Vintage textures, soft matching colours and edible treats: Barbarian Flower’s work is a feast for the eyes
The Malaysian illustrator speaks of her humble and undeniably tasty-looking practice, talking us through her recent illustrations made during quarantine.
- Ayla Angelos
- 10 August 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Barbarian Flower, who also goes by the name Szeyan, is a Malaysian illustrator currently based in Singapore. Creating things on the topics of “surreal, delicate, plants and vintage”, her practice spans an effortlessly classic style with a modern, hand-drawn and in some ways graphic twist.
This medley of approaches stems back to her past; after graduating from art college in Malaysia, Szeyan then moved to Singapore to pursue a career as a graphic designer. And, although this was her trade by day, she would spend much of her free time illustrating. “I wasn’t sure how far I could reach but I kept going,” she speaks of her mantra at the time, where the motivation to keep pushing her practice helped her drive herself forwards. “I wanted to fully use my talent to do something rather than regret it,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was small and I’ve enjoyed drawing since a young age, like many artists – but I think ‘illustrator’ is more suitable to describe me rather than an ‘artist’.”
Now devoting as much of her time to illustration as possible, Szeyan’s work pulls references from vintage cartoons from the 80s and 90s, “with the inked outline and bright colour”. Additionally it's Japanese art culture and its “vintage texture and soft matching colours” that steers much of her aesthetic, as well as the smaller occurrences that happen within her day-to-day – “like beautiful things around me or even from a dream”. These influences become crystal clear as you meander through her portfolio, whereby an assortment of fruits, an arranged dining table and character-focused illustrations take the reins.
Szeyan sees her artistic outlet as a highly emotional one. For example, if she thinks she’s done a “bad illustration” then this will consequently have an effect on how well her day will go. But, she’s still an early riser and will make sure to draw straight after breakfast. “I am not a full-time artist, I do not feel the need to draw during the weekend because I want to recharge my body as well,” she adds. “Someone told me that I should do something different with my working days during the weekends, so that I have the motivation to work again.” However, the lockdown has of course affected this daily routine. Not only has she become more active in drawing, she’s also not putting pen to paper every single day. Instead, she views it more like a hobby and can only make work in a disjointed manner, for it not to become too tiring. “I find it hard to finish one illustration by sitting there for a very long time; normally I will watch a drama or walk away after every one hour of drawing. This is to keep my mind fresh on creating art.”
Alongside the slight shift in her process, the lockdown has seen Szeyan’s subject matter direct her towards still lives and character-focused pieces. “I quite like this because it has resonance with the audience,” she says, pointing out how the elephant illustration (that comments on when “people put a firecracker in a pineapple to feed the elephant and killed it”), has a clear and intended purpose. “I like it as it brings out a message to people and I hope that, through illustration, it can influence people about the awareness of loving animals.” Elsewhere, there’s commentary on scheduled workouts, at-home hair cuts, a lack of makeup and going bra-free during lockdown – pieces that we can all relate to in some form or another.
What also really caught our attention was her delectably composed still life drawings, where familiar utensils are paired with pastel-coloured fruits and vegetables before being laid out on an appetising array of crockery and tableware. A pie that looks too delicious to eat; a fried breakfast strangely resting on a bed of leaves; and a green superfood assortment of fruit and vegetables; everything that Szeyan creates looks like it's been brushed with a coat of taste and style. Upon the reasoning of her themes, she says: “I never plan any themes and I just hope that the audience finds something beautiful in my illustrations. I just do whatever makes myself feel comfortable.” Modest in her approach and with plans to collaborate with artists and brands, she concludes; “I am not the best but I will do my best; recognition from the audience will be my best gift.”