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Discovering ART in DREAMS,
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Discovering ART and DREAMS in LIFE...

Apr 8, 2013


Article Featured in Magazine 

Art Malaysia Issue 22 

(page 70 - 79)

on March 2013

Art Malaysia published by Dunia Seni Lukis Sdn. Bhd. (726322-U) is a magazine of contemporary art, culture and travel. It has been published since July 2009 to create an interactive platform to promote the finest artwork of Malaysian emerging & known artists, in order to gain the recognition they deserve. 

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Born 1973 in Kuala Lumpur, art has been Shireen’s passion 
since her schooling days. In the 1980s she studied watercolour 
painting from artists Tan Sik Yaw and Tang Hong Lee. 
“Fundamental study and training in the Nanyang style of 
watercolour painting from Tan Sik Yaw in my early age has 
led me to explore subjects and themes on nature and the 
environment in the beginning of my art career,” says Shireen, 
“However, sketching skill and knowledge gained from the 
study of urban design in the University of Technology Malaysia 
affected the development of my painting techniques and 
concept.” Shireen graduated in 1997, after which she worked in 
the development industry. 

When her career was interrupted by the economic downturn, 
Shireen then opened an art centre in 1999 with her friends, 
until 2004 when she decided to be a full-time artist: “I had the 
initiative to have my own career in art, when I ran the centre I 
didn’t have much time to paint as I spent it mostly to teach. The 
free time I had was used to paint, starting from watercolours.” 
In her early days of exploring the medium, Shireen painted 
sceneries before deciding on a theme of ferns on broken or 
fallen tree trunks in the Life is Going On series. Within those 
paintings she would include insects such as bugs and ladybirds 
as symbols of life: “LIFE is going on, regardless of difficulty. 
It is about the continuity and succession of life.” Things 
changed after a coincidental meeting in 2004: “Artist Tan Tong 
encouraged me to start oil painting and inspired me through 
Western art. He became my mentor in Western art history, 
theory and techniques of oil painting. With influence from Mr. 
Tan Tong’s unique abstract surrealism style, together with 
inspiration from Paul Klee’s Yellow Birds, I have developed 
my ‘Discovery’ series. It depicts nature in a nocturnal mood, 
with the vivid colour of floral and fauna. The concept is of living 
creatures communicating and appearing in their own ways that 
may be beyond human knowledge, to highlight in a positive 
approach the neglect of harmony with our environment by 
modern people.” 2004 was also the year of Shireen’s debut in 
the local art scene, participating in the now-defunct Malaysian 
Artists Association. “The transition of watercolour to oil 
painting to mixed media reflects my thematic transition from 
the literal; scenery, to my own life.” 

City at Night (2008) 
Mix media on paper
 57cm x 76cm 

Shireen then found inspiration in Joan Miró’s The Farm, and 
began to develop her own farm with Malaysian elements: 
“I brought kampung scenes and the nostalgia I had for my 
hometown into my paintings, and added in red rectangular 
boxes to represent a ‘zooming’ of the mind to have a clearer 
focus on memory. It is a series of reminiscence and recall 
of childhood memories of the peaceful and undeveloped 
countryside in my homeland. The red lines bring a different 
tone and depth to my painting.” Shireen is still exploring this 
visual theme of nested red frames and geometrical lines, and 
plans to explore new techniques to further the message of 

From 2009 to 2012, Shireen moved to Japan, following her 
husband who was continuing his studies there. Shireen took 
the opportunity to pick up the Japanese language, and while 
in Fukuoka she began to explore mixed media painting and 
became involved in the Japanese art scene: “I had two solo 
exhibitions there and participated in their city and prefectural 
art competition. I had to learn Japanese to communicate with 
their artists and understand their art, so two years was in fact 
a very short time.” Her two solos in Japan were Life is Going 
On at the Fukuoka Chuo Bank Ltd, and Discovery of Memory at 
ACROS Fukuoka, both in 2011. 

