Memoir VII: Sail Out

All images pertaining to the artist have been provided courtesy of them

There’s a famous saying when it comes to relationships, ‘two is company, and three is a crowd’. Relationships come with all sorts of emotions, and the music industry has made a gold mine when it comes to this. When you’re confessing your love: With You by Chris Brown (2007) and I’m Yours by James Mraz (2008). For the falling in love part: I Just Can’t Stop Loving You by Michael Jackson (1987) and Love is Easy by McFly (2013). And when things come to an end: Burn by Usher (2004) and The Worst by Jhené Aiko (2013).

But music isn’t the only place relationships and emotions show up, you also have art. For example, The Kiss (painted 1897) by Edvard Munch, The Lovers (painted 1928) by René Magritte and The Kiss (painted 1907) by Gustav Klimt.

What’s interesting about Munch’s version of The Kiss compared to Klimt’s, is Munch presents these two figures as undercover lovers – Munch makes the viewer feel as if they are intruding. The fact that these figures kiss behind curtains further adds to this idea of intrusion – we are witnessing something that should remain… private between these two. Whereas with Klimt’s version, it’s the opposite, we don’t feel awkward being there – well I certainly don’t. What we see as the viewer is this ethereal connection.

The Kiss (painted 1897) [Oil on Canvas] by Edvard Munch

The Kiss (painted 1908) [Oil and Gold Leaf on Canvas]

by Gustav Klimt

When it comes to both the former and the latter, Aisha Rosli is an artist who incorporates these elements into her work. So, with that being said, let’s sail out and explore the life of Aisha Rosli.

Aisha’s story starts as a child. As a child, the artist would spend her time drawing and writing in her diary. By secondary school, her curiosity for art further developed, as she explains: “In secondary school, we had to choose an elective, so I chose art. I was very lucky because I was able to take overseas trips to Vienna and Prague. These trips were good because they allowed me to do exhibitions at such a young age”.

Along with this, Aisha would go to museums with her class. This inspired her because she saw her favourite artists’ work in such prestigious spaces, “I would see my favourite artists’ work in museums, and it made me want to see my work there, in a museum or a gallery. So around that time, that’s when I actually started to pursue art as a career”.

After completing her secondary education, Aisha would go on to study at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and graduate in 2018. 

I asked Aisha about her family’s attitudes towards her decision to pursue art, and she answered: “I think for me and my family, it was strange seeing me do art. Because as an Asian, a career in art is seen as strange. But it reached a point where they knew the academic stuff was not for me (laughs). So when I wanted to choose a diploma in art, my mum said, ‘Yeah, just go for it’. So when I was initially creating my pieces, I didn’t have any space or studio – I had to use my home. So they didn’t really question what I was doing –  they just looked at it and just commented. But I feel like them giving me a space at home to actually create was very supportive”.

Besides her family’s support, Aisha stated her biggest influence came from her secondary school art teacher, as she explains: “I had this teacher who was different. In secondary schools, I feel like the teachers discourage people – in fact, some discouraged us – they wanted us to concentrate more on maths and science. But like I said, this teacher was different, she would make our art classes more fun. She would buy us food, and that was like, crazy. So, because of her, I was always looking forward to art”.

In terms of that moment when she truly felt like an artist, Aisha said it was when she decided to paint full-time, as she expanded: “When I just graduated, it felt so weird to call myself an artist. I felt lucky showing my work in galleries and other spaces, but I didn’t feel confident enough to call myself an artist, I just saw myself as someone who just paints. So it was when I decided to call myself a full-time artist, I felt that confidence. Also, it was when I was represented, I felt like an artist too”.

When I first encountered Aisha’s work, it reminded me of Edvard Munch due to how they both explore anxiety – Be Careful with a Fool (painted 2021) is a great example of this argument.

Be Careful with A Fool (painted 2021) [Mixed Media on Canvas, 120 x 150 cm]

As of the recording of this memoir, Be Careful with A Fool is Aisha’s most recent painting, and it is also part of her Black Eye series. This piece was part of a group show, and it was a response to a painting completed by a second-generation Nanyang artist. The artist Aisha chose was Goh Beng Kwan, and she responded to the painting, Balloon Party: “I chose Goh Beng Kwan because his work is very abstract, and he uses very bright colours. Since I do a lot of figurative stuff, I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to see if I could find some figurative elements in his work; I wanted to experiment and use the collage motif he constantly uses”.

