PAINTING THE BEAUTY OF NATURE
BY HIRANMAYII AWLI MOHANAN
most appreciated artists. Often compared to Mozart’s childhood genius in music, Senanayake redeemed his early promise and went on to become one of the most sought-after painters of Asia, crossing international boundary with a mystifying combination of technical skill and a dewy- eyed child looking at life around him as if for the first time. Subsequently, at the tender age of 10, he held his first international one-man show in New York.At the age of 14, Senaka clambered up the steps of the White House in Washington D.C. His painting, The Outer Harbour Colombo, adorned the walls of the place along with a number of masterpieces of the past and present. He went on to become the most accomplished and famous artist Sri Lanka has ever produced. Senanayake’s innate talent led him to continue painting and as a teenager, he held numerous exhibitions in Sri Lanka as well as in Europe, the USA and Asia. However, it was only after he received formal training at Yale University in 1972, where he studied
art and architecture, that he decided to surrender to art and painting. Soon after graduating, he moved back to his roots in Sri Lanka where he has since established himself as one of the region’s most important living artists. Fuelled by the plight of the Sri Lankan rainforests, his recent works encircled the subject, including intense deforestation to make way for tea plantations.
For the past decade, Senanayake had made his art a medium for environmental advocacy: depicting beautiful scenes from the rainforests to promote public awareness of environmental degradation in his native Sri Lanka and around the world. Senaka’s work shows a fervent passion for nature’s beauty and a great knowledge of the flora and fauna of the rainforests. Senanayake draws influence from a diverse range of sources, including his childhood experience, the vibrant landscape of his home country, and the archaic forms of traditional Buddhist art. His work has been shown in most parts of Europe and South Asia with critical acclaim. One of Senaka’s objectives is to establish a connection with everyone that encounters his work. “Many times, people walk and be a piece of art and don’t respond… I want my paintings to talk. Everyone from a street sweeper to a university professor should be able to relate to my art,” he said. Each of his canvases takes between two to three weeks to complete. Layer upon layer of paint is added, creating an incredible depth to the colours and imparting a rich feel to the works which appear to have an almost luminescent quality to them.
To date he has more than 100 solo shows to his credit, and numerous group shows in the countries of Europe, China, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Czechoslovakia, Korea and Egypt to name a few. His work has been documented by Metro Goldwyn, British Movietone News, BBC TV, London, Yeo Soo TV, South Korea, TV Austria and Star TV, India. Various journals, magazines and newspapers such as The New York Sunday Times, Washington Post, London Times, Weser Kurier, Germany, UNESCO Features, Paris, National Geographic Magazine, Asia Week and many others have devoted their mediums to document Senaka’s work. His paintings hang in the White House, the UN building in New York, in museums, private collections and corporate headquarters of multinationals around the world. Senaka lives and works in Sri Lanka.
MAURO MALANG SANTOS
PHILIPPINES GIFTED ARTIST AND CARTOONIST
BY HIRANMAYII AWLI MOHANAN
Affectionately regarded as Malang, Mauro Santos was a Filipino cartoonist and illustrator. At the age of 10, Malang’s parents arranged for him to get art lessons under the tutelage of famed artist Teodoro Buenaventura. The introductory drawing instructions he received stayed with him throughout his years at the Antonio Regidor Elementary and Arellano High School and influenced his next step in education as he enrolled in the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts in 1946. At the age of 19, after only one semester, Malang left the university and accepted a position in the Manila Chronicle’s art department. There, he trained under the guidance of cartoonist Liborio “Gat’’ Gatbonton, which sparked a great interest in cartoon illustration. This inspired young Malang to create an original comic strip called ‘Kosme, the Cop, Retired’ during his apprenticeship. This daily strip was given an English text, which made it stand out as the country’s first. It was also during this time that he began receiving further encouragement and instruction from another self-taught painter, Hernando R. Ocampo, who was editing at the time for a subset of the Manila Chronicle, This Week Magazine.
By 1955, Malang aided in opening a gallery where the main focus would be cartoons. The gallery was called the Bughouse and presented Malang’s own works alongside contemporaries like Larry Alcala, Hugo Yonzon, and his mentor, “Gat” Gatbonton. Only two years later, Malang began receiving recognition for his cartoons and was included in the esteemed Twelve Artists selection by Lyd Arguilla of the Philippines Art Gallery. In 1958, he was also conferred the Award for Editorial Design by the Art Directors Guild of the Philippines. Later that same year, Malang was commissioned to create a mural (and one of his best known works) ‘Barrio Fiesta’ for the FGU-Insular Life Building. Pepito Blanco, who had taught Malang to mix oil paints, assisted him in this endeavour.
