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Friday June 1, 2012

Couple keep art alive by producing intricate pieces

COPPER tooling art pieces which were sought-after decorative items back in the 80s are fast becoming a rarity these days.

Only a handful of enthusiasts are still producing these pieces due to the high level of dexterity and intricacy involved.

Art enthusiast P. Balakrishnan, 60, has been involved in the business for the last 30 years.

For the first 10 years, he was an agent who sold the art pieces for a copper tooling manufacturing firm in Penang.

Delicate work: Balakrishnan carving a piece at his home while daughter Teeneshwari helps out in the background.

He said his passion for copper tooling art drove him and his wife S. Pusphavathi, 53, to start producing their own pieces under her company Puspha Handicraft after the firm moved to Kuala Lumpur.

“We were at a loss when the firm suddenly moved to Kuala Lumpur as regular customers kept asking for more copper tooling pieces.

“So we slowly picked up the trade through trial and error,” he said when interviewed at his house in Taman Bandaraya, Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

The retired Penang Water Supply Corporation Sdn Bhd audit clerk said that while he was involved in the business on a part-time basis, his wife ran the show with a few assistants.

He said his daughters Teenesh-wari, 27, and Sugneeswari, 23, who are now IT engineers based in Cyberjaya, still helped them out by painting the background on some of the copper tooling pieces when they returned home on the weekends.

Balakrishnan said they had sold a few thousand copper tooling pieces, adding that some of their masterpieces had reached Australia, India, Japan, North Korea, Mauritius, Nepal and Singapore.

“A woman once ordered about 80 copper tooling pieces from me to be shipped to restaurants in Norway,” he said.

He added that he usually displayed his pieces at a stall during the annual Thaipusam celebration in Waterfall Road.

Balakrishnan said customers could choose from a catalogue of over 60 pictures.

They show, among other things, village scenery, flowers, birds and fishes, Hindu deities from the Bhagavad Gita as well as Chinese and Christian-themed images.

He said he also custom made pieces based on pictures supplied by customers at no extra charge as a “learning experience.”

He said his copper tooling pieces were priced according to size, irrespective of how intricate the design was.

Prices range from RM100 to RM2,000.

“It gives me great satisfaction when my customers appreciate my work.

“This is because each of my art piece is meant to last a lifetime as they have been polished and coated with chemicals that will not cause the copper to rust or turn black,” Balakrishnan said.

A copper piece showing birds on a tree.

He said he used two 10cm-long pushing sticks to stretch out selected parts of the pictures that were earlier traced onto plain sheets of copper to give them a three-dimensional effect.

He said the hollow part behind the images were later filled with white cement putty before the entire copper sheet was mounted onto plywood.

Next is the polishing of the art pieces followed by the painting of the images using permanent colour ink pens and paint, and the gluing of some sequins.

“One of the most delicate parts of the process is the painting of faces on the pictures because a slight mistake may end up ruining the entire art piece.

“So we usually paint the faces when we are feeling peaceful and calm,” Balakrishnan said.

He said he usually took about three days to prepare the smaller pieces while the big ones could take up to two weeks.

Balakrishnan can be reached at 012-5145879/04-5395304 or by email to sugueshbala@hotmail.com.

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