21 October 2015 would have been just another day but for fans of Back to the Future, it’s the date that Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Doc Brown arrived in the DeLorean time machine. In other words, it was the future. For illustrator and motion graphics designer Muhammed Najib Tumiran, popularly known as Art:Tech, the day had even greater significance. It was his 31st birthday, which he spent with members of the Back to the Future Fans Malaysia club that he founded, dressed up as McFly.
Art:Tech was barely one when the first movie was released, yet he grew up inspired by the art in it. “I’ve been drawing since I was little, and Back to the Future really fed my imagination...I drew a lot of futuristic and steam punk elements, and I love the aesthetics of the time machine,” he shares. It also sums up his ideology on art, as indicated by his moniker Art:Tech that stands for ‘Art is Technology’.
“To me, technology always begins as an artistic idea. The movie featured flying cars and hoverboards. We may not have realised everything they imagined, but we have been working on realising them since.”
Najib brings the two together, combining manual drawings with digital colouring to create strikingly detailed illustrations. His distinctive style has led to commercial assignments such as last year’s Urbanscapes, the album cover of Aizat Amdan’s Legasi, and a mural that dresses the facade of OCBC’s headquarters on Jalan Tun Perak.
Not bad at all for someone who never went to art school. Najib studied Interactive Multimedia, at Kolej Politech Mara in Ipoh, a design-based course geared towards websites and interactive contents. After graduation, he joined a post-production house as a motion graphics designer, impressing the interviewer with illustrations he had done as part of an online arts collective from his college days, called Eightyfourcube.
With no prior training in motion graphics, Najib had to start from scratch but it didn’t take him long to learn the ropes. Two and a half years in, he decided to set up his own studio and kept at it until the rising rent forced him to give it up in 2012. He has been freelancing since. “When you work for a company, you’re
essentially realising someone else’s dreams. I like the life that I have now,” he says, though admittedly, it’s not all a bed of roses. Money is often a question mark. “Sometimes I’m paid well, sometimes I have no income... it keeps me grounded and makes me appreciate what I have.” Being a freelancer, he says, teaches one to be fluid like water: When you have money, you treat yourself better but when finances are tight, you adapt.
" You know it’s your passion when it’s something you would do even if there are no rewards to it. For me, that would be drawing – I can draw every day."
Najib views money as a survival tool that replaces the stones and knives of the cavemen days. The monetary system, he says, has thrown the balance off everything. “If you think about it, we’re the only species on earth that has to pay to survive,” he says, and that’s one of the messages he tries to convey through his illustrations. Far from fixating on a specific theme, Najib prefers his art to be experienced like dreams: You understand it in your own terms.
If you delve into his mind, a complex thought process emerges. “I started out doing comic book styles, then I discovered Renaissance art and modern painters. These days, I think a lot about how the world works and about religion, and address those questions through my work.” His passion is obvious when he speaks of his art. “You know it’s your passion when it’s something you would do even if there are no rewards. For me, that would be drawing – I can draw every day.”
Which is why, despite the challenges, Najib is thankful that he took this path. “I don’t have a plan, I let life surprise me. Ultimately, I hope to be able to survive on my art alone and have the freedom to do anything I want – not in an unlawful way, of course!”
NAJIB'S ADVICE TO ASPIRING ARTISTS
- Make art to satisfy yourself first; the money will come later.
- To be relevant, you need multiple skills and can’t just rely on one. Don’t depend too much on technology and computers because some day, they will overtake you and render you obsolete. You must have some manual or practical skills.
- Human skills are unique. Find your niche, a craft that can’t be easily duplicated by a machine. If you have a unique skill, you are more likely to survive, as computers can’t replicate imagination.
See Najib’s works at www.artistechnology.com or follow him on Instagram @art_tech