Kopi Jackfruit Monkey—Feeling Life in George Town

By Nigel Sense

July 2024 FOR ART'S SAKE
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I HAVE ALWAYS loved two things in life: travel and art. Combining these, my wife and I have travelled the world, stopping in particularly inspiring locations like Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India to set up studio and paint. These travel days provide the foundation for my paintings. I call it “going fishing”—not for fish, but for inspiration.

I capture quick iPhone photos of intriguing moments—a handmade tile, a restaurant sign in an unfamiliar language or snippets of conversations. Using my iPad, I then collage these images into a Frankenstein-esque depiction of daily life as a traveller. These digital drawings are the engine room of my art practice. I spend more time drawing than painting because once I have a paintbrush in hand, I want the application to be swift and instinctual. Painting is a primitive, tactile experience for me—the feel of paint on canvas, guided by the right kind of music. The wrong song can change the entire feel of a painting.

I start by transferring the iPad drawing to canvas, and then the fun begins—painting over it with quick, rough gestures or adding a word or two. I embrace imperfection. It is like building a sandcastle for hours just to enjoy the act of destroying it. This approach is a nod to my artist heroes—Basquiat, Warhol, Pollock, Schnabel, as well as the music of Lou Reed and David Bowie—who all liked a bit of imperfection.

I deliberately leave the edges of the canvas raw, making the canvas itself part of the artwork. My pieces often feature everyday objects and scenarios, elevated to the extraordinary through vivid colours and dynamic compositions. Bold strokes and layered textures transform ordinary experiences into compelling visual narratives.

My latest solo exhibition, “Kopi Jackfruit Monkey”, is a collection of artworks that reflect my daily life in George Town—the kopitiams I frequent, the lively markets and the rhythm of everyday life near my studio. The title is a playful nod to the local culture—“kopi” for the beloved coffee, “jackfruit” for the tropical abundance and “monkey” for the lively, untamed spirit of the place.

Mr. Curry Puff Acrylic on canvas 120 x 140 cm.

Instant Noodle Breakfast Acrylic on canvas 120 x 160 cm.

Sports Drink vs. Beer Acrylic on canvas 80 x 110 cm.

Soy Sauce Boy Acrylic on canvas 120 x 160 cm.

Sauce Man Acrylic on canvas 80 x 110 cm.

Sunset With iPhone Acrylic on canvas 120 x 140 cm.

Papaya is Better Than Bananas Acrylic on canvas 120 x 140 cm.

Nigel Sense

is an Australian artist currently based in George Town, Penang. He is participating in this year’s George Town Festival with a solo painting exhibition at Fiesta by Beaverly Chill, running from July 19 to 28.