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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

From Penang with love

AS a boy, Koay Shao Peng had always loved to draw. At the coffee shop which his family owned, Koay had plenty of “art paper” at his disposal. And with the resources at his disposal, he would create his masterpieces.
 “They were actually from paper cigarette cartons which I had turned inside out,” the 55-year-old artist said with a laugh as he recalled his childhood.  “When I ran out of paper cartons to draw on, I would collect cigarette boxes and draw on the inside.

“I would tell stories through the drawings and my father’s workers, who lived above the coffee shop, would collect them and arrange the story-boxes on shelves. Each time their friends visited them, they would show them the cigarette boxes and told them the stories I had narrated within each box.”

That early passion for art thus laid the foundation to what he is today. Not only is he an artist, he was also the owner and principal of the Classical Art Centre in Penang, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, art school in Penang.

“In school, I loved to draw so much that my friends would come to me for help whenever they were given assignments by their art teachers,” he said. “Most boys did not like to draw, so they would ask me to do it for them.

“For each drawing, they paid me 20 cents which was quite a lot back then. I saved whatever I could and used the money to buy better art paper and art books to learn from to improve my skills. At the time, there were few places on could learn art the proper way from.”

The self-taught artist, however, did not stumble upon the idea of converting his passion into a vocation until he was in his 20s.

“I was running several businesses previously, including as a stationery supplier,” he revealed. “In 1983, when the country was hit by recession, all my businesses failed. I had just started a family then and I had to find a way to feed my family.”

One day, a relative who was then taking art lessons had approached him for help.

“After I taught him how to work on his art assignment, he complimented me that what I had explained to him was much clearer than what his lecturers did. So he suggested that I open an art school in Penang.”

His business sense kicked in and single-handedly he set up his art centre, one of the two in Penang then.

“I approached the teaching of art from a business point of view because of my background in business. However, I also had to start from scratch and had to do it alone, like getting all the paper work done as well as setting up the infrastructure because I could not turn to anyone for help.”

Over three decades later, the art educator has churned out at least 5,000 students through the centre, teaching and painting.

“Some of my students are fine artists in their own right today. Many of them have also become prominent comic strip and graphic artists as well,” said Koay.

His involvement in the teaching of art was not restricted to the confines of his classes alone. Over the last decade, Koay had also written 10 art guides entitled “Gubahan Fikiran” for use in schools. On top of that, he has also trained teachers in art education, both academically and from the creative point of view.

Although Koay is at ease with other mediums, watercolour remained his first love. He has also won various awards for his works and has taken part in numerous exhibitions and group shows over the last three decades.

Koay has also just completed his third solo entitled “Explore Watercolours” which was held in Petaling Jaya where his pieces on Penang’s heritage buildings were met with warm response by city art collectors.

“Georgetown is well known as a heritage city and as an artist, I have to celebrate that achievement by putting on visual record the beautiful historical edifices and life in its streets as I experience it,” he said.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Triple Gems

This is my latest work, I am playing with lines and shapes, hues and tonal values. It is very loosely painted with the colours allowed to merge and their their own places on this cotton-based heavyweight paper. I am amazed at the images that emerged.