Getah Colour Heralds a Revolution in Painting

Goh Beng Kwan – Tropical Summer.

Smith Sein Lynn – Peacock Dreams.

Azman Hilmi – Earth Dancing Series 3.

Calvin Chua Cheng Koon – Monsoon Wind II.

Cheah Yew Saik – Glorious Morning.

Christine Das – Wild Emergence No. 2.

Jack Ting Mui Chii – The Chrysalis Series - Conception.

A new Made-In-Malaysia Colour medium called Getah Colour (GC), which is reputedly more environmentally friendly, is set to take the art world offering an alternative way of expressions.

GC won the Gold Award in the International Invention, Innovation and Technology Exhibition (ITEX) in KL on May 13, 2017. It was in the Educational Items Category for Natural Rubber Artwork: A New Technique and Environmentally Friendly Medium for Visual Arts. Kudos went to the team from the Malaysian Rubber Board (Lembaga Getah Malaysia, LGM) led by Dr Asrul Mustafa. The others in the team were Ahmad Suhaime Nordin, Ruslimie Che Ali, Abdul Fateh Kamil Khalib, Nurul Fariha Poudzi and Iskandar Syarir Abdul Jofli.

The medium, in 12 colours and in tube form, is said to react more like poster colours, and is a mid-choice between watercolours and acrylics. It doesn’t wash like watercolours, but dries faster than watercolours and slower than acrylic. While using premium pigment as core paint, it is made up of 30% natural rubber with the rest being cellulose, pigment and food-grade dyes.

Three of the inventors – Asrul, Fateh and Suhaime – are joining 14 other artists taking up the GC Challenge in testing and pushing the boundaries of the colours, culminating in the first major and historic fine-painting exhibition called Rub’A Paint: From Rubber Trees to Art Gallery, at the National Art Gallery, KL on June 4-24.

Each artist was given five canvases and the GC paint to work with on any subject of their choice. Expertise, skills and creativity being a given, they were selected based on a balance of factors like gender, race, geography, discipline and commitment, subject matter, persona, approach, cultural and academic backgrounds (both self-taught and college-trained) and good temperament.

Two of the Magnificent 17 artists are iconic international masters – Singapore’s Cultural Medallion Goh Beng Kwan, 80, and Myanmar/Thailand maestro Smith Sein Lynn, 77, both no strangers to Malaysia. Apart from the LGM trio, the other artists are Azman Hilmi, Calvin Chua Cheng Koon, Cheah Yew Saik, Christine Das, Choo Sew Ling, Heng Eow Lin, Jack Ting Mui Chii, Ng Kim Heoh, Rasid Yusof, Richard Wong Chin Kim, Zaharuddin Sarbini and Zainurin “Ajis” Mohamad.

Goh Beng Kwan, Singapore’s Peter Pan of Art, took to GC with alacrity, playing on a vein-like and almost calligraphic flourish of rhythmic strokes of vegetative and floral brilliance. A Singapore Cultural Medallion and winner of the first UOB Painting of the Year 1982, he innovated “water collage” during his stint at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute in 2006.

Smith Sein Lynn, a self-exiled Myanmar artist based in Thailand, comes from the best traditions of the East German ateliers with a finesse for figuratives contemporanised in his Oriental Dreams solo at the City Art Gallery, KL, in 2014. His two standouts are the Smoking Nun, the only pleasure of a burnt cheroot in ascetic nunhood in pinkish hues; and an ebony African beauty in a panoply of garish peacock patterns (Peacock Dreams).

Smith will be showing with his Malaysian acolyte, entrepreneur-turned-artist Choo Sew Ling, for the first time. The thrust of his teaching repertoire shows in the range of subjects covered by Choo, whose works include an Indian rubber tapper, albeit decked in saree and bangles, to show pride in work, and which reminds her of her rubber-tapper mother. Other subjects broached include the peacock and the koi ( Japanese carp).

Ng Kim Heoh – Old Charm II.

Richard Wong Chin Kim – Memories of Lefroy (Lefroy Lake, Mt Odaray, British Columbia).

Christine Das, dubbed Ele Girl (for her depictions of elephants in her art) and a noted conservation and wildlife activist who had worked with the Borneo Conservation Trust Sabah, has opted for spontaneous curvilinear play and camouflage instead of her finer lines, with the transfixed animal eyes of the fallen elephant featured prominently as if accusing. In 2006 she was Harper’s Bazaar Top 20 Power Women (2016) and Women’s Weekly Great Women of Our Time, besides Marie Claire’s Woman of Style and Substance (2013).

Completing the women trio is Ng Kim Heoh, dubbed Madam Sasaran as trusted Girl Friday to Ng Bee in the Sasaran Art Festival he founded. Ng Kim Heoh, who won the Penang Young Artist 1998 award, has gained a lot of traction in recent years with her Magritte-like still-lifes using pears and apples, both in forms and symbolisms, and sometimes with an endearing “kermit” alter ego.

