From graffiti to masterpieces: The evolution of public art in Penang

Ernest Zacharevic’s work at the Urban Exchange exhibition in Hin Bus Depot Art Centre — Pictures by K.E.Ooi
Ernest Zacharevic’s work at the Urban Exchange exhibition in Hin Bus Depot Art Centre — Pictures by K.E.Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 7 — Prior to 2012, anything drawn or spray painted on public walls in Penang was largely ignored or even frowned upon.

Then came then-unknown young Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, who painted evocative wall murals all over George Town as part of George Town Festival 2012 and today, public art has become a very big thing in Penang.

Many of the peeling walls of pre-war shophouses in the city became canvases for creative street artists, so much so that the state government decided to put in some semblance of control by forming a committee to vet these works.

Another portrait by Rone at the coffee bar in Glow Hotel along Macalister Road as part of the Urban Exchange art festival
Another portrait by Rone at the coffee bar in Glow Hotel along Macalister Road as part of the Urban Exchange art festival

Last month, 19 more state government sanctioned public art pieces sprouted all over the city; these were not only confined within the UNESCO heritage zone, but spread out all over the island, even to Batu Ferringhi and Balik Pulau.

It was part of an international art festival of a different kind, called Urban Exchange: Crossing Over 2014.

The festival, which saw 16 local and international artists painting the walls in Penang between November 11 and 23, was the brainchild of Zacharevic and Gabija Grusaite and was a way to promote Penang as a city of art.

Sparrows by Ernest Zacharevic at Botanica CT clubhouse, 156, Jalan Sungai Air Putih in Balik Pulau
Sparrows by Ernest Zacharevic at Botanica CT clubhouse, 156, Jalan Sungai Air Putih in Balik Pulau

The art project, located in 19 separate public spaces, are different depictions and interpretations of the culture, people and essence of Penang and Malaysia by the artists.

Local artists Fauzan Fuad and Black (Fritilldea) were thrilled to be picked to participate in the festival as part of an artist group they formed with two other local artists, Donald Abraham and Jojo Yusof, called “4Some”.

Urban Exchange is a great idea to expose international artists to our local art scene and to show them that our own homegrown artists, particularly street artists like us, can produce beautiful masterpieces too,” Fauzan said.

A joint masterpiece by 4Some which is part of the Urban Exchange exhibition at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre
A joint masterpiece by 4Some which is part of the Urban Exchange exhibition at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre

He said this kind of event also helps to change the public perception of street art and graffiti.

“Previously, graffiti and street art were viewed with scorn and mostly unappreciated but now, people realise that street art can be beautiful and meaningful too,” he said.

Most of all, the duo said Urban Exchange provided the perfect platform for both international and local artists to connect and network.

“It opened up opportunities for local artists as we were approached by an international art gallery interested in our work thanks to this festival,” Fauzan said.

4Some painted two wall murals, a large colourful piece along Beach Street and a smaller piece along Nagore Road, and two mixed media works which were displayed at the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre.

The colourful joint masterpiece by four local artists known as 4Some at a car park lot along Beach Street as part of the Urban Exchange art festival
The colourful joint masterpiece by four local artists known as 4Some at a car park lot along Beach Street as part of the Urban Exchange art festival

The large abstract wall mural that is vibrant with a mix of bright colours is 4Some’s interpretation of nearby Little India.

“Little India is a bright and vibrant place full of colours so we decided to make our piece just as colourful and we put it all inside a large boat because it reflects the old days when Indian labourers would come here by boat,” Fauzan said.

Mural by Karl Addison at the car park lot along Beach Street
Mural by Karl Addison at the car park lot along Beach Street

Other than the wall murals, there is also an exhibition of each of the 15 artists’ individual work, including two wall murals by talented Australian portrait artist Rone and German artist Karl Addison, over at the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre.

Due to the overwhelming response to the festival, Grusaite said they may consider making Urban Exchange an annual event in Penang.

The Urban Exchange art exhibition at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre
The Urban Exchange art exhibition at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre

The art exhibition at the Hin Bus Art Depot is open daily until December 17.

For those who would like to check out the numerous new murals under the festival, here is a list of the work by the artists and the locations.

A mural of a deity by Bibichun at Lorong Tok Aka
A mural of a deity by Bibichun at Lorong Tok Aka

1. Bibichun (Malaysia)
No 1, Lorong Tok Aka, George Town
GPS: 5.41337,100.336778

2. 4Some — Donald Abraham, Fauzan Fuad, Jojo Yusof and Black (Fritilldea) (Malaysia)
i) Carpark lot next to 150, Beach Street
GPS: 5.41596,100.33994
ii) Nagore Road
GPS: 5.420825,100.32562

A portrait on bamboo blinds by Rone at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre for Urban Exchange
A portrait on bamboo blinds by Rone at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre for Urban Exchange
3. Rone (Australia)
i) Nagore Road
GPS: 5.420908,100.325998
ii) First Floor, Coffee Bar, Glow Hotel, Macalister Road
GPS: 5.416529,100.322905

Mural by Karl Addison at Urban Exchange art exhibition at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre
Mural by Karl Addison at Urban Exchange art exhibition at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre
4. Karl Addison (Germany)
i) Nagore Road
GPS: 5.420908,100.325998
ii) Carpark lot next to 150, Beach Street (directly opposite 4Some’s work)
GPS: 5.41596,100.33994

Mural by Antanas Dubra on the walls of vacant buildings along Nagore Road
Mural by Antanas Dubra on the walls of vacant buildings along Nagore Road
5. Antanas Dubra (Lithuania)
Nagore Road
GPS: 5.420908,100.325998

Birds in flight by Elle along Macallum Street
Birds in flight by Elle along Macallum Street
6. Elle (New York, US)
i) Jalan Bawasah
GPS: 5.42145,100.325893
ii) Macallum Street
GPS: 5.409557,100.329509

7. Don John (Denmark)
261, Beach Street
GPS: 5.41322,100.337083

Dogs by Kenji Chai at U Hotel, Jalan Sungai Dua
Dogs by Kenji Chai at U Hotel, Jalan Sungai Dua

8. Kenji Chai (Malaysia)
i) U Hotel, 676, Jalan Sungai Dua
GPS: 5.351433,100.297939
ii) China House courtyard, Victoria Street
GPS: 5.41431,100.339224

Mr Toll’s clay sculpture at the Tropical Spice Garden as part of the Urban Exchange programme
Mr Toll’s clay sculpture at the Tropical Spice Garden as part of the Urban Exchange programme

9. Mr Toll (Australia)
Tropical Spice Garden, Teluk Bahang
GPS: 5.463598,100.229226

A mural by SKL0 along Nagore Road
A mural by SKL0 along Nagore Road

10. SKL0 (Singapore)
Corner of Nagore Road and Hutton Lane
GPS: 5.421797,100.326373

Mural by TankPetrol along Presgrave Street
Mural by TankPetrol along Presgrave Street

11. TankPetrol (United Kingdom)
113, Lebuh Presgrave
GPS: 5.411885,100.329123

Evocative work by Vexta at Chulia Mansion along Chulia Street
Evocative work by Vexta at Chulia Mansion along Chulia Street

12. Vexta (Australia)
i) Nagore Road
GPS: 5.420908,100.325998
ii) Chulia Mansion, Chulia Street
GPS: 5.418849,100.334964

13. Ernest Zacharevic (Lithuania)
Botanica CT Club House, 156, Jalan Air Sungai Putih, Balik Pulau
GPS: 5.368607,100.224473