Art or nothing

Fyerool Darma's artistic journey began with a pencil.

Audrey Leong

Published: 19 October 2016, 11:55 AM

Fyerool Darma had his first encounter with art when his father placed a pencil in his hand.

His father made Fyerool, then 8, copy his sketch of a kampung. His father, who enjoys sketching, also introduced to him the different mediums of art.

From that day, Fyerool showed his father every single drawing he created, hoping to impress him.

“There was one time when I drew something that wasn’t to [my father]’s liking. He threw it and asked me to draw it again,” said 29-year-old Fyerool, a full-time artist who is currently working on productions due in November and January next year.

Last year, the fine arts graduate presented his paintings in a solo exhibition, MOYANG, at the Flaneur Gallery in Singapore. He also participated in an overseas group show in New York.

Today, Fyerool is busy setting up his exhibition space for the Singapore Biennale 2016, which will be held at the Singapore Art Museum from Oct 27.


The An Atlas of Mirrors exhibition hopes to get artists to show a reflection of themselves through their works.


“I saw the huge banner at City Hall MRT the other day, I didn’t realise how big this [the Singapore Biennale] was,” said Fyerool, whose curls were matted in sweat from moving his art piece into the exhibition space.

Titled ‘The Most Mild Mannered Men’, his piece seeks to reevaluate what we know about Sir Stamford Raffles and Sultan Hussein Shah, who signed the treaty of 1819 to hand Singapore to the British.


For ‘The Most Mild Mannered Men’, Fyerool depicted Raffles as someone whose status had been inflated by history.


The then St Hilda’s Primary School student grew to love arts and craft lessons in school. When he attended Siglap Secondary School, he realised that he yearned to create art. He was particularly inspired by his art teacher, who painted large scale paintings when he was not teaching.

Fyerool said: “[My teacher] told me that art was more than just looking good. It should be a critique of our society and the society at large, and I wanted to do that.”


In his studio, a senior artist once told Fyerool that creating and thinking about art was a full-time job.
Photo credit: Azahar Rashid


The budding artist was 14 when a schoolmate introduced him to street culture and graffiti.

“There was so much knowledge in this small subculture…I was constantly watching and learning,” said Fyerool, who cited his graffiti phase as one of the pivotal points in his journey as an artist.

His journey into the arts was not one void of challenges. At one point, he was living from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes getting through two to three months without any income.

He often had to paint in his room or at the void deck of his block, as he was unable to pay his rent for a studio.


‘Anatomy From Tomorrow’ was a piece inspired by Fyerool’s exploration of his identity.
Photo credit: Fyerool Darma


While his parents thought he was just “bumming” around, one friend told him to give up on art, albeit jokingly.

“He told me to settle down, get married, and have kids,” said Fyerool, with a chuckle.

National service also took a toll on the free spirited artist, who only managed to create two paintings over two years, a far cry from the daily paintings he produced before he enlisted.

“There’s this fire to create. You just want to be able to quench it, so that you can go to sleep happy every night,” said Fyerool, who is single.


“When you come back to a familiar material, the knowledge you earn from something new helps you to rediscover it,” said Fyerool about his artistic journey.
Photo credit: Duong Nguyen


After NS, he furthered his studies at LASALLE College of the Arts, which was a culture shock for the self-taught artist, who prefers to work with paints. He once made the amateur mistake of adding water to oil paints during a class, resulting in a moldy painting.

Fyerool’s laugh echoed in the small white room as he recalled the incident: “That’s when I knew I had to relearn everything.”


As Fyerool was not proficient at plaster, he had an assistant to help him with his biennale piece.


Thankfully, his hard work over the past five years has paid off.

His parents finally noticed Fyerool’s talent when they saw him painting a portrait of Javanese and Malay people in his room. They even started discussing their ancestry in greater detail – a first for all for them.


A picture of Fyerool’s parents on his birthday in 2016.
Photo credit: Fyerool Darma’s Instagram


“If my work can start conversations even after I’m gone, then that’s a successful art piece for me,” said Fyerool.

What is his advice for youths who want to go into the arts scene?

“Just do it. The arts are liberating…but you need that drive to keep producing…enjoy the moment, but make sure you’re not living in an oblivious sphere,” he replied.

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