Malaysian artist paints an intensely flavoured series on food and memory


By AGENCY

A new work titled 'Cerulean Blue' (oil on canvas, 2021) from Lui's 'Colour Of Taste' exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Pinkguy Gallery

Visual artist Lui Cheng Thak picked a mouth-watering theme for his first online art exhibition.

He wanted to capture that feel of excitement and discovery when people hop from stall to stall, sampling street food, both sweet and savoury, that have stood the test of time and remained firm favourites among the young and old.

In Colour Of Taste, he decided to illustrate his love of hawker food with a series of incredibly detailed sketches and paintings.

On canvas, Lui offers a tour of his favourite food haunts around the Klang Valley.

Lui's 'Yellow Green' (oil on canvas, 2021). Photo: Pinkguy GalleryLui's 'Yellow Green' (oil on canvas, 2021). Photo: Pinkguy Gallery

"When I walk around the streets of a city, there is 'taste' that is unchanged among things that are overlooked by most of us. During the pandemic, many people miss dining in and travelling interstate for food hunts. Some homesick Malaysians who are stranded overseas miss the taste of authentic street food too. So I use colours to record the varieties of cuisine, feelings to describe time, lines to evoke appetite and taste. All these are used to describe the memory of taste," says Lui, 54.

Known for his paintings of historical buildings, culture and heritage, the Negri Sembilan-born artist plays with the colours of street food in his 11th solo exhibition, Colour Of Taste, at Kuala Lumpur-based Pinkguy Gallery.

It features a series of 12 oil on linen works, which can be viewed here.

Lui's 'Cobalt Violet' (oil on canvas, 2021). Photo: Pinkguy GalleryLui's 'Cobalt Violet' (oil on canvas, 2021). Photo: Pinkguy Gallery

"There are 12 different scenes of 'taste' here, with each painting named after colours such as Blue, Turquoise, Yellow Ochre and Cobalt Violet. These paintings capture our favourite Malaysian street food: claypot chicken rice, bak kut teh, char kuey teow, lemang, nasi lemak and many more," he says.

What is special about these paintings is that they have different visual effects depending on the lighting.

"Some people think I just paint heritage buildings, scenes and people but that’s not it; the important thing is I am painting time, taste and feel. I use the contrast of colours and light because, for me, the atmosphere of a painting depends on the feeling and the taste, just like how the light and shadows on paintings have different effects. So although the painting is the same, the meanings are abstract as it changes as seen at different times by different people,” he says.

Lui's solo exhibition 'Colour Of Taste' captures the essence of local street food sights and sounds. Photo: Pinkguy GalleryLui's solo exhibition 'Colour Of Taste' captures the essence of local street food sights and sounds. Photo: Pinkguy Gallery

Lui shares that the idea for this series came about at the end of 2020 when the country was dealing with movement control order (MCO) restrictions, a muddle of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and a spike in Covid-19 cases.

"As a photography enthusiast, I captured the scenes using my camera while taking away food or walking amid the food stalls. Then I sketched and painted using my colours and other elements to describe my feeling and taste for each of the cuisine and street food," he says.

He describes Malaysian food as intriguing, a melting pot of flavours, ingredients and techniques.

"There are Chinese and Indian influences as well as Malay, and it can be confusing, at least initially. That is what makes Malaysia unique; not only its culture and heritage but also its multi-ethnic cuisine that is known to people across the globe. That's how I express my love towards Malaysian food through paintings," he says.

'As a photography enthusiast, I captured the scenes using my camera while taking away food or walking amid the food stalls,' says Lui. Photo: Pinkguy Gallery'As a photography enthusiast, I captured the scenes using my camera while taking away food or walking amid the food stalls,' says Lui. Photo: Pinkguy Gallery

Lui's artistic journey started in 1987 when he pursued his diploma in art and design at the Kuala Lumpur College of Art.

His artworks mainly focus on architecture buildings from historical states like Penang, Melaka as well as Kuala Lumpur, which highlight the need to preserve historical landscapes in the midst of a rapidly urbanising city.

He often spends about two to three weeks working on each painting.

"For example when I draw buildings, I need to know the history behind the building such as when it was built and what its function was. In visiting these heritage buildings, I get to discover their beauty and add some of my own element in my artwork," he adds.

The online exhibition, which also marks Lui's latest attempt in creating smaller art pieces, will run till Sept 29. – Bernama

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