Last Saturday, we went to Melaka to visit a local artist, Mr. Tham Swee Inn. It was an eye opening experience as we’ve never met a real life artist before, nor entering the abode of one.
The first thing that astonished me was Mr. Tham’s appearance. He has this disheveled look with his long grey hair (which was balding on top) and long white beard and moustache that seem to whip his lips every time he opens his mouth to speak. He wore those classic white shirts that Chinese octogenarians would wear as they hang at a coffee shop with one of their legs up on the stool. However, he had clear brown eyes that sparkle with life and every wrinkle that lined his face marks different experiences from his backpacking stint all over the world to get inspired.
He explained to us all about his work. Like any other artist, his style changes as time goes by. He told us to note the differences in his work, between 30 years ago and 5 years ago. When he was younger, he paid attention to every minute detail which came off stunningly beautiful. My favorite was his very detailed series of paintings when he was in Peru. As he grew older with experience, his eye for details slightly fails him as he now draws with less precision of the real thing, rather leaving it looking more abstract, yet still maintaining its beauty.
I am amazed by this old man and his talent. He drew buildings and ships, but not once he said, he used a ruler or any lining apparatus. You just can’t believe how precise his drawing and how straight the edges was. Plus, he doesn’t sketch with a pencil first. He straight away paints.
One thing we learned was how to look at a piece of art. Especially those huge abstract paintings that look like it was drawn by your 5 year old nephew. Apparently, the bigger the paintings are, the further you have to be to look at the painting. We soon huddled up as far as we could from his painting and finally see it. All these times, I thought those abstract paintings are random colours being mixed and swathed as an expression of a disturbed emotion. IT’S NOT. It is actually a scenery. I felt so thick and I guess the others felt similarly too. And another unique thing about these big abstracty paintings is that you have to stand at the centre of the painting and get your photo taken with the painting serving as a full backdrop in your photo. I became the ‘model’ to do this for one of the artist’s cloud scenery painting and yes, I looked like I’m standing behind blue clouds. It was so cool.
We soon got to find out that this artist is fabulously rich as massive companies buy his works like Bank Negara, MAS and Genting Highlands Bhd, to name a few. He even creates sculptures for skyscrapers in KL. The most interesting thing is, he doesn’t even look like a million dollars, nor does his humble abode. If you look at his house, you’d think he’s living off his monthly RM800 pension. He doesn’t have exquisite decorations, expensive marble tiling nor a flameless stove. He lives a perfectly moderate, simple and perhaps rustic life. I admire this quality of his the most as he manages to keep his feet grounded and does not rush to buy upgrades for his house every time thousands of dollars comes flowing to his bank account. An old buoy, a bathtub as a pond and simple marbles cemented on his garage is enough for him. Yes, being the artist that he is, he collects weird trinkets to be made as his house deco. Then again, we didn’t go to his room upstairs. For all we know, he probably has a 40” plasma TV, a Wii and a space rocket in his room.
All in all, it was a great experience and I’m really glad we made this trip. We get to see the life and works of a true artist, something that we don’t always get to do. I saw his backpacking photos, and I’m inspired to go backpacking someday, do things that I want to do, and just to get inspired.
Heck, I’ll probably dabble in painting and charge RM10k for each of my artistic work.