This 29-year-old digital artist brings classical characters to life
Hafiiz puts a fun spin on centuries-old paintings by editing their human subjects into modern contexts.
With the massive boom in digital art’s popularity as an art medium today, it comes as no surprise that many in the community have found niches that differentiate them from the crowd.
Enter 29-year-old Hafiiz Karim, whose art unites different eras with a unique local twist.
An art director by day and digital art hobbyist by night, Hafiiz spends his evenings after work blending classical artworks from centuries ago with images of modern Singaporean society.
Hafiiz is better known by the moniker “The Next Most Famous Artist”, a name inspired by “The Most Famous Artist” Matty Mo. He chose the name as a commentary on modern trends and popularity.
“It also fits with where I was in terms of the art scene. I studied advertising and it was all about creating content that goes viral,” he shares.
Like Matty, Hafiiz’s art employs a technique called appropriation, which involves lifting existing art with little to no modification to use in one’s own artworks.
While this practice has generated contentious debates around copyright issues, Hafiiz’s art is completely legal as he only selects artworks that have been released in the public domain.
“Museums have released them and state that we’re free to use them for research and art. Many artists have done it and it’s not a new technique. I just decided to use it with my own voice and experiences as a Singaporean,” says Hafiiz.
Hafiiz is known for the series Visitors of Singapore, in which he superimposes classical figures from renowned paintings into photographs of modern Singapore.
Hafiiz’s inspiration came when he was taking an art history class at LASALLE College of the Arts. Not being able to fully relate to the subjects of the paintings as they were from a different cultural period, he decided to re-imagine them in a more modern setting.
“I really wanted to explore how these classical figures that we know and love would be in different scenarios we are familiar with,” he says.
Despite what it looks like on the surface, Hafiiz’s work is not as simple as Photoshopping the classical figures into photographs. He usually requires some time and effort to find paintings and photos with lighting, angles and perspectives that would blend well together.
“Most classical figures have a very linear perspective. The photographs I choose also have to match that perspective so it blends nicely. There’s a lot of consideration when it comes to that,” he shares with Youthopia.
Typically, Hafiiz does some research in small pockets of time he gets at work, as his art director job sometimes requires him to wait for videos to render. After conquering the hardest part of the process, he is able to finish his pieces within one to two hours after work.
“When it comes to Photoshop, I’m used to doing digital manipulation at work. So it’s sort of second nature finding the light, shadows and all that. It became something like a language or bodily function,” he quips.
Hafiiz’s art has gained him a following of 18,000 on Instagram, where he also sells his art as fine prints to interested buyers who message him. He has also expanded his collection into the non-fungible token (NFT) space, which he finds more profitable as a digital artist.
However, Hafiiz remains firm about keeping his artmaking a hobby instead of turning it into a full-time career, stating that it is simply “a bonus” whenever he sells one of his pieces.
“I didn’t want to be pressured to create art and then be pressured to sell. If you’re focusing all your time on art, it’s amazing because you can focus more on the craft. But you might be influenced by what sells more and I don’t want that to be the driving force of my creativity. I want it to be free-flowing at the moment,” he says.
On how to turn a hobby into something profitable, Hafiiz stresses that money does not come easy as research and networking is very important for visibility.
“Do your research on the different platforms where you want to sell your work. Sometimes people feel like they can just leave it out there and that’s it. But you need to put in time and effort to know who your target audience is, the best platforms where your work can shine, and where the buyers are,” he advises.
For Hafiiz himself, it is a personal mission to make his art relatable to everyone, as he does not want art to be seen as a “high-brow” subject.
As enjoyable as Hafiiz finds his artistic craft, having it as a hobby is not always smooth sailing, especially as his work has gained public exposure. A large obstacle for him was people not thinking his work was considered art as he was not the original creator of the paintings and photographs he used.
Moreover, he also faces some pressure to create content that does well on social media as certain pieces receive more engagement than others. However, he overcomes this by constantly reminding himself to stay true to his own creative vision.
“This is social media, where engagement is completely different from what people really think. You just have to be aware that your work has value, and when you put thought into it, it doesn’t really matter what people say,” he shares with Youthopia.
Acknowledging the need to hold his audience’s interest on social media, Hafiiz added that he strikes a balance by creating more trendy content once in a while. The rest of the time, he is free to experiment with and explore his own creative space regardless of the attention it receives.
He adds that for him, experimentation in art is very important in helping him find his creative identity.
“When you’re following the hype, you’re following other people’s voices. It’s really important that you just stay true to what you want to create – your own concept, your own thoughts and your ability to be vulnerable in your work. That’s actually where the most powerful art comes from,” he shares.