Thursday, September 18, 2014

A monsoon morning on Pulau Perhentian Kecil

I will never forget experiencing the onset of the monsoon while I was on Pulau Perhentian Kecil. The entire island was deserted as resorts had closed for business during this wet spell. But my friend who owns Mira Beach Resort made special arrangements for me to go to the island during the brief lull in the season.

On our third morning there, the weather suddenly changed rapidly right before my eyes. The clouds became a deep, dark blue while the blue-green sea churned strong waves towards the shore. In the distance, the colours of the sky bled into the sea and you could no longer discern the horizon line. It was an rare sight as the morning sea on the island is usually calm and still. This rapid change in weather is the kind of scene you only get when you are on an island at the onset of the monsoon.

I would have loved to continue my stay there, but due to dwindling food supplies, we had to return to the mainland. Perhaps one day, I will be able to be a Robinson Crusoe on Perhentian Kecil during the entire monsoon season and paint the big waves coming ashore!
This sketch was done quickly with water colour on a 7in x 10in 140lbs water colour paper. I used viridian green, cobalt, Prussian and cerulean blues, yellow ochre and Indian red. My Tengkujuh exhibition at Artelier Gallery in Publika, which ends tomorrow, displays the paintings and sketches of my 4-year experience of the monsoon season.
Originally published in the New Straits Times.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tengkujuh exhibition featured in My Tourism TV

My interview with My Tourism TV during the opening of my "Tengkujuh" exhibition on 27 August 2014.

See the news video here.

Zainal Abidin Musa and his Tengkujuh exhibition, featured in Harian Metro

Zainal was interviewed bySiti Salmiah A. Hamid of Harian Metro in this article "Sentuhan Seni Musim Tengkujuh" which appeared on 22 August, 2014.

Oleh Siti Salmiah A Hamid
Musim tengkujuh sering disalah erti sesetengah masyarakat sebagai musim yang tidak membawa rezeki atau musim musibah kerana anggapan skeptikal, serong dan tidak bersyukur di atas pemberian Allah.
Untuk menikmati sendiri pengalaman di musim tengkujuh, pelukis Zainal Abidin Musa sanggup menghabiskan masa sejak 2010 dengan berkunjung ke Pahang, Kelantan dan Terengganu. 
“Ia satu cabaran kepada diri sendiri untuk melukis dan merakamkan gambar ketika musim tengkujuh,” katanya. 

Musim tengkujuh adalah fenomena alam semula jadi, justeru bagi masyarakat pantai timur mereka sudah lali dengan fenomena itu.
LORETAN cat minyak dalam Tengkujuh: Nelayan Kuala Besut.

Zainal memulakan ekspedisi menyusuri pesisiran pantai sepanjang musim tengkujuh dari Kuala Lumpur ke pantai timur. Pengalaman tinggal di Batu Rakit dan di Pulau Perhentian Kecil selama tiga malam tidak dapat dilupakan.

Mengenai lukisan, dia gemar melakar secara bersahaja kerana teknik itu lebih menyatakan isi hati dan perasaan ketika musim tengkujuh. 

Jika sebelum ini dia gemar warna terang dan cerah, di pameran itu Zainal menggunakan warna lebih natural selain menampakkan formasi awan dan hujan. 

Berasal dari Batu Gajah, Perak, Zainal tidak mengehadkan kehalusan karyanya menerusi cat minyak malah sentuhan emosinya dinilai di atas kanvas yang dilakar menerusi cat air, akrilik dan pastel. 

Sentuhan pelukis kontemporari negara yang pakar dalam genre impresionis ini pasti tidak mengecewakan. 

Sebanyak 47 lukisan dihasilkan daripada pengalaman sepanjang empat tahun namun hanya 20 lukisan dipamerkan untuk pameran Tengkujuh itu. 

Pameran itu berlangsung sehingga 19 September ini.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Using the EC Lyons engraving tools

I was so excited to start using the engraving tools I purchased recently that I just primed a piece of wood and started laying down some lines -- just a simple drawing of plants from around the garden.

