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How to be an artist

Part-time visual artist Zulkhairi Zulkiflee explores the journey of an artist with veteran multidisciplinary creative Rizman Putra.

Z: My start in art was organic. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something creative and I initially thought about doing fashion, but somehow fell into visual art. How about you? For an artist in your early 40s, you have quite a diverse skill set.

RP: Yes. From a lot of good accidents. I’m quite a restless person, so I naturally involve myself in a lot of things. I majored in painting at LaSalle and then decided to do performance art. After that, I was discovered by a theatre director, so I tried my hand at that. And, while all these things were happening, I also had my band Tiramisu!

Z: If you had to choose just one way of expressing yourself , what would it be?

RP: Through my first love, the visual arts. I still love drawing. Some people find it hard to juggle different mediums. For me, it’s like jumping from one playground to another.

Z: Isn’t it hard since you have many different personas?

RP: It’s funny that you should ask that because I’m honestly quite a shy person. I created this alter ego in the past called Manic Jango and he was my shield when I was on stage. It was only when I got older that I learnt how to separate the real me from him by becoming more grounded and responsible. Speaking of which, I wanted to ask you about your routine. It’s something I’ve always been curious about.

Z: I have a day job, so that is a routine in itself. But I don’t like routines, which I know is a cliche. However, I’m more productive that way.

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RP: I need a routine. For the last decade, I’d wake up at 6.30am to do my morning stretches and work out. During the pandemic, I stopped that and realised I was gaining weight among other things. So I went back to my routine. Having structure helps me to organise myself better.

Z: Which is quite surprising because society always views artists as being all over the place.

RP: It’s all about time management. You only have 24 hours in a day, so you need to plan it carefully. The silver lining of this pandemic is that it has given me time to do things slower. It’s a good thing because, for the past two decades, I’ve been rushing from project to project and from place to place. Now, I have the time to focus on one idea and think about it deeply before moving on to the next. As a younger artist, what do you think of the scene now?

Z: I feel that we have a lot of independence now in terms of putting our work out there. In the past, I suspect that there was an over-reliance on the middlemen, like the art galleries, to help push you. I’m sure it was way harder for you when you first began.

RP: Back then, everything was by word of mouth. I don’t want to sound nostalgic, but The Substation was one of the few independent spaces in the ‘90s and I remember the S-11 coffee shop outside of the old National Library where artists would naturally congregate. We could talk for hours over an 80-cent coffee. Now, there’s a lack of that kind of communal space.

Z: I also feel that because communication is so easy today, people tend to be complacent when it comes to interacting in real-time. We get to see artists’ works online, so we don’t bother to physically show up. It’s funny because I first knew about you through your blog. I followed you quite extensively and then I caught your live performance at The Substation. I knew I wanted to be an artist and a creative, so seeing you in person was special.

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