IN the cool calm of Galeri Prima, I hear my name being called out from the other end of the gallery. An amiable face looms into view, her smile broad. “Hi! Nice to meet you! Thank you for agreeing to meet me!” chirps Marisa R Ng, the bubbly artist who’s currently holding her 4th solo exhibition titled The Secret Garden in this very gallery.
It’s the first time that we’re meeting, but her friendly disposition makes me feel like we’ve been friends forever. Dressed in an all-black outfit and sporting a cute short bob, the artist apologises for being a little late. “It was raining and it felt so nice to stay in bed,” she explains with a laugh, adding: “That’s the dilemma about being an artist. You need to push yourself to do a lot of things, especially work. If not, nothing gets done!”
The 41-year-old is not new in the art scene. For over a decade now, she’s stamped her mark as one of the very few Malaysian abstract expressionist artists, in a field that’s predominantly dominated by men. Abstract expressionism is a non-representational art that uses visual languages of line, form, colour and shape to create a composition. It’s also an art form that regularly employs dynamic brushstrokes that are spontaneous and energetic.
It’s a powerful art form and certainly impactful at first sight. “But I feel like my work is still very kindergarten comparedto many others who have well established themselves in the field. I have much more to learn,” confides Marisa humbly.
However, she does admit that art is rather subjective. “What I might find powerful and compelling may be shit to somebody else!” she quips with a chuckle.
Easing herself onto the couch opposite me, Marisa eagerly regales me with stories about her exhibition. The entire concept, she shares, is inspired by a book of the same name written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The works on display are abstract expressions of her journey discovering her very own ‘secret garden’. A garden, she claims, that represents her emotions or mindscape.
“Inside each of us, there’s a little garden; one that reflects our life and how we feel deep inside. Usually, other people are not privy to this secret garden of yours,” elaborates the artist, continuing: “As days pass, it will be filled with unkempt bushes and weeds because life can be mundane and tiring. We go through it like a cycle without thinking. However, as humans, we cannot stay that way forever or we’ll die. So, we need to clear it when it gets too overwhelming. But to pull out the unwanted weeds from our garden isn’t an easy thing to do.”
She confesses that her personal garden is nowhere near as colourful as that which she portrays in her paintings. “If I were to paint what I’m feeling now, it would be very dark and emo,” reveals Marisa. Having gone through a messy breakup, she acknowledges that she has a long way to go before she can completely clear the chaos in her garden.
She explains that what we are seeing, displayed so strikingly in the gallery, is essentially a vision of how she wants her personal garden to be someday — bright, fun, colourful, and filled with life. In addition to painting everything using bright colours, she has also playfully named each painting with poetic yet cheeky titles.
“I just love seeing the way people try to derive images that are not there. For example that painting I have called ‘When the bees are singing’. There are actually no bees in the piece,” reveals Marisa mischievously. Abstract art, she goes on to add, is all about perspective.
“Unfortunately, people are always trying to find something in a piece of abstract art when you don’t really have to. It’s not what you see, but how you feel that’s important when it comes to this form of art. But not many people understand that,” says Marisa.
Prior to making art as her vocation, Marisa dabbled in other jobs. She recounts: “Being Asian, my parents wanted me to get a job that paid well. So I tried working as an air stewardess when I was about 20 — I hated it!” she exclaims with disdain.
“I think my biggest fear is employment. Yes, I know that sounds very wrong!” she adds with a chuckle. So, to strike a compromise between her parent’s wish for her to get a stable job and her dislike for employment, she started her own business. She was halfway through her professional accountancy studies when her marriage went downhill.
“It was 2009 when I fell into depression. So, I took time off and went away by myself to Pulau Kapas to do some soul searching,” she confides. It was then that she rediscovered her love for art — it was art that helped to lift her out from her state of darkness. A close friend who saw the potential of what she was doing advised her to pursue it as a career instead of just as a hobby.
After giving it a lot of thought, Marisa decided to pursue art seriously and went on to enrol herself at Aswara (National Academy of Art, Culture and Heritage Malaysia) where she came away with a certificate in figurative art. She was also mentored by several established artists in the country.
“I’d always been a creative person but I needed a more formal avenue to expand that part of me,” she reveals, continuing: “I even won a few art competitions when I was a child, but it never struck me to take art on full-time because my primary motivation to seeking a career path had always been monetary.”
Since becoming an artist, Marisa fully understands the tremendous amount of sacrifice and patience that’s required to sustain the passion. “Money cannot be my motivation to work anymore. Instead, my motivation now is to be able to create really good art that impacts people. Art that will make them think and see beyond what’s on the canvas,” she reveals.
Art, she shares, has lifted her in many inexplicable ways. “Art has given me the licence to be silly, to be stupid. It has encouraged me to be spontaneous and impulsive. Everything that was not possible in the conventional work environment, I have found here. It’s my playground and where I am happy,” enthuses Marisa.
As if on cue, our tummies suddenly let out a growl, amplified in the pin-drop silence of the gallery. Before we head out to the cafeteria to placate our hunger, Marisa concludes: “The challenge of painting abstract art fascinates me. To paint something that’s not even there is harder than just trying to copy something real. Having to extract what lies within you isn’t easy.”
Softly, she adds: “But once you’ve pulled it out, the satisfaction that you derive from it is really something. But after that, how you arrange it and put it on canvas is another story! That requires a lot of practice, a lot of reading and a lot of learning from masters. That’s why being an artist is a lifelong journey. But I’m certainly ready to go the distance.”
THE SECRET GARDEN
WHERE: Galeri Prima, Balai Berita, 31 Jalan Riong, KL
WHEN: Until Oct 4, 2018
On weekdays, the gallery is open
from 10am - 5pm
On weekends, the gallery is open
only by appointment
CONTACT: 03-2724 8300