The tools are very sharp and easy to work with, reflecting the quality of the workmanship and steel, forged to perfection! 

On this particular piece of wood, which isn't so dense/hard, it was very easy to maneuver the tool around. Very little pressure is needed to guide the point around the lines I made earlier.

In the picture, you can see that I've made my first test print.

Monday, June 24, 2013

New toy: engraving tools for my printmaking

Finally, the engraving tools have arrived from New York. Cost me a pretty penny, as they say. Can't wait to get started on some new works. Printmaking sounds good right about now.

These were bought online from E.C. Lyons. The tools are great, but customer service was bad -- the goods were shipped out only a week after payment had been made. I don't know why the shop assistant was sitting on my order for so long.

If anyone knows where else to purchase engraving tools, please let me know.

Also on the same subject of tools, I was recently in Penang near Armenian Street hunting down an old Chinese engraving shop. Ena had said that he was one of the old surviving craftsman who did door signages the old-fashioned way -- by hand. 

I thought I could buy some tools off him. But when we got there, his shop assistant said that he had taken ill and was not coming in till later. 

Guess it wasn't my lucky day that time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sekaki: My Sculptures at Segaris

Yesterday, I went to the "Sekaki" exhibition organised by Segaris Art Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Three of my sculptures are there as part of the group exhibition that includes artists like Mad Anuar Ismail, Tajuddin Ismail, Tengku Sabri, Mastura Abdul Rahman, and Abdul Mansor Ibrahim.

The art gallery had invited ex-ITM students to take part in the exhibition some months before. The only brief given was that the submitted works should not exceed the size of one foot in height, width and length.

It was quite a challenge to work within the confines of the size.

Initially, I thought of sending a painting. But during that time when the invitation arrived, I was also playing around with some ideas on the wood that I was collecting at my studio. Finally, I decided that it would be nice to submit something different, i.e. my sculptures.

I had been collecting discarded timber found along rivers and roads for some years now. Whenever I saw some felled tree by the road side, my immediate instinct was to stop and lug them back to my house. But constraints in space (both in my car and at home) restricted me somewhat.

Though small, the collection of wood I have at my studio is sentimental to me -- each piece reminds me of a particular time and place, its origins and the stories surrounding its acquisition. They lie about at my studio just waiting to be transformed. It's not easy ignoring them! I feel like they are calling out to me to make something of them one day. Somehow their energy still leaks out of their dormant state, feeding my imagination, sparking ideas to reconstruct them into new forms.

Anyway, it was nice to meet some old friends again during the launch of the exhibition -- some I remember their names, some I don't, forgive me. Rafiee Ghani, Jai, Baha, Ramlan Abdullah, and my lecturer Rozaika Umar Basaree...these are some of the ones I remembered.

The three pieces submitted for "Sekaki" are Tweet, Mother and Child and Oink! They are "creatures" that represent characters found in current society.

The exhibition is currently on-going until 11 February at Segaris Art Centre, Publika Shopping Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, December 14, 2012

New Malaysian landscape paintings: Paintings of the monsoon season in Malaysia

Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about the Malaysian landscapes, and that I have a special love for the east coast of Malaysia. Having visited those places many times over the years, I was also curious to know how I would translate the monsoon atmosphere in the east coast on canvas.

Well, for the past several months, I have dedicated myself to painting the east coast monsoon season, specifically the landscapes of Terengganu, Pahang and Kelantan, the three east coast states of Malaysia.

The monsoon season usually arrives towards the end of the year and lasts till the beginning of the new year -- though lately, the seasonal changes are less predictable. It brings with it the rains, cool weather, and a sense of melancholy. At its worst, the monsoon season is a torrent of rain that floods unfortunate parts.

The changing of the season also brings about a change in the lifestyle of the people residing on the east coast. Fishermen stay home, the cuisine is different, but life carries on in a different way.

