Finding artistic joy in Penang

  • Nation
  • Friday, 06 Nov 2015

GEORGE TOWN: Hailing from frigid Siberian climes, Russian artist Julia Volchkova is now li­­ving her dream in the tropical paradise that is Penang.

The 28-year-old, who painted the popular Indian Boatman and Little Boy murals in Stewart Lane and Sia Boey here, is back in town exploring ideas for more works.

The unique contrast between old and new, man-made and ­natural, that is prevalent throughout this Unesco World Heritage listed city provides her a rich source of inspiration.

“I’m also amazed by the multiracial community here who live side by side in harmony,” she said through interpreter and friend Alla Mansour.

Born and raised in the city of Nizhnevartovsk, the centre of the West Siberian oil-producing region, she remembers being interested in art as young as six.

Her supportive parents sent her to art school and she never looked back.

She regularly won competitions in her hometown, including one that came with a scholarship for her to pursue a degree in art and design at the Nizhnevartovsk State Art University.

“During that time, I did two big murals which generated much attention. Suddenly I woke up and became popular. Many TV stations and newspapers approached me for interviews,” she recalled.

After graduating, she lived in St Petersburg for a while and later participated in an art festival in Ukraine where she painted her largest mural to date – a giant four-storey portrait.

Soon, she was getting invitations to paint from all over the world, including one from a businessman who was looking to invest in Penang.

“It was a dream come true as since young, I’ve wanted to live somewhere warm and sunny,” she said of her first visit in 2014 which lasted three months and resulted in her two prominent works here.

Volchkova had many different ideas for her first mural of the boatman. She researched local history and even visited the Penang museum.

“The Indian community is an integral part of Penang. Up to that point, there weren’t many murals featuring an Indian man, so I went with that. It also matched the area’s history,” she said of the mural which took 10 days to complete.

A while later, when she was exploring the Sia Boey area, she saw a wall behind a row of pre-war houses, and immediately started imagining what she could paint on it.

“I had a Russian photographer friend who was travelling through Asia. Looking through his shots, there was one of a boy in rural Indonesia that struck me,” Volchkova said of her ­second piece, finished in just two days.

She is now looking to start her third mural of an Indian lady inside a hotel off Acheh Street and, after that, hopes to find a suitable wall for a large-scale work.

“Penang is more laidback and people take the time to appre­ciate the beauty around them. I love it here and would like to stay as long as I could. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t leave,” she added.

Those interested in collaborations may reach her at 019-601 2671, follow her Facebook page at or Instagram at Volchkovaart.

However, as she does not speak much English at the moment, she requested that any message people intend to send to her be translated into Russian using simple online translators.

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