If we look at the female character in this piece, we can instantly notice that something isn’t right. For example, her position on the floor; the character’s blank stare; the arrangement of both the cushion and boots. Coupled together, all of these examples are a strong indication of the character’s mental state, and how exhausted she is.

I asked Aisha if the title of this painting was also indicative of this, and she confirmed it was: “Yes, the title does play a part in this piece – it guides the narrative. The title tells us that this character is very vulnerable, and possibly frustrated at something. So, a current relationship or maybe a crush… But I think it is a crush. Because have you ever had a crush on someone, and you can feel the chemistry, but the other person can’t express their feelings… Well, when things are one-sided, the emotions can take a toll on the person – she is that person”.

As we progress through this memoir, you will see pieces just like this where the figure’s face is obscured to create ambiguity, and such a technique is a fantastic tool to use since it makes us explore their work even more. We examine small details in the background to give us the missing pieces.

When it comes to her art, Aisha describes it as ‘very melancholic’ and ‘very exaggerated’, she expands: “My art is a book of stories, it moves away from reality and has this element of escapism. I use this very confined space, and I use it to make it easier to show the characters and how they interact”.

With regards to what her art means personally, Aisha’s answer was the following, “It is a platform for me to vent my emotions. It also allows me to plot this story of something I can fantasise about – it’s a break from the real world”.

Since this is Volume III: The Maverick Series, I also asked Aisha, what makes her work different compared to other artists? Aisha’s answer to this was concise and fascinating, as it made me think of the therapeutic aspect of art: “I feel like my work is very emotional, it’s a constant essence of me. It’s not really a self-portrayal, it just gives the viewer a constant essence of me, I guess. You can also see I use stuff like my jewellery and certain patterns from clothes”.

This use of patterns is particularly evident in the piece, Jealous Guy {Diptych} (painted 2020).

Jealous Guy {Diptych} (painted 2020) [Mixed Media on Canvas, 140 x 90 cm]

Unlike the paintings you will see in this memoir, the spacing of this piece is less confined. In fact, we have a vast amount to explore in this piece. “I think for this piece, I was a bit more experimental. Because in some of my paintings, things are a lot more zoomed in, you don’t see a lot of big spaces or big interiors. This was fun because I played around with the space”.

Like her other pieces, such as Be Careful with A Fool, Aisha still incorporates patterns. She uses two different patterns to distinguish the two spaces seen in this diptych. It’s clever, because we have two different spaces, but at the same time, we have one space, due to the brown cabinet uniting the two paintings. “I think when you look at it, it’s one room, right. But by using different styles and different patterns you can somehow distinguish there are two characters in this painting. Because you have one side which is more geometric, a bit more rigid, which could suggest the male character’s space, while the other side has a floral carpet, suggesting a female character”.

What I find intriguing about this piece is who is the male character? Is he a stalker or a lover? And is the female character aware of this? I want to know more about these characters, and I think that’s the beauty of this piece because their body language is so vague – I’m longing for my questions to have answers, and I like that.

To add to that, you have walls and this translucent curtain which stops us from getting any clues from this scene, Aisha states: “This painting here is nonsensical. I mean, we have this male character who is actually trying to look into this lady’s room, but he can’t see anything – there is this act of voyeurism. But let’s look at it like this, we as the viewer are looking into the privacy of both of them… Also, with the translucent curtain, I am offering multiple viewings into the piece, and it works hand-in-hand with how I paint to conceal and reveal throughout this painting”.

If we look at Aisha’s inspiration, starting with artists from the past, Aisha stated Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon.

When Aisha mentioned the late Francis Bacon, I was intrigued by this, so as you would expect, I asked Aisha, why Bacon? Aisha’s response to this was very fascinating, and it forced me to look at her work again: “When I see Francis Bacon’s work, it’s very disturbing. I like what he does with his compositions, it’s very simple but difficult. He uses this one character which can sometimes be himself, and he plays around with the space. So when I look at his paintings, I always look at how he plays around with space; I look at how he uses colour; I look at the brushstrokes. But besides that, I just like disturbing stuff, I guess (laughs)”.