Over the course of several years, I made many trips to the east coast to document the changing season. Sometimes, I took photographs, sometimes I painted live, sometimes I just went there to visit friends and eat the fresh seafood there.

This year, I managed to complete several pieces of landscape paintings depicting the monsoon season in Malaysia. Some show the romantic sceneries, amid gathering clouds. There are scenes of idleness, daily vignettes, and lifestyles during this period.

I must say that I have enjoyed painting these landscapes of the east coast. Looking back at these paintings remind me of the adventures I had there and the wonderful people I was fortunate to meet.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A sculpture dedicated to Malaysia artist/sculptor, Tengku Sabri

Har...har...har, 53 in x 21 in x 14 in, Angsana wood

I have completed another piece of sculpture made of wood. The inspiration for it came from recent events involving my friend, the Malaysian artist and sculptor, Tengku Sabri.

Many things can be said about Tengku Sabri, or Pokku as he is fondly known. He is many things to many lover, artist, sculptor, art commentator, friend, father, husband. In some ways, his physical stature -- big built, bushy moustache, commanding voice -- contributes to the perception of a man who is larger than life!

Yet, behind this giant of a man is a gentle person whose great love is art.

His love for it is a fact of nature and nurture, for the man was born into a family of fine "artistocracy" who further pursued knowledge in the field in later years. All in all, his exposure to art in all its forms shaped his thoughts, beliefs and ideals on the matter. As when you love something so dearly, you cannot help but be sensitive about it – sometimes to the point that you become defensive and all-protective of it. And so it was with Tengku Sabri that he would be deeply distressed and affected by these matters of his heart, or art, in this case.

On one recent occasion, Tengku Sabri had written a Facebook note on his feelings about a survey by a group of Malaysian students entitled "Problems faced by the Fine Art students in selling their art works." The title itself probably had him flinching, what more the listed survey questions. It seemed that he felt the whole student exercise revealed something was/is seriously lacking in the education of art at our universities and about students' views of art and the role of the artist as a whole.

Subsequently, a reader, having read Tengku Sabri’s thoughts regarding the survey, left a comment below the note. The commenter felt that Tengku Sabri was making derisive remarks and mocking the young students' sincere efforts to learn, condescending them with his “har…har…hars” instead of guiding them in the right direction.

In less than two weeks from that first posting, Tengku Sabri wrote another entry in his Facebook, this time apologizing for the offending his readers with his opinion on the matter. He explained that for him, art was highly personal and could never be equated to a commercial value. The survey questions had greatly troubled him because it attempted to casually quantify and value the worth of something so immeasurable to him.

To me, those two Facebook notes by Tengku Sabri is the Tengku Sabri that I know. His love for art and what art is and what it should be is clearly defined in his mind. His ideals and views may be lofty to some, and they may take offense in the way he communicates his views and feelings, but it all springs from that one great love in his heart. His trademark “har…har…hars” are sometimes just Tengku Sabri chuckling in amusement, or snorting at the absurdity of things, or laughing in grief. There is never any malice, just super-heroic effort to protect what he loves.

To him, I dedicate this piece of woodwork.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Working with wood

In recent months, much of the studio floor space at Pohon Rimbun has been taken up by all kinds of wood -- angsana lah, rambai lah, and other wood types we have yet to identify (I think we can get this done at the Malaysia Timber Board...nantilah...). Oh, and the floor is literally littered with wood shavings, too!

The reason for all this mess -- or shall I say, creative mess -- is that I have embarked on a new project doing wood sculptures.

The outcome? Perhaps we shall see the full outcome by next year. All I can say for now is that I have completed 3 wooden sculptures which look pretty amazing, whimsical and a touch lewd, too, if I may add!

Well, hope the creative process runs smoothly for me...will keep things posted soon!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Printmaking workshop with the Bingley family

Another outdated post, but one I feel that should have its place here.

