Artist derives inspiration from Penang’s rich culture and heritage

Old world charm: A 2001 piece by Ong Wah Pheng, depicting pre-war shophouses in George Town.

THOUGH Penang-born artist Ong Wah Pheng has travelled far and wide, he still finds his homeland the best source of inspiration.

From rural scenery to rustic villages and historic streets, there is no shortage of interesting subjects for the experienced hand to replicate on canvas with oil paints and water colours.

Done in impressionist style, his works capture the essence of a location.

He feels there is beauty in things around us, if one cares to look.

He believes that Penang's rich cultural heritage and colonial influence give rise to amazing scenes, and they are worth preserving for posterity.

“Art comes from the heart, and local subjects are what's close to mine,” he said at the opening of his latest solo exhibition recently.

Currently ongoing at The Art Room in Straits Quay Retail Marina, Penang, it features around 35 pieces done from the late 1980s to the present day.

Ong, who is now in his 60s and also dabbles with sculpting, sees his works as a visual record of people and places, for one never knows how long such scenes would last.

He pointed to one such piece from 2002 depicting fishing villages along the Tanjung Tokong waterfront, which was subsequently destroyed by the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.

Many others feature pre-war buildings in George Town, painted before the city's Unesco World Heritage listing, which look rather different today.

But his favourite among those on show, is a large painting showing an aerial view of the Batu Ferringhi — Teluk Bahang coastline, as seen from his high-rise dwelling.

“As I like to paint on the spot, many had asked how I carried such a large canvas to the site to paint, not knowing it's a view from my home,” he said.

Ong, a graduate of Chung Ling High School, who worked in factories and art studios before turning to art full-time, has participated in numerous exhibitions over the years.

He sees it as the fulfilment of a childhood dream, and has one piece of advice for budding artists eager to follow in his footsteps.

“An artist should not look at monetary returns, for one excels best when he or she has a passion that never dies, and strives to constantly improve themselves.”

He added that it was a privilege to be the first artist featured in The Art Room, a 928sq ft gallery created by the mall to provide a platform for artists to showcase their work.

Straits Quay marketing and communications executive May Lim said they wanted to promote the culture of art appreciation amongst locals.

“Besides that, it also gives visitors a taste of Penang's vibrant arts scene,” she said, adding that a different artist would be featured each month at the first floor space.

Ong's exhibition runs until May 28, and is open daily from 10.30am to 10.30pm. Admission is free.

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