No 17, Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca. This is one of my watercolours done in the 1990, from a collection of 64 paintings of the facades of early shophouses in Penang, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. These watercolours were my way of contributing to the documentation and conservation of our architectural heritage.
As the legend goes, Malacca was founded by Parameswara, the fugitive with his group fleeing from Singapore, about 500 years ago. Later he went on to establish the first Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century.
At that time Malacca was a natural port that sheltered the sailors from the north-east and south-west monsoons in this region. The monsoons were one of the keys to the success of Malacca as a trading port in the early sailing years. The winds brought the Arabs, Indians and then the Europeans from the West and the Javanese, Bugis and Chinese from the East.
As years went by, due to its increasing strategic and commercial importance, Malacca became a battle ground as the colonial world powers and the local warlords fought to control it.
But despite all the wars and violence in the waters of the Malacca Straits, many of the early sailors, traders, pirates, warriors and labourers of various races established their new homes in Malacca.
Tan Choon Ghee was one of the few Malaysian painters who had an eye and empathy for the common people (especially Penangites) and their multi- cultural daily street life. His highly-developed aesthetic sense could turn ordinary life at a street corner in his hometown of George Town into an exquisite watercolour, sketch, ink or oil painting.
Sadly, Choon Ghee, one of the true artistic sons of Malaysia, died at 80, on December 28, 2010 in Penang. However, many remember him and some of us would like to thank him for the inspiration from all the artworks he left behind (in private or public collections).
He painted for well over 30 years and during that time, he made frequent painting trips to European cities like Venice, London and Amsterdam. His artworks will continue to attract those who value the skill of draftsmanship, composition, shapes, lines and colours in an artist’s personal touch.
The Malaysian art scene has been opening up to many new vistas in the last few years. There are many more art galleries in Kuala Lumpur and in other towns, especially in Malacca and Penang.
One of the big stories in Kuala Lumpur was auctioneer Henry Butcher’s first art auction in August. Then there is the fourth International Art Expo Malaysia 2010. This art fair is on at the Matrade Exhibition & Convention Centre till tomorrow.
Sim Tiak Choo is the organising chairman, and his son, Sim Pojinn, is the project director of this art sale. The Sim family and their associates are the prime mover behind these two art marketing events (of course with the support of the National Art Gallery and other related agencies).
He is no stranger to the local art market. He and his wife, Mary Tang, have been buying and selling art for over 38 years and they operate through their City Art Gallery, in Kuala Lumpur. Their main area of interest is in dealing with older Chinese brush paintings from China and some from Malaysian artists. However, they are now into a wider range of art products and other commercial opportunities from the region.
The Langkawi art group meeting at their regular home for inspiration and aspiration.
Langkawi island is not as well-known for its artistic and cultural heritage as the Indonesian island of Bali. It also has a long way to go to catch up with the tourist industry of Phuket which is a little to the north of the Andaman sea. But what these three islands have in common is their 550 million-year-old geological heritage, their surrounding seas and unique tropical landscape and weather.
However, neither Bali nor Phuket (so far) have been awarded the geopark status by Unesco. Langkawi was given the world geopark award in 2007. With joint research between LESTARI of UKM and LADA, the island’s ecotourism concept fulfilled all the international requirements of a geopark.
Artists from all over the world have been making their way to South-East Asia, especially Bali, for over 60 years and many never left. One of the most famous early European artists, Walter Spies (1895-1942) was living and working in Ubud, Bali, from the 1930s till his death in 1942. He and his artistic friends helped put Bali artists and art in the Western art market.