Pelaburan

Meet the portrait painter of Malaysia’s famous leaders

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Hadi in his studio with his portrait of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in the foreground. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

KUALA LUMPUR: Before the existence of cameras and photo studios, you had to commission an artist to paint your portrait if you wanted to be immortalised in a picture. This was, of course, often expensive.

But despite photography, portrait artists have not gone out of fashion. There is something about a painted portrait that no photograph can capture. And it can still be expensive. That is if you want fine work on your portrait.

One such artist who has made a name for himself with his portraits of public figures such as politicians, royals and entertainers is 54-year-old Abdul Hadi Haji Ahmad. You could say that it’s his speciality.

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Hadi speaks with passion about his art. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Originally from Kelantan but raised in Gombak, Hadi’s portraits of Malaysian leaders past and present grace prominent buildings across the nation.

He set up shop in Central Market in 1987 and is still based there. “It’s been almost 40 years,” he mused as he spoke with FMT Lifestyle recently.

“In the beginning, my interest was in facial expressions because a person’s face can depict the stories within them.”

 

Then, after almost two decades of contemplating what it was that he wanted to portray in his paintings, he found his definitive purpose. “I thought it would be a good idea to focus on our country’s leaders, those who have sacrificed for the people of Malaysia, including me. Without them, it would be difficult for us to live as we do today.”

He said his location at Central Market also played a pivotal role. “Many tourists visit this place. So I thought it’s good for me to showcase these faces so that people, including foreigners, can become more familiar with our country’s leaders.”

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Hadi’s portraits of finance ministers through the years. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Hadi’s portraits belong in the genre of photorealism and it has earned him substantial success. His works adorn the walls of numerous government buildings and even palaces across the nation.

“The most challenging and demanding portrait I did was the Tungku Mizan family portrait, which was commissioned for the palace in Bukit Chendering, Terengganu,” he said.

“It was the largest family portrait I have ever made. It’s about 0.6 metres wide and 2.7 metres tall and many family members are in it.”

He said this painting is one of his most cherished works.

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Hadi putting the finishing touches on a new painting. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Explaining his technique, he said: “I use two materials: soft pastels on paper and oil paint on canvas. Two materials, two different forms of art.”

Although he is renowned for his portraits of public figures, he does accept commissions from regular folk, provided they furnish him with a photograph of themselves.

“I used to do live sketches,” he said. “But my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”

He explained that live sketches required a certain distance from the subject and this had become increasingly challenging as he aged.

Asked how he acquired his skill, he said: “Perhaps you could say that it’s natural, just using my imagination. Of course, it all begins with love.”

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However, he thinks he has yet to perfect his craft. “It’s not just the face that you focus on. Each inch of the painting is different in tone, structure and colour. It’s a long task and there is never enough time to perfect it.

“There’s no end to painting. There’s so much to explore, so much to learn. I’ve often felt like I was just getting started.”

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Hadi with some of his portraits of prominent politicians in the background. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Although dedicated to preserving the tradition of portraiture and ensuring that Malaysia’s iconic figures are commemorated for generations, Hadi acknowledges that it isn’t easy to sustain the business.

“The challenge lies in the high rental costs,” he said. “Many artists who had been here at Central Market since the 80s have relocated. I’m among the few who remain.

“I would like to urge the government to take action and allocate space for visual artists like us.”

Follow Abdul Hadi on Instagram and Facebook.

Hadi Leader Portrait
Lot 01.08 AL–06
Ground Floor Central Market Annexe
Jalan Hang Kasturi
50050 Kuala Lumpur

Contact: 0123603774.

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