My Personal Favorite Shin-iwa Mineral Pigments “Iwahi”

This is our latest “My Personal Favorite” series in which I interview PIGMENT TOKYO’s art material experts about their favorite materials. In this article, we talked to Nelson Hor Ee Herng who is originally from Malaysia and graduated from Tama Art University’s Japanese Painting Department in 2022. He continues his practice as an artist in Japan, so I wonder what kind of mediums he usually uses for creating his artworks.

-Would you tell us about the concept of your artwork?

Nelson Hor Ee Herng (hereinafter Nelson Hor): My motifs are mainly based on physical and mental connections, because I have a huge interest in the relationship between society and me as a part of humanity, for example, mental illness, gender-related issues, life, and death. However, back in my home country, these topics are considered taboo and a part of me feels that coming to Japan has freed me from that curse.

《For Now and Forever》

Nelson Hor Ee Herng, 2021

Mineral pigments, Sumi ink on Mino Washi paper

- Your latest piece that you made for your graduation reminds me of the image of reincarnation.

Nelson Hor: Yes, that’s the idea. Back in 2020, I performed a living funeral at my childhood home. The performance became one of the most important moments for me, and as you can see, I even drew that in my graduation piece.

Memoirs of My Noonday Devil》

Nelson Hor Ee Herng, 2022

244 x 576 cm

Mineral pigments, acrylic ink, envelopes, and red ink on Japanese Washi paper

- A funeral while you are alive… Is it common in Malaysia?

Nelson Hor: No, not at all. What makes it worse is that I even performed it on my birthday, so my family was very worried that I might summon some bad omens and bad things will happen in my future. *laughs*

But, for me at the time, it felt necessary and very important for my mental state.

-Is there a reason for that?

Nelson Hor: Back when I used to live in Malaysia, there was a time that I felt being alive was too insufferable. 

Since planning a living funeral on one’s birthday is such a big no-no, I have to open up with my family and talk about my real intention.

In the end, my parents respected my decision and even decided to participate in the ceremony which made me realize how much my family loves me and that I should get better to live a healthy life for myself and for them.

You can say this funeral was a huge turning point in my life.

-So, are these works depicting that particular scene? 

Nelson Hor: Yes, the triptych in the middle, using hemp paper as the substrate, represents, from left to right, my own birth, death, and postmortem.

The works on the far left and right are drawings on envelopes, which are pasted on the panel.

-What made you decide to draw on the envelopes? 

Nelson Hor: There are two main reasons.

Firstly, I wanted to send letters to myself in the past. Although it’s rationally impossible to send words or messages to the past, there are still things like “it’s going to be okay eventually”, “be strong” and “I love you” that I want to tell my younger self who was struggling in life.

《A Letter a Day》

Nelson Hor Ee Herng, since 2020 - present

9 x 22 cm

Red ink on envelopes 

- These red lines sure make such a sensitive theme stand out even more.

Nelson Hor: I used Shin-iwa Enogu (artificial mineral pigment) and Nikawa (animal glue) for the larger works and acrylic ink for the envelope pieces.

I especially like to use the Iwahi color of Shin-iwa Enogu. For this piece, I used the number 9 grain size.

《Memoirs of My Noonday Devil》(partial)

Nelson Hor Ee Herng, 2022

244 x 576 cm

Mineral pigments, acrylic ink, envelopes, and red ink on Japanese Washi paper

- What leads you to major in Japanese painting in the first place?

Nelson Hor: I had been experimenting with various paints since high school, but to be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Japanese painting before.

When I decided to study abroad in Japan, I had some trouble picking the major I should go for, and I thought, “Since I’m going to study in Japan, learning new techniques that are unique to that country could be interesting”, so here I am. *laughs*

-What do you think after studying it for four years?

Nelson Hor: I was strongly attracted to the idea of painting with ground minerals, which have a primitive quality to them as an art material.

Back in ancient times, people communicated by painting murals with crushed minerals and soil.

And I see it as a very interesting way of communicating and sending messages even in modern times. I also think that it would be great if I can connect with the viewers through mineral pigments and animal glue. Another reason is that I used to live near the ocean in Malaysia, so sand or stones are things that I’m personally attached to. 