During one of Bingley's visits to the studio/gallery, we did something a little different with his two children, Imen and Iza. While Bingley toured the gallery space (which was exhibited with Tengku Sabri's drawings and wood sculptures), the children had their first experience of a printmaking workshop.

During my ITM days, I had actually majored in printmaking. It's actually a form of art that requires great patience, discipline, technical knowledge, forethought and the ability to imagine in a "reverse" way. Printmaking is a great mental exercise that challenges your set perspectives and the way you view things! Also, doing woodcut prints is a very tactile form of art -- from the sketching, the carving, application of colour and the final imprint of wood onto paper -- something that I truly enjoy. One can be totally immersed in the process of printmaking, oblivious to current surroundings!

That afternoon, Imen and Iza worked with wood; first, making the image selection, then sketching it out with pencil on a piece of wood block. After that, they used the carving tools to scrape away on the wood, creating various interesting textures. Finally, the ink was applied and the image was transferred onto paper. The two of them never had any experience in printmaking previously, but the results were pretty amazing!

Awie also did a spontaneous print of the two children hard at work. Awie has been polishing up his skills in printmaking and is enjoying this art form immensely!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Life in a time of monsoon

The 25-year old wreck made of cengal

29 November 2010.

Going around Kuala Besut has led me to meetings with really fascinating people. This time, I met a man named Pak Eden. He goes around looking for old, abandoned boats, repairs them and sells them. He prepared five boats for U-Wei's latest movie, Hanyut. He offered to do up a small boat for me, an 25-year old wreck...but a beautiful wreck nonetheless, made of kayu cengal. I might take him up on that offer...who knows it will soon be displayed at my studio!

Later that afternoon we bade goodbye to Lan and Long and headed south to Batu Rakit where Awie's parents and his kids live. We stopped at Penarik, revisiting old haunts and did some waterclolours and pastels. Just some small sketches.

Painting the monsoon has taught me new lessons. I can't look at the landscape like i used to when I was doing the sunrise and sunset. The colours are not the usual.

Sometimes it's wet, no sun. Then, in some cases, like in penarik, it's bright and sunny and you get the colours and contrast and clear forms. I have to do something to show how different the light, colour and ambience are during this monsoon period. Maybe I will show this through the subject matter. I'm not sure yet. For now, I will just go along, observing and painting what I know -- the coconut leaves, the wind, the sounds, the morning activities, the sunrise, the food, the people...There's just too many places and things going on. I'm glad to have my camera to record all these as reference.

By the time we reached Batu Rakit, it was already dark. Awie's daugther is so pretty, she's about Musa's age. But his son, Saiful, is already in Sepang for his berkhatan with his cousin.

In front of Awie's house there stands a pokok rambai which is estimated to be more than 70 years old. In a few days' time, the village people are planning to cut it down. Great, timber for my sculpture! I'm making arrangements for someone to cut the pieces up and with the help of Awie's brother-in-law, we plan to take these back by lorry.

That night, we managed to get Ikan Lembat Salai, a delicacy here in Batu Rakit Darat. It's a seasonal fish, netted among the marshland only during the monsoon season when it's too rough to go out to sea. It's smoked to bring out the great flavours. That's for lunch tomorrow!

We woke up early next day and headed to the Batu Rakit beach to catch the sunrise. This time of the year, you get to see many fishing boats lined up next to each other on the sand -- a holiday for them and their owners. Still, if the weather permits, the brave ones go out to sea.

One of the last remaining British forts built during WW2.
And in the background, our trusty wheels!

The sunrise was cloudy and tiny drops were descending from the sky. You can't really see them but you feel the gentle rain on your skin. It's so cold and grey, and suddenly, the sun appeared! That's how it is here...the weather catches you by surprise and you never know what to expect from one minute to the next.

The locals here are forever grateful for any little bit of sunshine they can get during this period. At least, the clothes will dry. Funny, though, whether it drizzles or rain, you don't see anyone here carrying an umbrella. Nobody minds getting a little wet!