In my opinion, some good examples of this influence are Femme Fatale (painted 2019) and Nothing Burns Like the Cold (painted 2020)

Femme Fatale (painted 2019) [Acrylic and Oil Sticks on Canvas, 140 x 160 cm]

The paintings so far and the remaining paintings in this memoir are all from Aisha’s Black Eye series. Femme Fatale is from Aisha’s series called Maiden which was completed last year. In this piece, Aisha explores the life of a woman experiencing an emotional breakdown. “I was interested in painting this character whose ordinary life was like a performance – the character we see here is having a breakdown. We see this vulnerable figure performing a complex routine, and it’s symbolic of her life because she is putting on a show… She is putting on a show to an audience”.

Unlike Be Careful with A Fool, the figure’s face is completely obscured, and this is something we see in Bacon’s work. Additionally, this piece utilises a dark colour palette to create a very dark and melancholic atmosphere for the viewer to explore, which is also something that Bacon is known for.

If we turn our attention to the bottom left corner, we see a stage. I originally thought that this was part of the acrobat’s leotard since it was partially lilac, but Aisha corrected me and explained: “It’s not a gown (laughs), it’s a stage. In general, stages are very plain, but by giving it this design, I wanted to invoke this familiar yet unfamiliar feel to the painting. I wanted to make people think something else; I wanted to make people think, ‘Ooo? Is this a dress or even a blanket?’”.

Furthermore, Aisha stated that the angle in which we see the female is deliberate too: “I wanted to incorporate this fourth wall aspect where the audience, which is the viewer, is looking at the performer from outside of the painting”. This is interesting because Aisha followed this up by stating: “This character we see is on a really high hoop, but we see no audience – she is actually performing for herself, and not us”.

Nothing Burns Like the Cold (painted 2020) [Acrylic and Oil Sticks on Canvas, 120 x 150 cm]

In this piece, we are presented with two figures, a man and a woman. Like Be Careful with A Fool, their facial expressions are unclear, but also, just like that piece, we don’t need facial expressions to know what is going on. If we just look at them, we can sense this nervousness. This is even more evident with the male figure – his hands cannot be seen. So it begs the questions, are his hands in his pocket? Or worse, are they in the crevices of the sofa? It should also be noted that his feet are underneath the rug. Aisha stated: “With this painting, I really wanted to exaggerate a lot of things, be it the space or certain emotions. As you said, the male character is hiding his feet – it’s almost as if he is frigid, he is uncomfortable”.

If we analyse the composition of this piece, the figures are placed in a confined space. By Aisha manipulating the space, she forces the viewer into the couple’s orbit, and I think that’s the phenomenal feature of this piece, we can’t look anywhere else because the couple consumes half of this piece. Remember what I said in the beginning, ‘two is company, and three is a crowd’. Well, in this instance, we are the third member, and I think this adds an extra layer of awkwardness since we are forced to look at them

As stated before, Nothing Burns Like the Cold is part of Aisha’s Black Eye series. Aisha explained the concept of the series: “When I was creating this series, I wanted to explore the aftermath of different situations. I wanted to start with ambiguous ideas and then think of a narrative using titles. With Black Eye, I wanted to focus on the discolouration of the eyes because eyes can suggest so many things. Like when mascara smudges, the person is crying or distressed. So for this painting, it is the title we get an understanding of the situation, the silent treatment between the two – the characters are screaming in silence”.

Moving on to her contemporaries, Aisha stated she was inspired by Marlene Dumas, Cecily Brown and Guglielmo Castelli: “With Marlene Dumas, she is always doing these zoomed-in paintings of women. She plays around with the paint to create these expressions, and the subject matter that she chooses aren’t always happy, they’re like images from murder scenes, they are tragic”.

Beyond art, Aisha stated her inspiration comes from music and film. She expanded by saying the two help in her compositions: “My favourite musicians are Alexandra Savior and Jorja Smith. They sing about emotional things, and I look at their songs, the lyrics, and take stuff from there. With movies, I don’t really have a favourite one. Whenever I need time away from painting, I usually watch a drama or a very sad movie, and from there, I find certain images which are like, ‘Hmm… This could work… This could work with what I want to express in a certain painting’. So I use that scene, and I change it a bit”.