Lyd Arguilla’s Philippine Art Gallery was the first to offer Malang a solo exhibition in 1962. This show comprised small pen-and- ink cartoons on simple white backgrounds. It was at this exhibit that artist Manansala reportedly pulled Malang aside to advise the addition of colour as backdrop to
help his images pop. Malang heeded this advice and would experiment with colours as a prime element of his future work. Accolades continued rolling in for the artist as he was awarded a TOYM in 1963 and then, after receiving various honours over the years from the Society of Philippine Illustrators and Cartoonists, he was bestowed with the title of Artist of the Year in 1964.
The next year, Malang worked in collaboration with Asuncion, Bungian, Kiukok, Manansala,Ocampo and Yonzon to open Gallery Seven — the first Makati art gallery. In 1966, Malang began a
new project to bring printmaking, a huge passion of his, into the spotlight. Together with a few major contemporaries and friends, the project called ‘Art for the Masses’ introduced affordable art for the first time through prints which allowed a broader base of art appreciators to get involved as collectors and supporters of the arts. The Luz Gallery published a book on Malang’s work the following year.
The City of Manila bestowed the great honour of the Patnubay Ng Sining at Kalinangan to Malang in 1981. Ten years later, he held a landmark exhibition composed of 28 original works that marked a drastic shift in his career into the field of abstract and cubism, and away from cartoons for a while. Though he devoted much of his career and gained fame for cartoon work and illustrations, his art evolved toward more abstract modernist oils; his signature subjects became female figures of the local slums, dressed in traditional clothing and carrying baskets with fruits. He never quit exploring new media, colours and approaches, which was apparent in his body of work over the centuries. As he grew older, Malang’s imagination only became more vast and vivid. In 2007, he made 78 works and exhibited his collection at the Art Center in the SM Megamall. He continued to paint and experiment with his art, and his prolific collection of singular works continued to expand until his death in 2017.
KHOO SUI HOE
CONVEYING BLISS AND SPIRITUALITY THROUGH REPRESENTATIONAL ELEMENTS
BY HIRANMAYII AWLI MOHANAN
Anyone familiar with his works would most definitely say that Khoo Sui Hoe has a way with the emotive power of colours and compositional qualities. It was his trademark. Known for his inimitable surrealistic stylisation of masks, figures and landscapes, Khoo who graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1961, was under the tutelage of Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen. Following his move from Malaysia to the West in 1982, Khoo’s artworks portray
his evolving artistic practice and development which spans Singapore, Malaysia and the United States.
HIS LIFE AND CAREER
Khoo Sui Hoe was born in 1939, in Baling, Kedah, the third of seven children. His father was a fine tailor who ran a general store before becoming a rubber planter. He studied at the Seng Yok Primary School in Kedah from 1945 to 1951. At the age of 12, he moved to Penang and studied at Chung Ling High School, then Green Lane Normal School and four years later, at Han Chiang High School. Due to a certain misunderstanding (he, as the class monitor, was sent by his classmates to convey their unhappiness with their algebra teacher. As a result of this, he was wrongly labelled as a troublemaker), and was asked to leave the school.
In 1957, he taught in Pei Chye School, a primary school in Kedah for three months. The Kedah State Education Department offered him a place at the Teachers Training Course, but was asked to leave mere weeks later without reason, wrongly blacklisted for his alleged communist inclination. He then aspired to be a journalist in Singapore (for Sin Chew Jit Poh or Nanyang Siang Pau), as he had been writing poems and short stories since junior high. However, due to job unavailability with the press, he worked as a concrete labourer and finally, when pressed by his parents to give up working as a labourer and to further his studies in any field – on a whim he mentioned art. They say the things that happen by accident always turn out to be the greatest occurrences in your life. Also, great discoveries are often made through accidents. However, for Khoo, it might be a cross between an accident and fate.
In 1959, He enrolled himself at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA) and studied under two widely acclaimed artists – Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen. This was never a serious pursuit, but Chen taught him perspective while Cheong encouraged his students to explore watercolour and oil (and influenced them to use palette knives). Lai Foong Moi also coached Khoo in the technique of the brush. In 1962, he invited three of his classmates to organise an art exhibition at the Singapore National Library. These classmates were Lee Ming Thong, Tan Chew Ming and Cheah Yew Saik, who, later on became the founder and principal of the Kuala Lumpur College of Art. Khoo was initially denied entry as he did not have any appointments. However, due to his persistence and efforts, the Ministry of Culture finally gave in and allowed them to carry on with the show, and were kind enough to open it. The exhibition was a hit and definitely boosted the spirits of these four young artists. A year later, another show – a five-man show this time – was held at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur, with Goh Chong Thar joining the group.