We later visited the famous Pasar Payang and got a batik shirt for a friend and a kain sampin for myself. After that, we went to Merang to do some sketching. The mood there is simply beautiful, especially the sunset during this tengkujuh time.

More photos here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Besut to Bachok

Pok Seng

After our harrowing journey from Pulau Perhentian Kecil, we made our base in Kuala Besut for a couple of days.

At the jetty, I took some photos of the place -- fishermen were repairing nets, some were just lepaking, the boats were bobbing quietly against each other...

One particular man caught my eye. An old Chinese fellow, probably in his 80s. As he walked around the area, it seemed like everybody knew him. I found out that he was an anak jati terengganu, having spent some time in batu rakit since 1947 and later moved to Kuala Besut in 1949. He works repairing boats and engines. His name was Pok Seng, and, boy, could he tell stories of Kuala Besut -- its history, the events that happened here.

According to him, in those days, there were no fancy technologies for fishermen to depend on. They only had their skills and simple observations of nature to rely on. Before going out to sea, they would literally "read" the signs in the air and the water. For example, the presence of many dragonflies foretold of the coming monsoon. Or counting the number of waves would reveal the exact moment to cut through the water to get to the rivermouth. And looking or putting their ears to the surface of the waters would enable them to identify what fish lay beneath.

He was quite a character!

An Abdullah Badawi lookalike

At noon, we had nasi kampung with ayam kampung goreng and the ulam-ulam that we brought with us. The day before, we had gulai itek, ikan keli masak lemak, ikan singgam, ikan tawar, budu ikan perkasam and lots of ulam. Delicious!After lunch I went to Tok Bali and to my surprise I saw the signboard to Bachok and Melawi. I didn't realise how close Bachok was to Kuala Besut. I used to live in Jelawat, Bachok, many years back in 1975 when I was in my mid-teens, with my eldest sister who was teaching in one of the schools there.

Monsoon in Melawi

So I re-visited the house we used to stay in and the beaches of Bachok, Pantai Irama. It has chaged so much. Pantai Irama used to be so clean and quiet -- I would go there almost every week. I realise now why I like to paint scenes of the beach and the sea. It has got something to do with my past experience there. Oh, but now, the beach is so dirty.

One of the specialities in Tok Bali is the pulut with ikan tawar (grilled ikan selayang). Very nice, but not good for me!

Boats at Tok Bali

More pictures here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Caught in the monsoon!

The brewing storm

"Jangan lalai!"

Those were Lan's last words of caution before we all jumped into the tiny boat in the drizzling rain, pushing off the shore for the mainland. He meant it for Long, the boat driver.

They've made the journey together countless times, from Perhentian Kecil Island to Kuala Besut jetty, a trip that, in good weather, usually took only about 30 minutes. But this time, with the winds threatening to blow again, and the rain picking up, we weren't even sure if we'd reach the mainland in one piece. The monsoon had claimed many lives before this.

One quick prayer, and with my trust in Long, we shot straight into the dreadful, brewing weather.

Our tiny boat

Lan and I sat in front, while Awi took the middle row. Long, navigating from the back, had earlier warned us not to panic and, no matter what, to be quiet, he would handle the boat.

I was thinking of my wife and kids the entire way, and what I was going to hold on to should we capsize! Lan, as though reading my mind, whispered, "If anything happens, just hold on to the boat."
Mid-way, we encountered huge waves that just kept hitting hard on the boat, non-stop. Then one particularly monster wave rolled up and almost overturned the boat! I could see Lan's face. We were all scared. Then Lan switched places with Awie; he took a piece of rope and tied it to a petrol container. I knew that he was preparing something for us to grab on to should the boat capsize.

The ride was rough but Long was a fine driver. His skill was once again tested as we approached the river mouth of Kuala Besut. The waves and current at the breakwater were extremely strong, pushing the boat backwards. There were two big fishing boats there as well, both struggling as much as we were.

