DISINI Discovers – Orkibal
Orkibal’s mural for DISINI was fraught with challenges. First of all, Orkibal suffers from gout, which means he has to walk with the aid of crutches, and could only work on his piece from a blue plastic chair. Midway through the preparation phase, his assistant had to rush back home to Malaysia, where his father had met with a fatal accident. As bright and cheery as it may look—in its vibrant orange hue and cartoon-like characters—Hati dan Perasaan (‘Emotions and the Heart’ in English) is a fitting tribute to all the difficulties faced not only in its conception, but also Orkibal’s own life. It's not all doom and gloom though, as the affable artist says; we speak to him to find out more.
1/ How did you come up with your artist name, Orkibal?
With street art, which can also be illegal, we had to come up with artist names because we were afraid of the police. My friends all had their own names so I thought I needed one too. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this electronic band, Orbital, from the United Kingdom? They have a nice name but I couldn’t use it so I played with it till I came up with Orkibal. Now, whenever someone calls me Ork or Orkibal, I know that person is an ‘art friend’. If they call me by my real name, it’s either someone from my family or my co-workers from before.
5/ You’ve mentioned before that you want to bridge graphic design and fine art—why is that?
Because I love them both. I love the composition of graphic design, but I also like the illustration of fine art. All that for me is a medium; the important thing is your style, and what originally comes from you.
6/ Is there anything else you’re working on?
My friend invested some money to help promote my work by creating toys and merchandise out of my characters. Not a lot of people know about my work because whatever I do is quite underground, and even if I wanted to DIY my own products, it’d be in a limited quantity. With my friend’s help, I hope that people can easily buy and find my stuff, even in shopping malls.
8/ Can you tell us about the process for this piece for DISINI then? Did you plan everything out on a computer first?
I usually plan first, but sometimes it’s about 60% of the work, just to show the client mostly. I like to add things on as it goes, so I never put 100% into my sketch. I change small things along the way, like sometimes as I’m drawing I decide I don’t like a certain thing anymore.
9/ You mentioned your artwork, Hati dan Perasaan, is about your experiences—can you explain?
When Khai (DISINI’s curator) contacted me, I had a problem. I'd just quit my job, and I was starting to level up on my products and merchandise. At times I couldn't pay my bills and only had enough for everyday expenses like food. So I was quite depressed at the time, and when Khai asked me to come paint for him, I decided to put my emotions into my artwork. I normally don’t put such negative thoughts into a piece so this was very emotional for me, but I’m happy with the output. I usually do a lot of colours but this time I limited myself to orange, black, and yellow. And I've gotten good feedback on it.
11/ Do you have a favourite piece of work that you created?
I think the work that I’ve done for DISINI was quite free, without much intervention. I also did a collaboration with Mercedes three years ago; that was freedom for me too. Mercedes was a big client but they just told us to ‘go crazy’, so I put all my monsters into a design which they printed out and put onto a car. With DISINI it was quite challenging because of my condition—I suffer from gout— and it’s outdoors, it’s hot, and I missed my wife and children even though it was just a few days. Whenever I’m feeling tired or want to give up, I just talk to them, and I'm okay. They encourage me to do better.
12/ What do you hope to make people think when they see your art?
I don’t want people to see it the same way I do; I want them to experience it their way and create their own story. I might have given the title to the piece and I have my own definition of it, but I want the audience to enjoy it as their own. I also hope more Singaporeans can get to know my work—I don't want to become famous, I just want them to know my artwork. It's the only thing I can share with people.
13/ What’s a dream project for you?
I really want to do a solo show. That’s my dream. After that, if I die, it’s okay. (laughs) I want to do other things—like furniture, sculpture, even some artwork or something mixed with electronics so that people can interact. I also want to meet new people in a different country, but that's depending on my condition.
16/ Do you think becoming a husband and father have changed the way you work or the kind of work you do?
(laughs) I have three kids. When I had the first one I kind of stopped doing art for a year. I used to have a lot of time before I had kids—even mentally, it was different—but when you have a child you need to learn how to manage your time. I never changed the way I worked, just that I needed to maximise my time. If I had a 10 minute, half-an-hour break I’d use the time to do whatever I liked, otherwise I'd have to wait for them to go to sleep or use the two to three hours after they’ve gone to school. As I’ve grown older I don't have the same energy and stamina as before.