In 1964-65, Khoo returned home to Kedah but due to differences with his father, eventually left for Penang. There, he met Yeo Hoe Koon, an ex-classmate from Green Lane Normal School. Hoe Koon gave him shelter, food and a spot in his studio – an attic of a coffee shop. Khoo loved painting water, having grown up surrounded by it. He also painted on hard board, the cheapest material he could get at the time and never had any problems with inspiration. After moving and staying at Galleri de Mai, an art supply shop owned by watercolour and batik artist Tay Mo-Leong, he painted “Two By The Lake”. This piece won him the 1st prize at the Malaysian Art and Craft Competition. It was around this time that he helped Tay Mo-Leong launch Salon de Mai, an international art exhibition which attracted many artists from South-East Asia. At the same time, he took a job as a temporary worker to paint a mural size painting Fishing Village for the Penang State Museum. He was given a daily wage of RM15.
His first one-man show was held in 1965 at the British Council Kuala Lumpur, where he was dubbed “a Poet in Paint” by Frank Sullivan. Lim Chong Keat bought two of his paintings and they both forged a lasting friendship, and Lim also offered to hold an exhibition for Khoo. For this, he painted two 8 x 8 foot paintings: “Children of the Sun” and “A Day in 1946” (now lost), one 12 x 6 foot “The Golden Wedding” (now in the collection of the United Overseas Bank) and another painting that was also lost. Khoo held his second exhibition a year after.
“I PAINT TO GLORIFY THE GIFT BESTOWED UPON ME. ART IS LIKE A RELIGION,” said Khoo Sui Hoe, and true enough, there is an omnipresent and resilient spiritual presence and aura in his paintings.
In 1967, the Art Council of Malaysia sponsored a one-man show at the Balai Ampang, AIA Building, Kuala Lumpur and opening the show was the Minister of Finance, Tun Tan Siew Sin. Kington Loo, the chairman of the Arts Council of Malaysia, said that there was no doubt that Khoo Sui Hoe was an artist who had earned a worthy place in Malaysian art. In 1968, Khoo held his fifth one-man show at the National Library, Singapore, a show that was opened by the Singapore Minister for Culture, Jek Yuen Thong. He stressed that Singapore needed artists like Sui Hoe, who were “bold and unconventional, and had the courage to explore new vistas.” Khoo also painted “One Fine Day” here, but a dog destroyed it after being exhibited. He experimented with batik, but found it too laborious and did not like it. He met fellow artist Prateung Emjaroen, with whom he built another lasting friendship. In 1969, 19 out of 23 paintings from his exhibition from the year before were sold and Khoo then flew to Japan for two months. He made friends with photographer Anzai Shigeo. That year also was the year that Khoo held his 7th one-man show in Taipei.
In 1970, he held another one-man show at the National Library in Singapore. Professor DW Notley, the Dean of Architecture of the University of Singapore opened the show. Singapore Chinese art critic Ma Ko wrote, “Khoo Sui Hoe found his own style since 1965. He was seen as an artist of modern primitivism and one would relate him as our Henry Rousseau in the east.”
A 3-man exhibition with Thomas Yeo and Yeo Hoe Koon followed, and after much encouragement and support from Lim Chong Keat, he set up Alpha Gallery. In 1973, he was invited to be a resident artist at Mekpayap Art Center in Bangkok, a complex set up by Princess Chumpot. He held a one- man show and the world renowned Belgian artist Hundertwasser came to the exhibition. Khoo lived in Cameron Highlands at this time and started doing paintings of the place.
In 1974, he was given a grant from the JJohn D. Rockefeller III Fund, awarding him with the opportunity to study development of contemporary art in New York. Before he left, he held various shows. This grant provided him with the chance to visit many important museums and view many great artists’ works. He also studied at the Pratt Graphics Center in New York, where he also produced different artistic mediums such as prints-making, etching and silkscreen. After a year in the US, he visited Europe’s contemporary art museums.
In 1977-89, he started the Utara Group – an art group consisting of artists such as Lim Kung Chooi, Lim Chee Boon, Syed Salleh Mustaff, Yeong Chee Cheong, Tang Hon Yin, Chong Hip Seng, Sharifah Fatimah Zubir, Judin Ahmad, Sulaiman Jamalludin and Askandar Unglehrt. They held yearly exhibitions at the Penang State Art Gallery and had many shows in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. In 1978, Khoo held a show at Raya Gallery in Melbourne and Newton Gallery in Adelaide. This was the time he returned to his figures – figures that are usually set peacefully in the air or above water. In 1981, the Art Society of the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC presented a one-man show by Khoo. In 1982, he and his wife made the decision to immigrate to the US, in order to provide his children with better education. For many more years to come, Khoo Sui Hoe held many exhibitions in the US. In the 2000s, Lim Chong Keat organised Sui Hoe @ Bellevue, a solo show-cum-symposium in Penang.