“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” – Pablo Picasso
Marilyn Monroe wasn’t the best choice for me, in hindsight. I should have opted for the pineapple. The silhouette of Marilyn’s head had somehow looked so nice imprinted on my neighbour’s canvas tote bag. But when it came to my turn for the screen printing, my spirits deflated when I saw the results on my T-shirt - despite the workshop instructor extending all his help.
Anyone walking into the lobby of Galeri Prima at Balai Berita, Bangsar today would have caught sight of a small group of people trying their hand at screen printing in a workshop conducted by Liu Cheng Hua, a Malaysian artist whose metal artworks were part of the recent Mindscape exhibition at this gallery. As part of a 3-hour art jam session, the workshop’s aim is to give adults an opportunity to express or explore their creativity, irrespective of their artistic level. Participants are encouraged to bring their own materials.
That art is just for kids and young people is a big misconception, perpetuated perhaps by distant memories of school art classes creating pieces that never attracted praise from the teacher and were average at best. That memory remains in my past now, replaced by discovering my grown-up inclination towards artistic recreations. It doesn’t take an art course to gain a sense of appreciation. It’s more innate than we realise.
“They appreciate art but don’t realise they appreciate art,” asserts Malaysian artist Zaim Durulaman, one of the workshop instructors and a panellist for this morning’s discussion on the importance of art and the value of creativity. “They love to see a car, for example, but all that begins with a drawing then only can design the car. That’s also art.”
Art is definitely more accessible these days and fun, I muse silently, as I find myself indoors on a sunny Saturday with a bunch of art enthusiasts for a couple of workshops organised by Galeri Prima, hoping to learn something and release whatever ideas we hold.
Liu, the screen printing workshop instructor, makes it look so easy during the demonstration. With a wedge the size of his hand, he scrapes the paint on the wedge over the mesh lying on the A4 stencil which in turn lies over a canvas tote bag. Ensure that the screen printing frame is held down in place, he advises, and apply the wedge firmly onto the mesh. He cautions us to ensure that the paint stays within the stencil borders. Considering that the workshop caters for all levels including beginners, it is ideal to start with simple techniques. Even so, a few participants, including myself, encounter slight hiccups.
The iconic image of actress Marilyn Monroe would have turned out perfectly with black paint on a white tee, however, I’d brought a black tee which yielded an unexpected and unrecognisable silhouette instead. My Andy Warhol-esque pop art idea shatters the minute the screen printing frame and stencil are lifted off the fabric.
I hold up the T-shirt with a grimace, prompting an unknown man to ask “Ini siapa?” (who is this), referring to the bizarre imprint before he continues: “Marilyn Monroe? Betul-betul mengelirukan!” Folding my experiment away hurriedly, I take a deep breath and wait for the next workshop to be conducted where an opportunity for redemption awaits me.
“My students always make mistakes,” shares lecturer Zaim who became a full-time artist in 1990. “They always bring an eraser to the studio/class but I tell them that eraser isn’t allowed. You have to know your mistakes, then only can fix the mistake. To gain something, you have to make mistakes.”
I may have given up on the T-shirt but at least I have learnt new things and discovered that screen printing is far from child’s play.
SECRET OF CREATIVITY
We’ve all probably had days when we’ve felt as creative as a blank wall, or worse, believe that we don’t have a single creative cell in our body. But can we learn to be creative, I wonder hopefully. Can it be taught?
Zaim believes it’s possible. “Yes, we can teach creativity but it depends on the individual. Can they follow or not? They also have to practice because creativity comes from experience. Take famous artists for example. Their painting may look so creative but it could be their 353rd attempt!”
It’s true for photography too, I know, as an enthusiast myself. That one captivating photo we see on social media or in magazines is usually the result of multiple shots as well as accumulated efforts and experience.
Zaim continues his point by highlighting a man who came to the gallery earlier. “He’s not from an art background, but engineering. But due to daily practice, he has now become quite a well-known watercolourist. To think he started just from minat (interest) but he continued to practice every day and all the time!”
It’s reassuring to know that there’s hope for us all. Some people may not be naturally gifted with creativity or artistic talents, but believe it or not, it’s within our capability if we choose to devote ourselves to the pursuit.
An introverted young lady beside me in the screen printing workshop confides that she’s a librarian. Annasihah Abdul Razak enjoys arts and crafts but is usually shy and nervous about attending such activities. But happily, the 24-year old was enticed this time by a friend.
Another participant I meet calls herself a new artist. Serene Low’s interest in art began at primary school but she never pursued it further till she passed the age of 50 when she became exposed to Melbourne’s wealth of art and culture. With time on her hands, Low picked up her interest more seriously through self-taught means and supports such workshops to enhance her development.
Workshops are just one of many basic steps that a person can take to begin exploring their creativity and learning to appreciate different forms of art. Zaim’s advice to the layperson includes to start reading about art, visiting a gallery, meeting an artist and asking them questions, learn from them how to evaluate an artwork and of course, start creating your own artwork.
He challenges people to cast aside any reticence or misconceptions about visiting art exhibitions. Expression earnest, he says that the general public “… Macam takut nak pergi galeri” (appear too scared to go to galleries). They’re scared because they say art is very expensive, we can’t afford.” To such individuals, Zaim says: “We don’t ask you to buy! Just come and look around, maybe ask something or get to know the artist.”
The tables are cleared and re-arranged, making way for the next workshop to begin. It’s finger painting! There’s no reason why adults can’t indulge in this underrated activity with as much freedom and exuberance as kindergarten students.
The instructor for this workshop is Zaim, who begins his demonstration after pouring a few acrylic colours onto a palette. He smears red, blue and black paint in a random-like mess on the canvas while regularly dipping his hands in water.
Suddenly the soft strain of violins wafts through the air and then a classical symphony floats above us, creating a cultured ambience well-suited for the painting maestro currently at work on his masterpiece.
It’s mesmerising to watch his hands and fingers move deftly with intent and yet spontaneity. The smudges and splotches on his canvas continue to baffle me, even as he adds more defined yellow streaks. And then I start to notice the shape of wings and eyes.
“Looks like a bee”, whispers my neighbour, while behind me I hear someone say “lebah”. Minutes later, Zaim, who specialises in conventional painting, presents his abstract bee. I’m inspired and eager to get my hands dirty.
Sleeves are rolled up. The watch comes off the wrist. An impromptu apron made from newspaper sheets is tucked into my collar. And most importantly, I’ve already decided on my subject matter. For the next half an hour at least, time seems non-existent. In fact, nothing is on my mind except the image that I’m trying to create. My colourful stained fingers move freely over the canvas. There’s such an immersive feeling in creating art that the activity is widely known to be a great way to de-stress and bring relief.
For the self-taught Low, the most important thing that she gains is “… the therapeutic side of it because I need this kind of therapy for my illnesses.” She divulges that her conditions include epilepsy and migraines which unfortunately cause her a lot of chronic physical pain. Creating artwork helps by occupying her mind. “With this kind of therapy where I immerse my entire thought into it, I put my motor skills to work. So it temporarily helps to block off a lot of the pain. That means so much to me.”
By the end of the session, contentment courses through my veins. I’m no budding Monet but my finger painting endeavour of an autumnal scene definitely makes up for the T-shirt flop. Outside Galeri Prima, there’s a heavy downpour but it’s not enough to dampen my spirits as I walk out beaming with my humble piece of artwork.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” - Scott Adams
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