Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Phang Chew makes vroom for art

Phang and wife Goh Yoke Lean.
Born in 1945 in Ipoh, Phang Chew is a familiar face in the Perak capital. Not only is he instantly recognised by his peers in the motorcycle business and superbikers but also by art lovers who have been following his journey as an artist. Phang can be often seen painting the street scenes of Ipoh old town or capturing the beauty of the tin-mining town’s outskirts. Sometimes he paints alone or with his artist friends, but on most outings, he is joined by his wife, Goh Yoke Lean.
Mrs Phang is also an accomplished painter.
Looking more youthful than his 70 years, Phang received his secondary education in Yuk Choy High School, where his artistic journey began. Recollecting his early years, Phangattributed his early interest in art to his art teacher Hu Zhui Guang.
“Hu would ask us students to do murals for the school and encouraged us to take part in art competitions if we wanted to see how good we were,” said Phang with excitement in his voice. “That was when I discovered that I have a talent in art.
“When I left school in 1964, I did not have a chance to attend an art college although I liked painting a lot,” he said. “So I went to work with a signage maker instead. But the job lasted a short while before I decided to join a motorcycle company for better prospects as a manager. That led to me setting up my own motorcycle dealership named Motoranda in the late 1980s which sold superbikes.”
Mrs Phang keeps an eye on her students, always generous
with her knowledge.
Despite being busy with his business, Phang continued to paint after work hours. His wife, who was also helping him in business, shared his love for watercolour.  When they were free during the weekends, the couple would seek out subjects for their watercolour paintings in places far and near. These ranged from the scenic hills of Tambun to the old houses in quaint villages in Batu Gajah.
In 2003, at the age of 58, Phang decided to sell off his superbike dealership. “I was getting too old to keep up with the pace and my son was pursuing a different line of career in university. But the main reason I made that decision was because I wanted to pursue my dream as a full-time artist.”
Six years later, that decision led to Phang holding his first solo show in Kuala Lumpur at the Balai Berita gallery of the New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd. Today, leading a more relaxed life fulfilling their passion, Phang and his wife, who are also founder members of the Perak Art Society, continue to contribute to building Perak’s watercolourists. During the weekends, the couple teaches school children watercolour painting.
One of Phang Chew's watercolours, recording a scenery
near his home.
“I started teaching children because it was fun,” said Phang. “I have to produce watercolour pieces quickly for each class and that is a challenge I look forward to each week. As I do these pieces, I find that I have also improved a lot. My students are also very eager to learn, which makes teaching even more rewarding.”
If Phang finds his students’ interest waning, he tells them how lucky they were to be able to have access to proper art instruction.
“I tell them that when I was their age, even if I had money, there was no one to teach me the proper way of painting. On the other hand, they are more fortunate as they are not only able to learn art from a senior artist like me, but they also have access to good art materials to produce good works.
“Painting in watercolour is not just about putting colour on paper,” said Phang who credits his knowledge in watercolour to his Singaporean artist friend Peh Eng Seng.
“Watercolour painting is a very powerful way to express one's feeling. It can be effectively used to represent the vision of the artist on a piece of paper,” said Phang who prefers to paint on site.
“Nature inspires me. When I am out there painting, I feel really free to express myself and capture what is before me according to my own interpretation.”
As the couple enjoys their twilight years pursuing their passion for art, Phang has only one immediate task.
“As a senior artist, I want to keep myself as healthy as I can so that I can do better paintings, hold more solo shows and contribute to the art scene.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Art of Universal Love

Aminah learns under a few masters,
including the famous Salleh Dawam
AMINAH ABDUL RAHMAN, 53, originally wanted to be a musician. Back in 1984, she had enrolled in a music course with the Angkatan Pelukis SeMalaysia. The organisation (which began in 1956 as Majlis Kesenian Melayu) was then based in Jalan Tun Razak in an old bungalow.

“There were several disciplines of the arts being taught there,” Aminah explained as she took a trip down memory lane four decades ago to describe her first steps to her current career. “At the time, APS was offering courses in fine art, graphic and music. I was very much in love with piano, so I had gone there to learn.

“However, whenever I was there to attend classes during the weekends, I was fascinated by the fine artists who painted a variety of subjects in various media. Soon, I found myself drawn to portrait painting and that was how it all began.”
Four decades today, Aminah, 53, is both the president of Malaysian Watercolour Society as well as the Honorary Secretary of the Angkatan Pelukis SeMalaysia. Currently having her first solo entitled “Roses for You” at the APS Gallery in 64 (1) Jalan Kuantan, off Jalan Tun Razak,  Aminah said her artistic career had to take a backseat during the time when she was working for a large organisation.

“At that time, I was in the customer service department and whenever there was a group exhibition that I was invited to, I had to take a few days’ leave so that I could paint to take part. It was not easy to get leave but I had to make do with what I could.”

Life back then was not a bed of roses but despite the challenges, Aminah kept herself in touch with the artistic world by producing small bodies of works for group shows in the country and abroad. A solo was out of the question for her, she said.

“I simply did not have a collection of work for a proper solo which explains why I had to delay my first show till this day,” she said of her current show. “I only managed to do art seriously after I quit full-time work in 2012. I had to make that decision because I realised wanted to paint for the rest of my life.”

After quitting her job, Aminah headed out to Langkawi to learn from Saleh Dawam who was well known for his roses in watercolour. Aminah, who has been an APS member since 1986, had also learned the tools of the trade from old-timers like Khalil Ibrahim, Sani Md Dom, as well as Rafie Rahman.

“When I was in my 20s, I used to join roadside artists doing portraits in Jalan Masjid India. My parents were alarmed when they found out what I did but fortunately they did not stop me from pursuing my dream,” said Aminah who is the youngest child of seven siblings. “At that time, I loved doing oil paintings of landscapes.

“However, I later switched to watercolour which I find to be more challenging,” she said.Aminah, who started out as a self-taught artist, did not have formal education in art until 1991.

“That year, I found the opportunity to attend a one-year certificate in creative art course at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang,” she said. “The department which offered the course later became what is today, the varsity’s Faculty of Art.”
Why did she focus on roses for her first solo?

“I have always loved roses and to me it represents universal love. It is one flower that is easily identified for its significance,” she said. However, she said that her interest in roses as an artistic subject did not start until her trip to Kuntzstation Art Gallery in Austria in 2011.

“I was part of the entourage of Malaysian artists who were given residency at the gallery. During my stint there, I painted in watercolour on ‘elephant-size’ papers. The technique I used back then was also different. Instead of painting in the traditional approach, I was pouring watercolour,” she said.

“I used a lot of colours and because of that I had to paint for hours under the sun so that I can make sure the paper is properly dried before I add another colour or tone. Otherwise, it will turn through one big mess. It was through this uncontrolled method that the images of rose began to materialise on paper.”

The stint in Austria later led to her joining more exhibitions at local galleries, including the Bank Negara, which is among her corporate collectors today. These days painting fills most of her time unless she had to run errands like tending to association meetings and helping to organise shows. Unlike some artists who paint a piece at a time, Aminah also prefers to work on three pieces at one go.

“The process provides me with a bigger challenge as it keeps me on my toes for I have think very quickly on how to approach each piece as the painting develops, in terms of composition, colour and tonal quality,” she said.

“For this body of works in the ‘Roses for You’ exhibition, all the compositions and their unique colours were inspired from the experiences I have gathered and the roses that I have seen.”

Aminah’s solo show ends on June 7. For details, call her at 012-308 9265