» Arts & Culture

Fresh look at old town

Penang Heritage Trust president Khoo Salma Nasution and Gehrig Art Gallery owner Stefan Gehrig beside Penang I, which is up for auction in aid of the trust.

Publication Date : 07-06-2012


It's interesting to talk to foreigners about George Town in Malaysia's Penang state. Everyone has a different opinion and many go on and on about the little things locals don’t even look twice at.

There’s always a fresh perspective, and often, a new insight into the weave of culture, people and colour that make up the historic state capital.

For this reason, a small exhibition simply titled Strawalde, after the name of the noted German artist, is gaining the attention of people who throng the old city streets.

Housed at Gehrig Art Gallery, a new exhibition venue nestled in a nook behind the Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Temple, the exhibition features 23 paintings by Strawalde (also known by his birth name, Jurgen Bottcher), who spent three weeks in Penang from March to April this year.

The paintings, ranging from semi-abstracts to abstracts, were all painted during his stay, when he was known to stroll the streets daily armed with a small camcorder.

From Woodstock, a yellow and white piece inspired by an old tree bowing over the Kuan Yin temple, to Collage, a colourful semi-abstract portrait of a girl with long dark hair, the pieces are a vibrant testimony to Strawalde’s unique style.

While a number of the works are simply dated and named Penang or George Town, a few refer specifically to several well-known streets.

Chulia Street is a wealth of beauty with the backdrop of a yellow sky while Lebuh China is infused with textile from the shops in the street.

At the centre of the exhibition is a large oil painting titled Penang I, the first piece that Strawalde painted just three days into his visit.

With swirls of bright, vivid colours, it encompasses the instinctive essence of Penang as seen by him.

As a token of appreciation, Art Trove – a Singapore-based private museum that represents Strawalde – has put Penang I up for auction in aid of the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT), a local non-governmental organisation that promotes heritage and cultural conservation.

PHT, under the helm of author Khoo Salma Nasution, assisted in Strawalde’s visit and was on hand to point out the sights and hidden gems of the city.

“We were very keen to encourage him to be here,” Khoo Salma says.

“We appreciate that this is a creative process and it was very exciting to see someone who lives art for art’s sake.”

It is “amazing” that Strawalde, 81, produced so many paintings during his trip, she adds. In fact, the sheer number of works has resulted in the gallery placing some pieces in an adjoining cafe and restaurant, much to the delight of its customers.

“Strawalde is an established, internationally-known artist and if he paints Penang, Penang will be more well-known by association.”

The reserve price for Penang I is 150,000 ringgit (US$47,468) and bids will be open until the exhibition closes on June 20.

“If we don’t receive the reserve price for the painting here, it will be taken to Singapore with the rest of the pieces to be auctioned. We are confident it will fetch a good price there,” Khoo Salma says.

High on the list of projects PHT wants to carry out with the proceeds is a campaign on endangered heritage sites in the state.

“We have compiled a list of the top 10 endangered sites, for example Shih Chung School (on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah) and the Judge’s Residence on Sepoy Lines Road.

“We’ve never had the funds for a proper campaign, so things are very ad hock at the moment. What we’re planning to do is release a list of historically important sights that are at risk, every six months to a year,” she explains.


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