It might be almost 10 years since artist Geraldine Pinto was last back in Malaysia, but that has not stopped her from embracing the spirit of Malaysia Baru.
Pinto, a military child who grew up all over Malaysia, recently showcased her series Memories Of Home at the Church Lane Gallery in Banbury, England, just a casual 35 minute drive from Oxford in England.
This collection, Pinto’s first featuring Malaysia, consisted of 20 watercolour paintings and accompanying prints.
Among the more recognisable Malaysian elements were the joget dancer, rubber tappers, fishermen on their boats, paddy fields and hawker food stall scenes.
“The opening of the show on Aug 31 wasn’t planned in the least. It happened by pure chance which I took as a good omen how fortuitous was that?” says Pinto in a recent interview.
The 51-year-old artist explained that she was originally scheduled to showcase her work in June but was busy working on a different collection for a local arts festival. By the time she had found someone to swap with, Pinto already decided on what she was going to paint. As such, the fact that she had decided to create her pieces inspired by Malaysia in time for Merdeka was serendipitous.
“The journey for my September showcase all happened by accident. I did not have a clue as to what I would paint (but) then a Eureka moment occurred – why don’t I show visitors the beauty and magic that is Malaysia through my paintings?” she adds.
As the launch date neared and Pinto realised the coincidence, she decided to use that unique opportunity to spread the Merdeka spirit in Britain by accompanying each painting with a Jalur Gemilang.
“Everyone thought it was such a lovely gesture to be patriotic. I marked the occasion by heavily promoting not only my showcase but highlighting that it was Merdeka Day too on all social media platforms,” explains Pinto.
To mark the occasion at home, she cooked nasi lemak on the day of the launch. Typical of a Malaysian, Pinto has used food to help keep her connection to her home country since she left for Britain in 1998.
After all this time, she still considers herself a Malaysian artist, having spent her formative years growing up and being educated there.
Pinto went to Assunta Convent School (in Petaling Jaya) for Form One after living in various parts of the country – including Alor Setar and Kuantan – tagging along with her father who worked for the Royal Malaysian Air Force. She later attended art college, and graduate in interior design (Malaysian Institute of Art in KL).
“I had wanted to study fine arts but my dad said that I would not be able to sustain myself from being an artist so he enrolled me ... to study interior design instead,” she recalls.
This training as a graphic and interior designer helped her make the transition to creating artworks. In her most recent collection, she reverted to her illustrator background by choosing to use ink and watercolours.
At the Memories Of Home collection, a work was called Beca Biru was a highlight, having sold out the original painting and the available print copies. Her other favourite Wau Bulan gave her a chance to experiment with a bigger canvas.
“It was my first large piece to paint and to me it epitomises all that is Malaysia – a man flying the kite, the wau being a traditional sport and one of our national symbols, the batik sarong that he is wearing and the seaside,” she elaborates.
On the other hand, a series of six small paintings called Rumah Kampung emphasised her attention to detail.
That Pinto has produced so many pieces of art this year is attributed to the fact that she left her job as a retail manager at a charity store late last year to become a full-time artist. This has allowed her to start experimenting more with her work, leading to her starting to work with vintage and repurposed material in response to her belief in recycling and upcycling.
This year, she has also been painting on vintage 1930s handmade watercolour paper for her large pieces.
For the Musical Expressions collection she created for the recent Banbury Arts Fest, Pinto used vintage music sheets. “Some of the music sheets were passed on to me by my mother-in-law who is a piano teacher, and the rest were found in charity shops,” she says.
She is also looking to build 3D artworks. Last year, Pinto took a course on how to use Powertex, which she describes as “a liquid substance where cotton or natural fibres or fabric are soaked in then wrung out to form shapes or to be wrapped around various objects”. Within a couple of hours, the fabric will harden allowing artists to paint on it using powdered paints.
“This new technique opened up another art form for me,” she mentions.
These days, Pinto is keeping busy painting works she has been commissioned to do. The Malaysian paintings too have proven very popular among Malaysians who now live abroad. Since her showcase, many people, including her fellow former Assuntarians, have asked for more Malaysian-themed pieces which she says will keep her busy for the rest of the year.
“I want to paint something to reflect Malaysia’s new beginning. A change has come about and we should all unite to celebrate this.”
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