Publishing & art: The Edge & my ‘Durian series’

Publishing & art: The Edge & my ‘Durian series’
Banner featuring a piece from my Durian series, Hold It, 2022, acrylic, ink and pencil on paper 30in H x 22.3in W. It was in front of Universiti Malaya’s main library which houses Galeri Seni Universiti Malaya where the ART+EDUCATION exhibition was being held.

EARLY this year, when curator Stephen Menon invited me to take part in ArtVoice’s collaborative project with Universiti Malaya called ART+EDUCATION, I quickly agreed. It would be an opportunity for me to put together and share my ideas on two aspects of my life, art and publishing. The latter, more specifically, would cover mainly design and production. I wanted to show that they are symbiotic – that is, they enhance each other even as the mode of producing media changes so rapidly.

I chose The Edge as the basis for my presentation on publishing because its production system is one I am most familiar with. And my “Durian” series because it is the most sophisticated of my “analog-digital” experiments.

The following are some points regarding the art-publishing symbiosis:

Fine art enhances publications by way of sophisticated illustrations that befit a high-end business weekly

These are two examples of illustrations by Art Director Sharon Khoh, a fine-art artist trained in the US and pioneer staff of The Edge. She was hired, among other reasons, to give the publication a unique sophisticated look, making the fledgling weekly in the mid-1990s stand out against its competitors.

Fine art in the form of typography plays an essential role in providing the “tone” and “demeanour” of publications

There is debate whether typography is a science or an art (read here), and whether it is art or design (read here). I feel it traverses all four areas — which is why designing a publication is such a challenging job. Going into depth on one aspect of it can sidetrack a designer for a long while. For the typography of The Edge, we settled for modernity and legibility. On the whole, we were happy with the design. Mario Garcia, the famed Cuban newspaper designer who redesigned, among others, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The South China Morning Post (read here), had very kind words for The Edge during a workshop organised by IFRA (now called WAN-IFRA, read here) in Kuala Lumpur in the late 1990s.

Publications act as a natural A&P (advertising & promotion) medium for fine artists and other print media

In art and publishing, we continue to talk about “look and feel”. Print comes closest to giving the audience the tactile and the visual elements of art. In addition, with layout and design, a set of artwork on a page looks as if it is properly placed in a physical space like a gallery. Indeed there are parallels between gallery and publication design, viz, the “front page”, navigation, typography that suits the form and content, etc.

Most important to me is how we may incorporate production methods in publishing into fine art.

Production methods of publications enhance fine art

I have been involved in publishing since the late 1960s although not always in an editorial capacity. Over the years, I have taken a keen interest in the back room, in production. At The Edge, we had highly dedicated production staff, especially the production manager Thomas Chin. I hope to combine whatever production skills I have acquired with art, to create USPs (unique selling propositions). During the same period, I have also developed skills in branding and strategic marketing. They have helped me to oversee publishing businesses whose products are perhaps some of the most complicated among manufactured goods. It is timely that we take branding ourselves seriously

Speaking to students at the Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) on March 27, I noted four areas they should be working at (1) having a realistic view of the world of art and the business of art (2) continuing to learn, to engage in discourse with those who are in the business (3) branding themselves, developing their USPs (unique selling propositions) and (4) finding ways to persevere in the long haul to success. In my case, I told them, I am trying to work in the analog-digital realm as well as in combining art with words (story-telling e.g.)

What interest me today, I told the students, include (1) working on the Adobe Suite and colour reproduction (2) how to guard against artificial intelligence making our work redundant — the human doing what humans do must be preserved. One of the ways to prove that it is our work is to document the processes we used to produce the work. This applies especially to digital artwork, and (3) how to move further in the area of story-telling and art.

Lim Siang Jin

Lim Siang Jin