Creator Profile: Aiman for Vue Privée

Meet Aiman, the resolutely romantic young artist who adores cats, abhors consumerism and conformism...and refuses to go by a last name

"Right off the bat, I'm telling you. I'm serious. Don't make me sound like a teenager." This interviewer assures Aiman, the subject of this profile, that that would be nigh impossible, given the very adult sophistication of his work. Ice broken and ego massaged, the artist laughs and divulges that this startling warning stems from an ignominious experience with another publication, which had—pun alert—painted the 28-year-old as a giddy boy who would "like, so totally wear plaid". Well, would he wear plaid? "Only if it's black on black."

It would admittedly be all too easy to disparage the man as well, kooky and affected. On paper (or would that be canvas), Aiman is ripe for caricature. To wit, when asked to describe himself, this is what the contemporary visual artist had to say: "I live with my partner who is also my best friend, and I have two beautiful cats. My cats are my everything. I also like watching Master Chef, but I don't cook because I'm a raw vegan six days of the week. I'm such an avid organic foodie. Oh, and I only ever go by 'Aiman', but I'm not sure if insisting on that would make me seem even lamer. Or more lame, whichever makes more grammatical sense." Why not use his full name? He replies by typing out the following bon mot on his smartphone and passing it to us: "I am Aiman. Ai just am." 

And yet, seeing his work may convince you that this young man is not (just) an insufferably smug, overly clever liberal. Yes, Aiman speaks with the self-conscious theatricality of a showman, but his brush strokes are welded with the conviction of an accomplished artist. His paintings are intensely confessional, brimming with brio and an acute sense of the didactic milieu of Singapore. His earlier pieces, like the ones you see circa 2009 below, would not look out of place in a North Korean propaganda leaflet: deliberately kitschy and painfully honest, they speak of a life spent fighting against bureacratic sameness. 

Despite (or maybe because of) his fiercely independent vision, Aiman's portfolio is backed by a solid easel of academic accolades and industry endorsement: a Diploma in Fine Arts from LaSalle-SIA with a slew of scholarships and awards thrown in for good measure; and a strong showing at very respectable local and international festivals and galleries like Gallerie Belvedere, the National Art Gallery of Malaysia and the Sunshine International Museum for the 2010 Songzhuang Art Festival. 

Another sign of his growing clout in the arts community: Aiman's latest creation was a showstopper commissioned for the recently concluded Unnecessarily Well Made exhibit, an initiative spearheaded by famed Scotch whisky house Glenmorangie. The hyper-realistic, shockingly beautiful oil painting was later snapped up for a tidy sum of S$16,000, part of which Aiman says will go towards pampering "a mother and daughter"—his two housecats. 

Creator Profile Aiman For Vue Privee 4

"It's 9 am. Time to go" (2009). 150cm by 120cm. Oil on canvas.

"I love cats. I identify with their loud shyness, if that makes sense. I think I'm a cat-man-boy myself."

Give us a peek into what a typical workday is like for you.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to create. I'm always working on several different artworks at once, all in different stages of development. So on any given day, I have about five things, work wise, going on in my head while I'm seated amidst a flurry of planning and research. I do it all fueled by the cheesiest of 90's hits.

What message are you trying to convey through your current work of art?

I like triggering a sense of nostalgia in my artwork, be it through the objects I choose or the way they come together to tell a familiar tale...kind of like a 'visual past life regression', you know? Things happening in different planes, at the same time, somehow all connected to serve a single, magical purpose.

Creator Profile Aiman For Vue Privee 5

"My Favorite Superhero as a Child was not Superman" (2009). 150 cm by 120 cm. Oil on canvas.

"The repeated, nightmarish use of ‘a perfect man’ challenges the absurd notion of self-individuation in Singapore."

Where does your inspiration usually come from?

My works are typically read as social commentaries on everyday life. There's always something going on in the world to get inspired by. I immortalize these moments through the act of storytelling and play. Inspiration sometimes screams at me while I'm walking down wherever, so I always have a pen and a notebook at hand. I believe every minute object contributes to a bigger story, so it's hard for me to ignore things that mentally converse with me.

What material is most difficult to work with, and which is your favorite?

I love working with oil paint, not because it's easier, but because the medium is so versatile. You can manipulate it any way you want. The medium an artist chooses has to mesh well with his personality. I'm more of the contemplative sort when it comes to work, so oil painting allows me to be myself at my own pace, which in the long run is crucial in maintaining my sense of sanity.

Tell us about a particularly memorable or favorite piece that you’ve created.

All of my works are very special to me, and each of them has captured me at different phases of my life. They remind me of what I was most passionate about at that point in time. I've always strove to maintain an aura of positivity and empowerment, without compromising on artistic integrity.

Creator Profile Aiman For Vue Privee 2

"Freedom Dances Like Clockwork" (2012). 125cm by 190cm. Oil on canvas.

"If at one point you snap—and you will—be the sort of crazy that responds to art, not medication."

My latest work "Freedom Dances Like Clockwork" (shown above) is a contemplation of our idea of freedom, an idea managed by the mechanics of a 'central power'. At the same time, I wanted to marry my contemporary aesthetic with the [Singapore] government's idea of conservation. It's bewildering to me that colonial-era buildings, for example, should be gazetted for conservation, instead of being assimilated into society. The 'key' in the painting is my way of saying that this existing paradigm of conservation is just one of many models we can emulate. Once we realize that, power can be shifted back to us by simply 'turning the key'. 

Who are your customers? What do you represent?

My collectors are the most magical and beautiful selection of enlightened beings I have come across. They understand, embrace and celebrate my ideas and sensibility, and I constantly mentally invite them over for tea with the Mad Hatter. Like Alice, I live in my reality and the only time I step out of that comfort zone is when I'm trying to explain my world in interviews.

What do you wish people would understand about the art world?

There are so many facets to being an artist, from the personal right up to the managerial and business aspect of this career. It is something you do because you have to.

Creator Profile Aiman For Vue Privee 3

"More Maneki Neko More"(2012).120 x 120 cm. Oil on canvas.

"My collectors are the most magical and beautiful beings I have come across. I constantly mentally invite them over for tea with the Mad Hatter."

How difficult is it to be a full-time artist in Singapore?

It's certainly not all rainbows with leprechauns, a pot of gold and cameras ablazing on the other side. More often than not, artists trade in unicorns for buses, castles for a tiny studio space and magical glass slippers for well, slippers. However, when you approach something with love and passion, the magic you produce will be apparent to people in the know. And their support might just lead you to that particular rainbow, with the pot of gold and all that. 

What trends do you see being big next year?

Curators will be the new artists, if they aren't already.

Finally, what is one bit of advice you would dispense to aspiring young artists?

When you work at what you love, it will become work. So be prepared to work, and love your work. And if at one point you snap—and you will—be the sort of crazy that responds to art, not medication. It's better for your liver in the long run, anyway.

Aíman is exclusively represented by Vue Privée. His works can be viewed at Vue Privée or on his personal website.

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