The Day Dream joint exhibition by James Street and Wong Lileng is currently on in Penang.
The lorry pulled away from the driveway in a cloud of dust, and the little dog chased after it. This was goodbye for good – the family was moving to another town, another country.
Decades later, Brownie the dog is immortalised in clay by Wong Lileng, who still remembers bidding her dog farewell more than four decades ago.
“It was a really sad day for us, I was only three or four, but I still vaguely remember Brownie chasing after us as we drove away in our lorry. Till today, my mum, who is 79, still talks about Brownie,” she shares in a phone interview from Penang, where Day Dream, joint exhibition with fellow artist James Seet, is being held.
The artist – who usually goes by her first name Lileng – says Brownie Comes Home is one of her 10 works at the exhibition that resonates the most strongly with her, as it is crafted in memory of the dog she left behind in Brunei when the family moved to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
The youngest of three siblings, Lileng, who is a graphic designer by profession, now divides her time between Malaysia and the Netherlands.
Introduced to pottery at a young age, she first experienced firing clay bricks with her father, who worked in a factory producing red bricks.
She came to Kuala Lumpur to pursue her studies in graphic design, and after graduating worked in advertising. It paid the bills and there was enough left over to support her passion: “I took up Ceramics in KLCA School of Art under Mr Cheah Yeow Seng. That was 17 or 18 years ago.”
Her clay works have a youthful and carefree feel to them – a little girl with her puppy, curious rabbits in clothes looking like they just stepped out from a story book, orange carrots and red flowers.
Born in Kuantan, but raised in Kota Kinabalu and Brunei, the artist fondly recalls the days long past where the family home was filled with pets.
“Those days we had over 20 rabbits, turtles, birds, monkeys, ducks, chickens and many dogs. We rescued baby bats that fell from the ceiling and caught fishes from the drains and jellyfish from the sea,” she says.
“My brother and I once rescued and tended to a slow loris from the wild and we even had two sang kancils (mousedeers).” The works created for Day Dream represent events that she remembers from her childhood days.
No surprise then when she describes this as “years filled with carefree magical wonderment, travels, nature and animals.”
Now, she does “pottery full-time, and graphic design full-time”.
“The words of art are always in me, and clay is all about fun. I’m 47 and I still think of playing!” she laughs.
Seet, the other artist involved in Day Dream, might not have grown up with dozens of animals as part of the family, but that didn’t faze him in the least. He simple made his own with modelling clay.
“Plasticine was my fun thing when I was young, I remember making a zoo full of animals with ease,” he says.
He moved on to air-dry paper clay when he was a little older, but found it lacking that it didn’t have the ‘ping’ sound that comes from clay that is fired.
So he learned the tricks of the trade from a local potter, and an opportunity to attend a ceramic convention in Australia put him in touch with foreign potters. There was no looking back from then on.
“Clay is my canvas and painting. The process of understanding the clay to firing makes it intriguing, you never know what you are going to get till it’s fired,” says the 44-year-old, who has 12 works at this exhibition.
It can get pretty complex behind the scenes.
To get one piece to work, Seet shares that it’s important to “know the science of chemistry, the science of operating a kiln, and have a good sense of space.”
“Sometimes, you have to experiment several times to get the desired result. But I like it also because chemistry is one of my favourite subjects. I find it fascinating to unload my thoughts straight into my clay sculptures.”
His two most recent works both began with ceramics on canvas: Canadian Muse was created during a guest artist-in-residence programme in Canada, and Stereotypes was made here.
An art director in the advertising industry by day, Seet shares that he keeps crazy hours at work.
“But I am crazier,” he jokes.
“Advertising is about doing what the clients like. Making ceramics sculptures is about doing what I like. It’s all about time management, so I make the sculptures after working hours and weekends.”
He describes it as “technically living two lives, with one paying for the other.”
“I live in a topsy-turvy world. One of my series is based on the theme which whimsically takes the form of a playing top. That’s how I spin my time.”
>> Day Dream is on at China House (153 & 155 Beach Street and 183B Victoria Street, Penang) till April 20. The gallery is open from 9am to 11pm daily. Visit www.chinahouse.com.my or call 04-263 7299 for more information.