only a shop that creates whimsical caricatures but when you get to meet the artists who work there you will find out there is much more to it than that. We talk to Nabil Fikri Haronli, one of the main founders of Artista and an already well-known self-taught portrait artist who has blossomed after 12 years of drawing.

Artista was founded together with Mohd Redzuan Bin Hj Jamaeh and Pg Kamarul Zaman Bin Pg Hj Tajuddin, who are also an active members of the Brunei Art Forum.  All three share their mutual love for art have joined together to start a workshop for other art enthusiasts early in the year with other artist members like Ak Mohd Afiq Pg Bakar, Lizzan Linggat and Hadiarlimas Bin Kassim who have displayed a multiple of different artistic talent from still-life landscapes and wildlife paintings to inked caricatures and abstract art.

What first gave you the idea to start Artista?

It started with people asking me on Facebook or emails where they could meet me to commission and buy my works and we would always meet at different locations; sometimes it would be at food courts, café’s or even at my house. After discussing with my partner, Marul and the rest of the gang, we decided to create a shop so it’ll be easier for customers to locate and make a purchase. Our work can be seen online at facebook but more so, we have created a place to express our passion in hopes to have anyone that come by to be inspired and enjoy what we do and rediscover the new wave of younger artists here in Brunei.

What media do you use & how long does each portrait take?

I would use mostly pencil and a photo of the subject that the customer has given me for reference. How long each portrait takes depends on the details of the picture as well as the sharpness and resolution, if the quality of the photo is low then it would take me up to two or three days to finish a portrait. Size also plays a role in my work, so if customers request for a larger portrait, let’s say, A2 to A1 paper size, it could take me about a week or up to a month to finish it. Where as if the size of the portrait were A3 or A4 paper size then it would be a few days.

Who were your artistic influences?

I would have to say my father. I found his old sketchbooks in a cupboard when I was little and I learned that even though he wasn’t an artist, he liked creating portraits as a hobby. So I kept the sketchbooks since then and it wasn’t until I entered secondary school that I started to draw. At first, it was difficult because there was no one around to actually help guide me at drawing, even at my old school there was no subject on how to draw portraits so I had to pretty much teach myself. It wasn’t until I was in form four I was able to take afternoon classes with Zakari Omar, one of my teachers from school who helped guide me at drawing portraits, mostly at drawing features of the face. In 2005, I met The Master of Portraits; Marsidi Omar who has agreed to take me as a student and invited me to his own gallery in Kampong Lambak. He has trained me in the subject of creating portraits and from then on that’s how I got to be the artist today.

Does Artista only do portraits?

No. Since there are other members who work in Artista, we exhibit other works of art as well. Apart from portraits and along with other members like Hadi, Afiq and Lizzan, we draw and paint landscape sceneries and wildlife. Whereas Marul and Zuan, they specialize in creating caricatures both in colour and in black and white.

What challenges do you face?

Before we started Artista, I’m used to work at home or doing live sketches at The Bazaar, The Mall in Gadong or at Giant supermarket; even though most of my work back then were rough sketches I was used to being surrounded by other people looking on as I drew. Now when I’m at Artista and in the middle of working on a portrait, it’s harder to focus when other customers come by and try to ask me information about the prices. I take up a lot of concentration with each work that I do and that is what I’m known for in my artwork. I guess it’s a new challenge I have to face and try to deal with.





How do you feel about the art market today?

For me, I feel that people are appreciating art more now. Back in 2008 the Bruneian community has noticed that there are other talented artists living in Brunei and not just the older veterans, who have always been greatly admired for their artworks such as; Pg Dato Paduka Hj Asmali Bin Pg Ahmad and Hj Padzil Bin Hj Ahmad to name a few. Most of the members from Brunei Arts Forum have studied in UBD and I learned that their art courses has changed because back then there was less practical assignments and more written ones. Art exhibitions are being held more regularly now, that’s another change I noticed and it’s good thing. I feel that today more and more younger artists are starting to come out and expose their work and show different skills.

There are a fair amount of caricatures displayed at Artista as well, which style would you say customers would request for most?

So far, most of the customers request for caricatures. I think it’s because of the prices; you see, my portraits cost a little bit more and when customers hear how much I charge they quickly change their minds and go for the caricatures haha…. I had to explain that my portraits require more detail but it depends on the customer on what they want. Sometimes, customers would come directly and ask for a caricature, that’s fine because they’ve seen the pictures on our Facebook page and maybe that made them interested in the first place.



Do you plan to expand Artista in the future?

Hmmm… we’ll see lah, hopefully. If we’re kaya (rich) already, Hahaha. Well, our plan now is to fill our shop’s walls with more of our work because right now it’s really blank and full of white space, we want to make it look crowded.

Even on the ceiling?

Hahaha! Maybe, like in Singapore. There’s this one hotel I stayed in, Royal Plaza, at Orchid Road and their café’ had these paintings on their ceilings so when you minum-minum [coffee] and you look up, there’re all these masterpieces to look at. That’s something I might want to try in the future and hopefully to hold open classes for anyone who want to learn drawing.

What advice can you give to aspiring artists in today's generation?

Well for me, if you do art as a hobby then it’s a hobby. If you choose to be a full-time artist then you should really focus and understand what is art, look at different kinds of famous artists to inspire you. You have to have ‘Want’ as well. For example, if you want to do abstract art then you’ll have to concentrate on abstract artists. For me, I refer to all the portrait artists; I study mostly western artists and renaissance art but I choose Marsidi Omar as my ‘Sifu’.

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