When it comes to mountainscapes, Richard Wong Chin Kim has few peers, having been to the rarefied tops of some of the greatest mountains all over the world, and from photographs, sketches and memories, he re-creates some close-up scenes with his palette knife from his trip to the Canadian Rockies in 2009. He is also a black-belt Shao-Lin pugilist and a certified teaceremony master and tea/teapot collector. Cheah Yew Saik, 79, plays on the tonal range as if with watercolours in reviving majestic vistas of mountains, and especially fortified with visions of his more recent trip to the fabled Tibetan “roof of the world.” Cheah is best known as the founder-principal of the Kuala Lumpur College of Art, now defunct, and in 2009, he was honoured with the “Living Legend Artist Tribute Pavilion” by and at the International Art Expo Malaysia. Cheah and also Richard Wong were given a Retrospective at the Soka Gakkai Malaysia in 2015. For Azman Hilmi, 1992 Major Award winner of the hugely coveted national Young Contemporary Artists (YCA) award, the GC Challenge has inspired a dramatic change from his comfort zone of vibrant interiors and Gardenscapes, to the lofty tops of the Gunungan in a new series called Earth Dancing, with a gorgeous epidermy, and evoking musical strains of Carole King/ James Taylor’s I Feel The Earth Move.

Also on “dance,” dancing strokes that is, is painter-printmaker Jack Ting Mui Chii, who is known for incorporating motifs of his Sarawak birthplace in stylised forms in a brilliant array of colours in his works. He is coaxed out of a hibernation since his major exhibition (Relative Reality: Rite of Passage) at Quill9 Gallery, Petaling Jaya, in 2010 celebrating 21 years of painting, for the GC Challenge. In this, Mui Chii unveils a new series on the allegorical from “Conception” to the ultimate “Celebration”, about metamorphosis, transformation and the dynamics of change.

Artist-sculptor Heng Eow Lin, a full-time artist since he graduated from the Singapore Nanyang Academy of Fine Art way back in 1970, delves into the relationships and struggles in life – the family, intimacy, Mother-and-Child bonding and children at play. Heng was given a Retrospective by the Soka Gakkai Malaysia in 2015, and has monumental sculptures in Penang, Kedah, Sarawak and Melaka.

Calvin Chua Cheng Koon infuses the GC works with the elegance and ebullience of watercolours, especially in his trio of Monsoon Wind works. A Minor Award winner of the 1986 YCA, Calvin Chua is known for his Silk Road painting oasis and splashing waterfall picnic scenes (“Joy of Living” solo at G13 in 2018). He is reinvigorating new directions as president of the Malaysian Watercolour Society (MWS).

Though not a rule, the artists were half-expected to paint according to their known métiers, but for Zainurin “Ajis” Mohamed, who is world-renowned for his (actual) underwater painting (Malaysian Book of Records, 2000, in Pulau Tenggol, Terengganu) and marine-life art, the smell of latex conjures memories of his grandfather in his rubber plantation when growing up in Johor. So, you get five works of a rubber tree with a cup (cups), with one of a hand holding a hooked tapping knife (now an automated hand-held machine), but without the cup. A certified scuba-diver, he is the president of Coral Malaysia. He was named Youth Ambassador by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 2004.

Self-taught Rasid Yusof has become one of the more prominent and vastly improved artists working on tropical rainforest landscape and wildlife (mainly birds), with regular excursions into the forest interiors. He previously worked as a freelance book illustrator and graphic designer (1977-1993).

Zainurin "Ajis" Mohamad – Rezki Melimpah 1.

Smith Sein Lynn and the Smoking Nun.

“Kampung Boy” Zaharuddin Sarbini evokes nostalgic memories of the kampung with its bountiful spread of fruits, like a Garden of Eden, showing abundance and sustainability in Nature and sometimes the bad aspects. His still-life of fruits gets an unusual Pop veneer of sky-blue and pink this time.

Calvin Chua, Choo Sew Ling and Dr Asrul Mustafa.

Of the LGM trio, only Suhaime is art-trained, in graphic design, and had some advertising background. His works are couched in Nature, on the environment, trees and climate change. Asrul, the prime-mover behind the Rub’A Paint exhibition, has a more philosophical take in abstractions using strategic symbolisms as skewed in the titles, like in the elegiac Enigma. Fateh, at 37 the youngest participant, delves into the rubric of cultural heritage with a departure, no pun intended, in the self-explanatory Taken Soul, on something more supernatural, even macabre.

These are the first pioneering batch of paintings officially done on the breakthrough GC, for the Rub’A Paint exhibition. All 85 works by the 17 artists come with a commemorative certificate to mark the historic occasion. It has obvious potential of becoming a global product, after a re-tweaking of the formula for commercial production.

Ooi Kok Chuen, art-writer and journalist, is the author of MAHSURI: A Legend Reborn (Ooi Peeps Publishing), an adult contemporary fantasy “movel” (a novel conceived as a mock movie) spun from a local legend.

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