September Khu, a local self-taught abstract artist, who believes her shift in life made her who she is today!
Before the MCO started, my invitation to interview a talented self-artist who goes by the name of the month that signals new beginnings which fatefully represents her current artistic life, September Khu, was accepted.
Introducing September Khu
As a student growing up with the interest of Arts & Design, it was a no brainer that one wants to pursue arts in college. However, like most of us, September only knows Lim Kok Wing University that offers such courses and we all know how much their fees would cost… *coughs*
Since Lim Kok Wing was not an option anymore, September was told to choose something that would get her a job easier. So, she took hotel management.
Then, the adventure of trying to figure herself out begins – she first started working at a hotel for a year, a bridal house where she did wedding events for two years, then she worked at a bank for a while before ending up doing marketing in two different property companies.
September told me of her experiences in the property world where she learnt so much from her colleagues and the people she met. However, when a major project she was working on didn’t go through, she found herself stressed and unmotivated.
It was then when she realised that she hasn’t touched art in a very long time! So, she picked up painting again just to release the stress she’s been hoarding. It became something to look forward to after office hours.
September then posted some of her finished paintings online through her social media and the responses from her friends were all surprising. There were numerous praises and acknowledgements from her peers, some even encouraged her to pursue further in painting.
And as of now, it is her career.
September And Her New Career
How did September push through starting over a new career?
That is what I saw when September told us about her journey. The genuineness and passion in her stories were what I believe brought her to where she is today. Despite being a homebody at heart, September went to art exhibitions and festivals just to mingle and expand her circle. She went on and said how she met amazing like-minded people that have the same enthusiasm to change the world.
It was however at an entrepreneurial event, where at the time she had a small vision to set up a platform to promote local indie brands, did she met a good friend, a lawyer, who had recommended September for her very first commission project as a freelancer.
A van doodle project for a social enterprise. It took her about 7 days of the drawing process with 8-9 hours each day. When I asked if it was tiring, she laughed and said, “Yes, of course! But since it was a meaningful project and for a great cause, it was all worth it”.
It’s been almost 4 years now since she quit her job back in 2015, and September couldn’t stop stating how blessed she is throughout her journey. Only in her 2nd year, she has gotten into Urbanscapes, Redbull and even L’ Officiel Events with her art. It was then she learnt that connections are indeed important when it comes to growing as an artist.
September Khu, The Abstract Artist
When people hear the name September Khu, they’ll know her as the abstract artist. Why abstract?
“It was more like, abstract chose her.”September Khu
In 2019, 3 years prior to her artist journey, September realises how she was inclined to abstract. She wondered herself, why did she fall in love with abstract art? Why abstract?
An event occurred that made her realise that nothing that happens in life is a coincidence. September goes on by explaining her magical experience of how abstract makes her go berdebar-debar (butterflies feeling) in life and the event of her meeting a mentor, one of the few Malaysian abstract artists through a stranger (who is now a good friend) she met on Instagram.
“Magical things do happen.”September Khu
This is possible. She can do this. Even though there are multiple times where she’s unsure of her work and has never had anyone to criticize her artwork. People don’t really come up and tell her what she’s doing right or wrong.
But back then, she met these three amazing artists in one day who told her when they saw her work “There is something there” and to September, that was all the confirmation she needed to assure her, she’s on the right path.
September concludes that she can’t really explain why she chose abstract or why in out of so many other occupations in the world, why she chose something that is uncertain or a difficult path.
But then she closes her eyes and when she opens them back, she’s doing her dream job.
She’s in her own dream space. And she is definitely enjoying it.
So basically, an abstract is more of a theme or a technique?
“Abstract is basically quite difficult to explain.”September Khu
To others, abstract may look like something their grandchildren could do but what most people don’t know is that abstract is not something you can see with your eyes. One of the reasons why September is inclined to do abstract is because she has an inert feeling or a message that she wants to share that not everything can be seen with our eyes. “Like all these invincible forces, connections, feelings. These are things that you can’t see”, she explains.
“You can’t draw feelings. You can’t draw love on paper. And we talk about energy, anger, happiness. All these are just forms of energy. Form of vibrations and it’s expressed most of the time through abstract.”September Khu
For September, that is her abstract. That is how she translates her message through the abstract form. The unseen. Which is why she was never really into difficult paintings such as real ones. She has tried doing other things and styles but like she’s mentioned before, she just enjoys abstract. She likes the free flow and letting it take its own form.
September mentioned two exhibitions, “SH/FT” held by CENDANA Malaysia and “Dreams: Transcending Physical Reality” at Inner Joy Art Gallery.
How did that come about?
During her resting period back in 2019, September was painting her own work in her home studio when she saw a post on Instagram inviting local artists to submit their work. The theme was ‘Shift’ and it was exactly something she could relate to. So without hesitating, she submitted her art.
But due to the overwhelmed responses, the organizer only managed to give their feedback a whole week after and when she found out she was accepted, she was extremely thrilled. It was finally something she’s gotten from her own capability.
September admitted that her painting ‘Healing in Turmoil’ that was exhibited at CENDANA is her favourite out of all the artwork she’s done so far. It was also her first big piece of painting and she loves it because it was also one of the paintings that reflects her own personal moment of shift.
For Innerjoy, the exhibition was merely an inspiration from the owner, Dymphna Lanjuran, who decided to do an abstract art exhibition in her gallery. She invited September and other artists to join after getting inspired at an art booth where they were at.
When asked about her art pieces Dancing With You In The Abstract Reality I & II, September explains that the same emotion can be found in both paintings. “A relationship at a physical distance”.