This is also why I’m so attracted to those large particle pigments that we use in Japanese painting.

Nelson Hor explaining about his artworks while holding his favorite color, Shin-iwa Enogu Iwahi in his hand

-I see. So, what they use in Japanese painting is a perfect match for the concept you wanted to express.

Nelson Hor: Exactly. Especially the Shin-iwa Enogu because they are moderately grainy, yet give off strong colors.

When I first started attending university, I looked around at art supply stores in our school campus and Tokyo, but it’s hard to find the certain shade of colors you want most of the time. Then, when I was here in PIGMENT TOKYO, I was so excited to know that they carry so many colors in just one store! Another nice thing about this place is the space is large so you can compare the colors easily.

-What types of paint brushes do you use?

I use a Kurojiku Itachi Choho Menso for most parts of my painting and a Tokusei Shiratama Hakkei for drawing the details.

Since I use animal glue that has a strong viscosity and granular mineral pigments, I prefer using brushes that have a stiffness to handle them.

《Red Noise》

Nelson Hor Ee Herng, 2021 

70 x 200 cm

Gesso, acrylic on canvas

-Is there any other material you would like to try?

Nelson Hor: I am interested in water-based binders other than animal glue such as tempera paint.

I think it would bring a fun impact to use traditional binders to bring out the issues related to our current society. Besides that, I would like to use agate burnishers to polish metal leaves too.

Perhaps in my next journey, I could find the materials that resonate with my ethnicity. 

Artist bio

Nelson Hor Ee Herng

Solo Exhibitions: 

2021 「毎日、君に手紙をかいてあげる A Letter a Day」haydEn Tokyo, Tokyo

2020 「見ぬが花 not seeing is a flower」PULPLISM, Tokyo

Group Exhibitions: 

2022 「Tokyo Gobidai University Union Graduation Exhibition 2021」The National Art Center, Tokyo

「Young Blood Vol.II」The Holy Art Gallery, London

「Tama Art University Graduation Exhibition 2021」Tama Art University, Tokyo

「ミニアート展」GALLERY 2511,東京

2021 「第6回日本画院と山梨の日本画」Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, Yamanashi

「colors in sight」Gallery 201, Tokyo

「The Divine Feminine」haydEn Tokyo, Tokyo


2019 「いただきます」Mintaka Gallery, Tokyo

2018 「万華鏡」Mintaka Gallery, Tokyo

2016 「藝桩眷恋」Han Chiang Stadium, Malaysia

* Numerous other solo, group exhibitions and art projects

Grants and Awards: 

2022 Tama Art University Graduation Exhibition - Merit Award

2021 17th The World Art Exhibition -  Sponsorship Prize

第80回記念日本画院展 - Finalist

46th International Modern Art Exhibition - Encouragement Prize

日本の絵画2020 - Nomination

2020 CHANGTING GALLERY Open Calls - Nomination

2016 傳承·愛 3rd Illustration Contest for Secondary Schools - First Prize

Exhibition Info

Nelson Hor’s Solo-exhibition “Memory is a Garden” 


Date : 3 December (Sat) ~ 30 December (Fri) 2022 

*By Appointment Only: National Holidays, Sun, and Mon

Open Hours : 12:00 ~ 7:00 pm

Add. : Sanoushokai Nishiazabu Building 1F-B1F, 3-24-19 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo.

TEL : +81 3 6271 5022

WEB : https://www.galleryether.com/

*This exhibition has ended.

Translated by Atsumi Okano and Nelson Hor Ee Herng

PIGMENT TOKYO Art Materials Experts


大矢 享

Art Materials Expert at PIGMENT TOKYO


Born in 1989 in Tokyo. Master of Fine Art and Design at Nihon University College of Art. While working at PIGMENT TOKYO as an Art Materials Expert, he also continues his career as a visual artist.

Born in 1989 in Tokyo. Master of Fine Art and Design at Nihon University College of Art. While working at PIGMENT TOKYO as an Art Materials Expert, he also continues his career as a visual artist.