Stuck in Fantasy Mode (painted 2020) [Mixed Media on Canvas, 150 x 180 cm]

Stuck in Fantasy Mode (painted 2020) takes its name from the lyrics of Cupid by Alexandra Savior (2017). Here are the lyrics ‘Filled in the hole in the road/We were speaking in code/Stuck in fantasy mode…’.

Looking at the piece, we can see a female figure resting on a bed, and above her are flowers. “Both the walls and bed have a pattern design, and by doing that gives the piece a noise to it. When it comes to the flowers floating above her, I included them to suggest this idea of her hallucinating”. What is interesting about that is I initially thought the figure was dead. With the figure resting on the bed and looking lifeless, I honestly thought she wasn’t alive since her face was very pale too.

I asked Aisha if other people had the same initial impressions, and she said, yes. A vast amount of people thought the female in this piece was dead. “Yeah, you’re not the only one who has said that (smiles). The posture is interesting like you said, she has her hands on her stomach. So I can see why some would think she is on her death bed”.

After stating this, I asked Aisha if she did this intentionally, to catch viewers off guard, and she explained: “No, it wasn’t intentional. I think it was subconscious because I didn’t intend for her to look dead. But I can see everyone’s point. But saying that, I think it is cool that different people see the character differently”.

Aisha further explained: “I purposely painted her very blue and translucent to evoke this emotion of numbness. It’s almost disturbing because she hallucinates due to her tragic experience, yet she appears calm”.

Just as we have seen with the other pieces, we are again confined to a very small space and forced to engage with this character; there are no other distractions in the background. It is us and this female character, and in this instance, we are very empathetic towards this character. It is Aisha’s command of space that draws this emotion out of us.

When it comes to her art’s message, Aisha was very modest in her response: “I think when I create all these paintings, I don’t really have this intention of the art being educational or having a valuable lesson. I instead create because I want to see the reactions. I like receiving reactions or feedback from people, even if it is negative or positive. There was a time when someone came to my studio space, and he was looking at my work. He was looking at it, and he was like, ‘What’s this ugly looking face?’. He kept on repeating it, and I dunno… Hmm… I liked it… Because it disturbed him, and it impacted him since he kept on repeating it (smiles). So for me, if the work gets a reaction from people in the next 50 to 100 years, I would love that. That feeling would be enough for me”.

So, what can we expect from Aisha this year? Well, expect some new art and some shows.

Starting with new pieces, Aisha said she is taking the art back to a smaller size, “I’m playing around with different sizes, and I am currently working on smaller pieces because when I started, I was working with that size; when I was working on my Black Eye series, everything was very large. So for now, I want to focus on the small paintings”.

As of the release of this memoir, Aisha has just completed a group show with 13 other artists at Cuturi Gallery. In addition to this, in May, Aisha has a joint show with upcoming London artist, Xu Yang. Within Xu Yang’s catalogue of work, we see female characters who exhibit both elegance and confidence. “With the current situation, she can’t come here (to Singapore), so the feeling is quite different. We can’t work hand-in-hand with each other, it’s all done online. But I think the show will be quite interesting because for me, my paintings are very melancholic, they focus on domestic spaces and examining these frigid figures. But in terms of her work, her characters are these fabulous and confident female figures. So for me, I’m just excited to see the difference between our work, and how everything comes together”.

I asked Aisha if we could expect a show in London anytime soon, and unfortunately, as of this memoir, the answer is no. But she isn’t ruling out the possibility, “I’m just going to keep on painting, and hopefully next year I will have more solo shows (smiles)”.

Within this memoir, we explored relationships and emotions, and it has been a reminder that all emotions are good and necessary. It is through emotions we can understand this world. In the words of Horace Walpole, “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think”. When it comes to the first part of that quote, I think it is true and false. Yes, the world isn’t perfect, but what would be the point if it was?

I consider Aisha to be a maverick because her art tells a series of stories through the female lens. Aisha has taught me that art doesn’t have to be happy and upbeat, it can be sad and uncomfortable, and that’s perfectly fine because life is a storm. In life, when things get rough, you hoist the sails and still sail out. So, make sure you pay attention to the work of Aisha Rosli because her journey has only just begun.

To see more of Aisha’s work visit or follow her on Instagram at @_aisharosli

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