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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
1. Bibichun (Malaysia)
No 1, Lorong Tok Aka, George Town
2. 4Some — Donald Abraham, Fauzan Fuad, Jojo Yusof and Black (Fritilldea) (Malaysia)
i) Carpark lot next to 150, Beach Street
ii) Nagore Road
3. Rone (Australia)
i) Nagore Road
ii) First Floor, Coffee Bar, Glow Hotel, Macalister Road
4. Karl Addison (Germany)
i) Nagore Road
ii) Carpark lot next to 150, Beach Street (directly opposite 4Some’s work)
5. Antanas Dubra (Lithuania)
6. Elle (New York, US)
i) Jalan Bawasah
ii) Macallum Street
7. Don John (Denmark)
261, Beach Street
8. Kenji Chai (Malaysia)
i) U Hotel, 676, Jalan Sungai Dua
ii) China House courtyard, Victoria Street
9. Mr Toll (Australia)
Tropical Spice Garden, Teluk Bahang
10. SKL0 (Singapore)
Corner of Nagore Road and Hutton Lane
11. TankPetrol (United Kingdom)
113, Lebuh Presgrave
12. Vexta (Australia)
i) Nagore Road
ii) Chulia Mansion, Chulia Street
13. Ernest Zacharevic (Lithuania)
Botanica CT Club House, 156, Jalan Air Sungai Putih, Balik Pulau