GEORGE TOWN, Jan 16 — A general air of neglect hangs around the 1940s Art Deco style building with its walls of peeling paint and overgrown shrubbery.
There was a time though when this building in the heart of George Town used to be a meeting point for commuters waiting for their bus.
But today, art works and murals decorate its crumbling walls.
The old Hin Bus Depot has been given a new lease of life, not by way of extensive restoration, but by being the perfect canvas for a street artist like Ernest Zacharevic.
Portions of the walls have crumbled due to years of neglect, some of the roof is also gone, leaving exposed wooden beams and the formerly yellow paint is peeling, exposing different layers underneath, some down to the bare red bricks that form the walls.
Instead of seeing rubbish, decay or ruin, Zacharevic’s inaugural solo exhibition turns what would have been repulsive into something fascinating and artistic.
His exhibition, accurately themed “Art is rubbish/rubbish is art”, focuses on finding beauty in unexpected places and consists of a mixture of wall murals and art works using recycled materials.
The old Hin Bus depot along Gurdwara Road, formerly known as Brick Kiln Road, stood abandoned and vacant for many years ever since Hin Bus Company stopped operations sometime in the 1990s.
According to Lum Choon & Co Sdn Bhd managing director Tan Shih Thoe, when they first acquired the building five years ago, it was in a very bad state.
Fortunately, the company, which is also the main distributor of Murabond Paints, decided to show Zacharevic the space and this is where the idea to turn it into an art exhibition space came about.
“We were fascinated with the unique architecture of the structure when we bought it so we do have a rough idea of using it for something artistic,” Tan said.
He added that when he first showed the place to Zacharevic, the 27-year-old street artist famed for his whimsical murals all over George Town was excited by the possibilities of using the space as an art exhibition centre.
“We saw rubbish and ruins but he saw potential and this is how the idea for him to use this space for his solo exhibition came about,” Tan shared.
Now, the space has been spruced up with minimal restoration like repair to parts of the roof, the floor, plumbing and electrical works for safety purposes.
Zacharevic’s solo exhibition at the old bus depot featuring about 23 art works kicks off tomorrow and will end by February 14.
After February 14, the wall murals will remain while all the moveable art pieces will either be sold or become part of a permanent exhibit at a gallery in the E & O Hotel.
Lum Choon & Co has decided to let the space, covering 20,000 sq feet, be a permanent art exhibition centre.
“We are letting Zacharevic and his publicist Gabija Grusaite manage this space as an art exhibition centre,” Tan said.
Zacharevic and Grusaite had submitted a proposal to the Penang state government for financial and administrative support on managing the space as an art exhibition centre.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who visitied the site today, said the old bus depot is a good spot to be turned into a meeting point for artists especially when it is located in the very heart of George Town.
“This is a wonderful idea and I have just received the proposal so we will be discussing it soon,” he said.
As for the artist, his idea is not to hog the large space to himself but to open it to artists from all over the world to express their creativity.
He added that since his wall murals will remain at the site, other artists may also paint over or add on to his murals according to their own creativity.
Zacharevic is having another exhibition, showcasing oil paintings of Penang, sketches and offset prints, at the E & O Hotel’s Victory Annexe from January 20 onwards up to mid-April.