17/ If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?
I want to be like Flash, so I can finish painting quickly. I don’t hate the process but I hate when I first get started. It's the labour, and the filling in. I enjoy the outlining process because that’s when things turn out the way I want them to.
18/ Is there any advice you want to give to aspiring artists?
Don’t give up. Just keep doing whatever you like. Money is important, but your happiness is most important. Because when you’re happy, you can do everything you want, and solve all your problems. But if you're sad or depressed it's a dangerous thing. I had this friend, an artist, who never told anyone about his problems and he committed suicide. So I always tell the people I meet that if you have problems, chat. Even if your problem isn't solved, at least you shared it, and other people might be able to help.
2/ Tell us more about your journey—what did you study in school? How did you get into art?
I think I’ve liked drawing since I was in kindergarten. I don't have any proof but my mom says I drew every day. I've loved drawing monsters since then too; when my teacher asked us to draw things like a fish, I'd draw it with three eyes, and in an odd colour, like yellow. In high school my teacher got me to design the cover of the school magazine and I drew all of my friends as cartoons, and she wasn't convinced at first, but I said that we always have such a boring cover. I went to college to study graphic design after that—I got bored but I survived. I didn’t graduate, but I still learnt a lot.
3/ Why were you bored?
I like to draw. Graphic design is different—okay, I learnt how to use a computer, but I’m from a poor family so I don't have expensive things like computers. Drawing is like escapism for me. My friends went on holidays or to theme parks, but I couldn't, so drawing took me to another world. In college I didn't have a scholarship so after class I’d work odd jobs to pay for my studies—it was like hell, until three in the morning.
4/ So where did all the characters that you draw come from?
Normally, it’s from my experience. When I see things, I always imagine monsters. I don’t know how to draw humans, or a proper house. When I finished college I found street art, and it's through street art that people found out about my work too. I made one friend in Singapore, then ten friends, and then a 100. I’ve even gotten to know people around the world too—we exchange emails, and stickers, so from there my life was changed. Before that I was just a typical Malaysian kid who didn't know what his future was. I knew, then, that I just wanted to draw. And if I make money, it's a bonus, like now, lah.
7/ Do you do more hand-drawn or digital work nowadays?
Both. It depends on the job. If it’s just digital I’d go crazy. But there are pros and cons—traditional hand work needs more time, and then you're sweating every day, but the output is better. I prefer to design my characters digitally because it’s more convenient, but I don't want to be somebody who only knows one way of doing things. I know a few artists who only have basic knowledge of computers but I think it's better if you know more than one skill.
10/ There’s something darker in your drawings—there are sometimes things like skulls and scars. Why is that and what are you trying to say?
I don’t have a deeper message. But maybe it's because of my life—I’m not from a well-to-do family, so I get quite depressed sometimes, though I don't show it. My dad’s not very well-educated but he worked hard for the family, and I respect that, but as human beings, sometimes you can’t control your feelings. So maybe that unintentionally gets put into my artwork. Even I get surprised when I see my work in the end sometimes. There was once I had a big commission from a Malaysian telecommunications company, and they asked me to draw some cute things—and I did, but to them it was dark and quite brutal.
14/ Do you feel like you’d have ‘made it’ once you have your own solo show?
Yeah. Because I want something that’s 100% my ideas and my effort to show people what I can do. Maybe it’s not different from other artists, but at least it comes from me.
15/ As an artist, how would you measure success?
I think success is subjective. Every time you finish something, that might mean success for you. But for me, success is different. Whatever I’m involved something new, that’s a success for me. It never stops.
19/ When you were a kid, besides drawing, what other hobbies did you have?
You’ll probably laugh—my second dream was to be a professional football player. I used to play semi-professionally for my guild, and I dreamt of travelling overseas to play football. I love the smell of the grass, and being early on the pitch to just juggle the ball. But at one point I said to myself, “You need to choose”, and I chose art.