We could actually see the jetty and knew that if we could just pass through this part of the water and enter the river mouth, we would be home free. But the choppy waters kept throwing our boat back and forth, left and right.We looked at each other's pale faces. I could only think of my family.

Long slowed down the boat engine, waiting for just the right moment to cut through the waves. He finally made a decision, revved up the engine and shot through the waters. I wasn't sure if we would make it, and just left it to fate. After several seconds or minutes, I don't know which, of struggling to ride the waves through the opening in the breakwater, we finally made it!

Safe on land
What a relief! Long immediately cut the engine and the boat just bobbed in the calmer waters. Muka Long yang hitam pun boleh nampak putih! Well, he's the driver with four lives in his hands...I guess he felt the pressure!

Once on land, I rushed to pee! I wanted to text Ena to tell her I was safe, but I couldn't find my phone. A few people came by, surprised to learn that we had made it from the island in this weather.

It was almost 1pm when we reached the mainland. I don't know how long we had been in the water, but it was the longest ever ride for me.

C-3PO: Sir, the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three-thousand-seven-hundred-twenty to one!
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds!

From The Empire Strikes Back
More pictures here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"All right, Chewie. Let's get outta here!"

"All right, Chewie. Let's get outta here!" Han Solo, Empire Strikes Back

Last night, after that fantastic ebek dinner, I sat down with Awie and Lan to discuss our plan for the next few days. I was hoping to experience the monsoon on the island but Lan said we shouldn't wait for it here. Because once the monsoon hits, we might not be able to get out of the island for at least two weeks, due to the continuous bad weather. And we couldn't stay that long because of limited supplies.

So the plan was to leave the island on Sunday morning. Well, that very night, it started to pour and the wind blew in great gusts, howling away, "here we come!" It was a frightening sound, one I can't imagine how to paint! The moon was bright so I could see the coconut trees swaying roughly from where I was sleeping.

This morning, when I woke up, the weather was very cold and it was still raining very heavily. The cloud formations were huge and dark. The entire sky seemed like it was crying. The winds were blowing intermittently. Huge waves were rolling in and I could see the contrast in colour between the greyish blue sky and the greens of the water at the shoreline.  It was impossible to imagine any kind of sea travel today!

But when Lan woke up, he took one look at the sky and said we would have to leave immediately when the rain stopped. Otherwise, we would be stuck here for two more weeks without food and clean water supply.

It was a grim moment for all of us as we quietly but hurriedly packed up our things and water-proofed them in plastic bags. Luckily, before we left the mainland on Wednesday, Lan had already advised us to pack light.

To be honest, I was very frightened to go out into the sea in this kind of weather. Furthermore, our boat was small, tiny compared to these monster waves, and worst of all, we didn't have any life jackets...

More pictures here.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Me with the barracuda and ebek
On the island. Perhentian Kecil, Terengganu. The weather's been inconsistent. Sometimes it is bright and sunny, and in an instant, a matter of seconds, minutes, the winds can blow in these huge, dark clouds overhead. The atmosphere, when it is dark and gloomy like this, is charged with an electric feel. Cold.

My mornings are spent with my camera and watercolours. There is total silence here. Hardly a soul is in sight. Lan's place, Keranji Resort is the only cluster of chalets on this beach, and we, the four of us, are its only tenants. 

Awie cleaning the fish
Around 4 pm today, we went out to sea to catch some fish for our dinner. I was hoping to get something like mandi abu or ebek. Lan was lucky to catch the ebek. It's a beautiful fish that looks like an angel fish. It's upper (dorsal) fin curves long towards its tail and has a kind of flower-like bud. I understand it's expensive too. I caught a barracuda, the locals call it ikan kacang. We also fished some kerisi, selar kuning, tamban and others. 

Back on the island, I cooked the fish -- made curry and fried some of them. Dinner was lovely, especially the ebek -- no wonder Mie Pak Lah always raved about it!  

Simple but delicious dinner

More pictures here.