Currently, Shireen’s mixed media comprises gouache on oil 
or acrylic (she has also explored collage mixed with charcoal, 
pastel and pen). There was some contention in her use of 
gouache: “Some say my art has a Japanese influence as 
gouache is not accepted as watercolour in Malaysia whereas 
in Japan it is. As I paint Japanese sceneries, some say my paintings have an 
oriental flavor. I like Ukiyo-e and Nihonga (Japense woodblock prints and 
Japanese-style paintings), with zen lines and simplicity. They have different 
kinds of perspective in Ukiyo-e where the lines are fine and simple, so this is 
something I want to explore and combine with Western art to create my own 

On the way to Pagoh (2006) 
Oil on Canvas and Board 
21cm x 30cm 

“The transition of watercolour to oil 
painting to mixed media reflects my thematic transition from the literal; scenery,
to my own life.” 

“My current theme needs thinking; howto construct the space and colour scheme...
it is no longer what you see being whatyou paint.” 

On the left
Your World My World (2012) 
Oil on Canvas 
54cm x 73cm 

On the right 
Above and Beneath the Surface #1 (2010) 
Mixed Media on Paper, 57cm x 76cm 

(Selected in the 67th Japan Fukuoka Perfecture Exhibition 
2011. Artwork was exhibited in Fukuoka Perfecture Art 
Museum, Kyushu, Japan) 

Japan not only played a role in her art, but also her perspective as an artist: 
“The mindset, culture and the art acceptance in Japan is different compared 
to Malaysia. They easily appreciate art, exhibitions are well-attended, and 
although they may not buy art, they support it. Even for large exhibitions in 
museums with high entry fees, the public is willing to queue up to see the 
artworks. Response is terribly good! The Japanese like to explore mediums 
and genres and the public accepts new things easily. Here, people take a 
long time to notice and an even longer time to appreciate it. Japanese manga 
is also very famous, an example of how they bring their culture into their 
artworks. This is especially obvious in Nihonga.” 

“Japan also welcomes international artists; during my two solos there, 
viewers would try to understand my country based on the colours and 
themes in the artworks. Thats why I always use warm and strong colours, 
so they say my country is very sunny and green! I applied for my solos, 
competing with other Japanese artists, so it’s solely based on the quality of 
my artworks. Communication is key in japan, to understand their culture, 
technique and thinking. That’s why I spent a year to learn the language.” 

Shireen enjoys each step of the painting process, “From the starting point 
of the idea to how I’ll express and construct it, to paint it until completed... 
When I paint, I can even forget to eat! It is satisfaction for me to complete a 
piece, but to reach that stage is not easy as it needs a lot of thinking, hard 
work and research. Thats why I wanted a change; to paint scenery is easy 
as long as you have the technique. But my current theme needs thinking; 
how to construct the space and colour scheme... it is no longer what you see 
being what you paint. So it is a process, and the achievement of completing it 
is the prize. I will redo a piece until I can reach my vision. But imagination is 
also based on reality, so it is half-half, we need to combine these elements. 
It is not simply purely what one imagines.” 

“For example, in this Discovery series, I won’t merely draw what I 
see with bare eyes. I will try to change and develop it, starting with 
sketches and concepts, to collecting materials: photos, articles and 
such, then I will sketch the idea before putting it on canvas. All these 
things take time, maybe it is something between art and science; we 
need art and technique, at the same time we also need logic.” 

Shireen has plans for a group show at University Malaya and a solo 
show at the NSTP, either in 2013 or 2014. “Perhaps in the two and a 
half years that I was away, some may see me as a new artist again. 
But once they see my profile and paintings, they will know I’m not 
that new but also not that old! I plan to participate in a lot of events, 
especially with new galleries.” Shireen remains optimistic: “I will 
keep painting, the vision is to create better artworks and be more 
established career-wise. Most of all to do my best. Life experiences 
and growth changes one’s perception and widen one’s knowledge. 
More elements are going to be discovered, experimented and 
developed in my future paintings. I always take my ‘half-self-taught’ 
art background as a challenging starting point towards creating new 
dimension for my artworks.” 

Visit for more details. 

“Life experiences and growth changes one’s
perception and widen one’s knowledge. More elements are going to be discovered, experimented and developed in my future paintings.” 

The Aquarium (2010), Oil on Canvas, 90cm x 110cm 
(Selected in the 45th Fukuoka City Art Competition & Exhibition 2011. 
Artwork was exhibited in Fukuoka City Art Museum, Japan) 

Discovery of Memory (2010), Gouache on Card Board, 64cm x 116cm 

By : Editor of ArtMalaysia, Nikki Liaw. 

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