Dreams, in general, are important to her. It’s one way to learn more about herself. September likes to pay attention to her dreams where she sees a lot of things about herself.
“Even though here in this reality, the physical distance may seem like you’re apart from each other but in the dream reality or in the realm of the unseen forces, there’s no separation.”September Khu
September And Her Inspirations
Do the dreams inspire her? Or does she find inspiration somewhere else?
She does get inspired by her dreams but instead of having any images or photos as references, September relies more on the emotions she feels and gets. It could be in a form of writings or paintings or even real-life events.
All her artwork is based on really difficult or emotional moments. She even sometimes worries that if she’s too happy then she won’t have work to do. September realises that it’s always an impulse to her. She never plans what to do. She always allows her feelings to take the lead. There’s always a strong emotional drive behind that causes her to want to paint.
September And Her Personality
September was full of life and radiates absolute positive energy throughout the interview. Has she always been this way? Very lively and optimistic?
To September, 2019 was a great year. She learnt a lot during her resting period from all her own readings and understood more than before. She understood about life. How once again nothing in this world is a coincidence.
“It’s how one sees the world. If you were to see things in a more positive light, then you will see more opportunities. But if you are always in self-doubt, then you will never achieve what you desire.”September Khu
In comparison from before, if she was in a positive or optimistic mood and September believes that she can do anything, things just start to fall into place. Jobs start coming in, exhibitions start to happen and you make friends, really good friends.
In the beginning, while she’s still starting out, even though she still gets commission work, she also has a marketing job as a side income. And she once thought that if the company she was working with was paying her more than what she can get from her art then it will be her main focus.
But since she recently changed her mindset of where she would focus on her art more, where she tries to perfect her craft, or she spends more time on reading or even looking at art, everything else just comes easy.
The abstract artist agrees that her style of work has changed and evolved along the years but does she believe she’s perfected her craft?
September laughs as she gleefully tells us that during the beginning of 2019, she actually painted about 42 paintings in a span of a month.
“It was like I had this unseen energy just wanting to be released”. But has she perfected her craft?
She wouldn’t say it’s perfect but she really likes her style she’s doing right now. It was a surprising discovery. It wasn’t something she’s done before. There were times where she tried to incorporate other artists’ styles for fun but somehow or rather she would still have her own style made on the painting.
That’s when September realises she does have her own style. “I have these black lines and scribbles that I would say to myself, is it mine?” She unsurely points out to one of her art pieces hanging on the walls of her home studio.
Her friends and other people would agree that it reminds them of her.
Was her earlier work similar to what they are now?
In her earlier artwork, she was into geometry shapes. There were lines and somehow people would say her art looks like something from outer space or galaxies. September brought out her art prints to show us the lines that were almost as if they were orbiting her subject. She then said how they would resemble planets.
September likes geometry shapes but at first, she doesn’t understand why. And while going through her shift of becoming a self-taught artist, September learnt about sacred geometry. She went on to explain how sacred geometry is actually the key to life. She even showed her tattoo on her wrist proving that geometry is something she really likes.
September also shared her art prints from the 42 paintings she mentioned before. She even printed some into postcards. Being an artist has its perks, because she was never satisfied with the commercial postcards for they don’t provide enough space to write and she’s the type to write A LOT in her postcards.
Her projects include tote bags for Strongbow Apple Ciders, the phone cases #ANewLifeProject, corporate gifts for Heneiken, UMobile, Urbanscapes for #prejudiceisinvalid, to name a few.
How was working with such big names?
The phone case project is more of a personal project to her. She decorates old phone cases for friends and even followers on Instagram. It was never for the profit. It was more of a way to practice her creativity and also to have fun.
About the corporate gifts, September told us how she really enjoyed working for Heineken where she got to expand her work by painting on suitcases and even creating batik on a kuali (cooking pot).
She even designed a tote bag that has Malaysian street names on it such as Jalan Bukit Bintang, Jalan Kimberley and even Jalan Klang Lama where the Heineken building is.
She added she even decorated a Tiffin Carrier where she drew a Penang heritage building as a farewell corporate gift.
The suitcases for UMobile were a bit challenging. She had a slight difficulty because of the ridges and grids on the surface of the suitcase. The drawing was no problem but the painting part was what made it challenging. Nevertheless, she enjoyed it.
We asked the abstract artist what was the best advice she’s ever gotten and if she could spare some of her own advice to the aspiring artists out there and here’s what she has to say:
“There’s a lot of great advice I’ve gotten over the years but if I were to choose, I’d probably just say – just do it!”September Khu
She will always remember that whenever she feels down, the one thing that would pick her up is by remembering the people that have not given up on her. The ones who encourage her and believes in her when she doesn’t even believe in herself. Those people are the ones she treasures the most.
For the young aspiring artists out there, “Just do it! If you have something in life that you want to do then go for it! Don’t think about the hows. You’ll figure it out later. Don’t be afraid.”
September then said that she herself got out of her job by just doing it! She advises that when people see the passion and the heart that one has, they will come to you. To help, guide and give advice about your work or your craft.
“Even though you think you might not be good, that’s only how you think about yourself. Other people might just think differently!”September Khu, 2020
Meeting September Khu was an honour and such a delight. Not only is she down-to-earth, but she also radiates so much positivity and passion that it made us think back on our own dreams. September currently was supposed to go for an art residency programme in Berlin but due to the COVID-19 crisis, it had to be postponed. Now she’s enjoying her time at her home studio embracing her homebody-ness.