RENOWNED Malaysian artist Khoo Sui Hoe is celebrating his 80th birthday with a solo exhibition at Daiichi Art Space in George Town, Penang.
Themed “Faces”, the show features 45 small oil paintings depicting stylised figures with various expressions, done from 1995 up to the present day.
“I paint human figures with backdrops of nature. I invite sun, moon, star, cloud and horizon to enter my painted world. Such backdrops also evolve to become specific landscape pieces.
“I am aware of where I was born, how I was brought up and the land of this region, ” noted Khoo, a native of Baling, Kedah.
He has lived in the United States since 1982, and is currently based in Jacksonville in the southern state of Arkansas. Never forgetting his roots, he returns to Malaysia often.
Many family members accompanied him on this latest trip, ensuring that the recent exhibition launch doubled up as a joyful, early birthday celebration.
Khoo, who turned 80 on July 29, said he had never forgotten his duty as an artist. Schedule permitting, he gets up at the crack of dawn to paint.
Having done over 50 solo shows, the graduate of Singapore’s Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts said this was the first one dedicated to small-scale works.
“They were lots of fun to paint. At some points, I was painting three or four pieces together. Not needing an easel, I painted on the floor.
“These mean a lot to me as they are records of my spontaneity. The faces focus mainly on the indigenous peoples of this region, where I was born and brought up. They are the people I know.
“I’m also happy that everyone is here today, ” said the artist, shortly before blowing out the candles on a large birthday cake.
Khoo received a John D Rocke-feller III Fund grant to study Contemporary Art in the US in 1974.
Besides his adopted home, he has also exhibited in Australia, India, Japan, China and the UK.
He has works in the collections of many prestigious institutions, and awards include a First Prize in Oil in the Malaysian Art & Craft Competition in Kuala Lumpur in 1965, and an Honourable Mention in the Salon Malaysia Art Competition in 1969.
He was honoured with a retrospective show by Penang State Art Gallery in 2007, and another at the Wisma Kebudayaan SGM in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.
Guests at the launch were generous in their praise of Khoo.
Current Penang State Art Gallery chairman Lee Khai cites Khoo as Malaysia’s pre-eminent artist.
“The two most influential people in nurturing my love for art are my late father Lee Chek Kong, who was a visionary educator, and uncle Khoo Sui Hoe.
“My parents knew him while they were at a teachers’ college in the 1950s. Uncle Sui Hoe was a close family friend and knew me since birth. I grew up surrounded by his paintings and even had the privilege of spending many childhood days in his studio watching him paint, ” Lee recalled.
Veteran artist Datuk Tang Hon Yin, who also had stints as state gallery chairman, described Khoo as an inspiration not only in Malaysia, but also across the world.
“He has been an international artist long before people here spoke about international artists. Whatever he paints never fails to fascinate viewers, ” Tang added.
Also present was Daiichi founder Datuk Tai Keik Hock.
The exhibition continues until Aug 25. Viewing hours are 1pm to 6pm daily, except Mondays.
Khoo will also present an Art Talk at the gallery at 2.30pm on Aug 18.
For details, call 016-418 8967 (Vincent Tai).