Artist Lina Tan on satay, the ‘roti man’ and erotic Nyonyas

Lina Tan dreams to become a known artist where people like and buy her work. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
Lina Tan dreams to become a known artist where people like and buy her work. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 — You may have not heard of Lina Tan but this promising graphic design graduate is an artist to watch in the KL art scene. The 34-year-old Sabahan is currently working as a shop assistant at Arcadia, an antique shop in Publika. 

But since February 2015, she has been designing digital print art and painting for Dumpster, which is run by her former boss Mohd Romaizie Mustapha who is better known as Rom. 

Established last year at Publika’s Art Row, Dumpster is an art gallery that sells prints and paintings rich in Malaysian culture and history. Dumpster was started by Rom because he believes that the “saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” 

Rom searches for “wasted talents” who can contribute to the cultural art movement. He was part of Outdated, now known as Arcadia, before this. Now at Dumpster, he guides artists like Tan and Kide Baharudin to uncover their hidden talents, bringing out their creative best. 

“I graduated from Saito College with a graphic design degree in 2011. I was always interested in art... I started before going to kindergarten. You can say that I was self-taught. I prefer to do illustrations,” said Tan. 

Nasi Lemak by Lina Tan from the Beratur series.
Nasi Lemak by Lina Tan from the Beratur series.

When she started creating art at Dumpster, she did a print depicting the KL city scene with a ‘roti man’ titled Core-Lumpo. Next, she worked on two artworks under the Beratur series titled Satay and Nasi Lemak where you can see cartoon-like characters queuing up for local delicacies at food stalls. 

Her current project involves painting pin-up Nyonya girls. She got the idea from pulp magazines with pin-up girl covers. “I wanted to incorporate our culture with the pin-up girls. I like this style because I think it is fun. I wanted to showcase Nyonya costumes and I feel that it has never been done in this style before,” said Tan. 

Rom has always encouraged his artists to make designs with Malaysian culture so Tan came up with the idea for the pin-up series herself. For the paintings which are acrylic on wood and canvas, she did eight designs. Within a week, she completed two designs. 

Pin-up Nyonya girls series which is inspired by Malaysian culture.
Pin-up Nyonya girls series which is inspired by Malaysian culture.

The paintings are smaller than A4 size and can be bought in a set or individually. Currently she is preparing for an art exhibition organised by Dumpster that will be held later this month.

Her current artist inspiration is Australian comic artist Ashley Wood who is also known for his paintings. “I like Ashley Wood’s style because it is not realistic and it’s like cartoons. It is an expressive style where his brush work is expressive and loose. It is not so detailed. I found out about him through the Internet,” said Tan. 

For her digital print work she is inspired by another artist called Josh Cochran who does the cartoon style as well. Although Tan graduated as a graphic designer, she has never worked full time as a graphic designer and all she does is freelance design work. Tan admits she cannot take the pressure of working as a graphic designer. Furthermore, she feels uncomfortable working in an office.

“I wanted to showcase Nyonya costumes and I feel that it has never been done in this style before,” said Tan.
“I wanted to showcase Nyonya costumes and I feel that it has never been done in this style before,” said Tan.

Tan worked at an art gallery before this. Her dream is to become a full-time artist some day. “Rom helped me a lot. Dumpster is the only place I know that I can start fulfilling my dream. He said that I should use my talent,” she said. 

The artistic young woman also has a passion for Malaysian culture to the extent that she likes to dress up in post-colonial era fashion. She also likes to understand the different languages of each state.

Her job as a shop assistant is flexible so she is able to explore her creativity, like designing T-shirts and tote bags. Currently Tan is also restoring a pinball machine by repainting it. “In the future I hope to sell a lot of paintings and I hope people will like my work,” said Tan. 

Lina Tan’s distinctive style can be seen in the series.
Lina Tan’s distinctive style can be seen in the series.

“My concept for Dumpster is to scout for undiscovered talent to recycle history and preserve the heritage and tradition of Malaysia,” said Rom who hopes to change the public’s perception of art. 

He searches everywhere for talented artists who are not yet popular or given an opportunity to showcase their talent. This could be due to the lack of understanding that art can be a professional career, financial constraints or even the absence of a mentor to guide them. 

Kide was a surprise find for Rom in Kuala Pilah. Since he joined Dumpster, Kide’s work has even been commissioned in Melbourne, Australia. Even though Rom has discovered many others, most of these artists have been unreliable or not keen to stay on, unlike Kide and Lina. 

Sketches of pin-up girls drawn by Lina Tan.
Sketches of pin-up girls drawn by Lina Tan.

“I gather wasted talent and help them make masterpieces. I hope to touch other people with our work. For me, this is a passion of mine. It is not money driven. You can see the difference when people do something for money or when they do it for passion.

“It is my responsibility to preserve the tradition of Malaysia and to help out these undiscovered talents. We need to preserve the identity of Malaysia so my grandson can know the roots of his culture. Malaysian art is a good revolution to stimulate awareness... but it is not easy,” said Rom.

For more information on Lina Tan, check out www.dumpster.my or visit the gallery at Dumpster, Lot 53, Level G2, Art Row, Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur

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