With ballpoint precision

01 Nov 2016 / 11:47 H.

IT IS a wonderful thing to be gifted, especially if you discover it at a young age.
Syahbandi Samat started drawing since the age of four, but he never thought that he would one day make art for a living. As he simply put it, he just liked to draw. It was only when he was commissioned by a local daily to draw seven portraits of children, and got paid a good sum afterwards that he realised he could make money out of this talent.
“I was expecting RM50 or RM100, but suddenly, the cheque was worth RM700,” he marvelled.
From there, he jumped straight into the fine art scene – sending his artworks to galleries and working his way up. Today, he is based in Galeri Titikmerah in Art Row, Publika, where he can be seen working on his next showpiece.
What were you up to following your exposure in the local newspaper?
I joined a few exhibitions and competitions, including Malaysia Emerging Artist Award (MEAA). It’s a university level competition, so anyone in Malaysia can send in an artwork, and five winners will be chosen.
When I was producing the artwork for MEAA, I still worked at my father’s car wash shop. I’d draw when there’s no car to wash. After submitting my artwork, I received a call saying that I was one of the winners, and they flew me to the Philippines to do a show.
Was that your first international award?
Yes. It was also my entry into the fine art industry in Malaysia. I didn’t know anyone in the local art scene, how things work around here, how galleries function – I was just a kid going around and sending my artworks to galleries. That was five years ago.
Prior to Galeri Titikmerah, where were you based?
Before this, I was in Kepong. I wasn’t with any studio. I had this 20 by 10 feet container, which I bought and placed in my father’s car wash space. I stayed there and did my art inside.
Moving to Galeri Titikmerah was a public debut for me. When I stayed in the container, no one could see me. When I send my artwork to galleries, people could only see my artwork. Now that I’m based in Galeri Titikmerah, I can do my work there and the public can also see how I work. That way, I can expand my art.
How did you start out using a ballpoint pen as a medium for your artwork?
Back in high school, I used to draw portraits of historians in textbooks. I found out that I could draw with the ballpoint pen, and moved on to bigger sizes. I use ballpoint pens because I want to tell the public that you don’t need expensive materials to make art. All you need is your creativity and knowledge to explore the medium that you chose.
Is there a common theme to the art you make?
Usually, it’s about the environment and things that happen around me. Fairy tales; the original, dark ones – not the versions with happy endings. I do a bit of idioms too. But lately, I’m venturing more into dark and surreal art.
Any plans for yourself in terms of art?
For now, I’m aiming to do more art residencies outside of Malaysia. I need to learn from others, because I’m a self-taught artist. I’d like to join art residencies in Asian countries, particularly Japan and South Korea. Japan is very well known for its culture and politeness, and its art is very fine and detailed. I want to learn from them because it is relevant to the kind of art that I’m doing.

Work playlist: Anything from Frank Sinatra and Arctic Monkeys to P. Ramlee.
Artist he looks up to: Leonardo da Vinci.
Number of pens to create an art piece: More than 10.
Biggest piece of art drawn: 8 x 7 feet.
A medium he’d love to try: Marble or clay sculpting


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