Toya: Stretching Batik to Its Limits


Traditional art media tend to lead to traditional art pieces. Not so in the case of Penang painter, Toya. His art builds on very original uses of batik techniques, and the effects are, naturally, very original. The fear now is that this knowledge will not be passed down to younger artists.

A CAUCASIAN who claimed to be an expert asked Toya where the batik painting exhibition was, blithely unaware that he was looking at batik paintings! That was at his exhibition in London in 1988.

The paintings, which Toya himself dubbed “unbatik”, looked like oil pastels. Many were stumped by them. Still are. Unveiled in 1973–1974, they were a major breakthrough, a revolution in batik art and one of the biggest since fellow Penangite Datuk Chuah Thean Teng (1912–2009) pioneered batik painting way back in 1955.

But for nearly three years before that, the eccentric Toya had burst every vein in his brain to get exactly the kind of antique spore-like textures that he envisaged.

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