Art & Craft

Through A Glass Lightly

by Jonathan S.Evans

Why? “Because I can! Or, at least, I like to see if I can!”  Melanie Myron, a mixed-media artist from the still-partly-wild state of Wyoming, gives that response when asked why she uses the materials she does.  With a background in stained glass, Myron wasn’t satisfied producing pieces looking similar to most other artisans and glass-crafters.  When she began solder-sculpting on a canvas of steel, she knew of no other artist working with that technique.  Today, her materials list includes disparate items such as slate, stone, steel, solder, mirror and, of course, art glass.

Myron and her husband spend quite a bit of time off-the-grid in the mountains, which provides mental material for what she refers to as her “aspen” work.  Though still utilizing the colors and textures of art glass, these pieces have the feel of gazing at mountain hide-aways through the shimmering leaves of the aspen trees.  Most pieces feature slate mountain peaks rising in the background and a forest full of texture and color created using various metal techniques and both heat and chemical patinas.

“I get very absorbed in engineering some of these pieces,” she said.  “I’ll have a fuzzy picture in my head.  I’ll have the perfect glass colors selected and I’ll know which metal techniques I’m going to combine, like solder-sculpted leaves and brushed steel pine trees, but I don’t really have the whole picture until it’s finished.  Sometimes a patina will be more magical than I expected, or a texture will be more rich.  But only when it all comes together in a welded structural support do I really see it.  I love to have them just hang in my shop when they’re finished so I can find new things in them every time I look at them.  Of course, the best feeling is taking them to a showing and hearing, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like that before!’  It’s incredibly satisfying.”

“The result, I think, is a somewhat non-traditional approach to traditional art, so while the pieces are constructed very differently from other artwork, they feel more like traditional landscape art or wildlife art.”

After some varying fine art exposure while growing up and during her school years and a considerable amount of study in performing arts, Myron denied her creative side for decades, working in fields like banking and hospital administration.  “I was actually rebuilding a house when I discovered stained glass, and I think all that pent-up creativity broke open like a dam.  Ten years later there still aren’t enough hours in a day to do my work.”

Her discovery of steel as a canvas was accidental.  She began soldering on steel just to use the solder in a discussion of patinas with the local college art instructor and was fascinated by the different melting rates compared to a more traditional copper base.  Then on a quest for the best silhouettes, she discovered laser cutting, which provides a level of detail beyond a computer-controlled plasma cutter.  Myron uses several different methods to cut steel now, depending on the detail she wants to achieve in a certain piece such as an animal, or the “look” she wants on something like an aspen leaf.

“I’m always learning new metal-working techniques and the process is totally absorbing.  Metal seems so immobile and fixed, but there is so much you can get it to do!”

Like many artists, Myron has taken inspiration from nature since the beginning and has been producing wildlife pieces with her solder-sculpting techniques for several years.  Favorites in her popular “Wildlife Silhouette” series include elk, moose and eagles along with other native Wyoming animals.  Living in one of the last “wild west” places, an occasional rodeo piece also finds its way into her work.

And what’s next for her?  “I have a lot of seasons and places to explore in the aspen series,” she says.  “Then maybe I’ll look into the visual freedom of the high plains or… who knows?”

BATIK ZEAL: Rudolf Smend

by Jonathan S. Evans

I have personally known Rudolf Smend since 1975 when, whilst living and batiking in Ibiza, Spain, I was contacted by a gentleman from Koln, Germany.  He told me that his name was Rudolf Smend and that in 1973, he and his wife Karin had opened a gallery dedicated exclusively to Batik.  It was the first gallery of its kind in Europe and he invited me to show my work there, which I did.  A few years later, I went to Koln to teach a workshop there and met Rudolf Smend.  I was thirty four, on the road and out of luck, and he and his wife Karin took me in and made sure that I ate and stayed busy and then sent me on my way.  For the next thirty years, he and I have remained in contact and we have met up from time to time, just as I have shown in his gallery from time to time.  I remember vividly and poignantly meeting him in New York one time; he arrived to see me on the day that my girlfriend’s son was tragically killed in a mountain climbing accident.  He spent that awful day with me, didn’t say much for that is not his way, but kept me going and got me through a terribly sad crisis.  I didn’t see him for quite a few years after that until we met again at a Batik Exhibition in Ghent, Belgium; it was as if we had never lost touch at all and we picked up our friendship again effortlessly.  He was showing his fine collection of rare batiks and I had gate-crashed the whole affair but ended up showing slideshows for other artists and hanging out in the cafes of Ghent at night with Rudolf and Karin. He and I met up again, years later, when I was exhibiting my Batik portraits at the World Batik Conference in 2005 and he was exhibiting some of his collection in Lowell as well as promoting a new book about his wonderful collection of traditional Indonesian batiks. We have remained friends for all these years and two years ago, my wife, Beth, and I went to Germany to exhibit our work at Galerie Smend and to teach a workshop there.

Rudolf is an extraordinary man, a man of subtlety, integrity, complexity and wonderful taste.  He is a gallery owner and a collector, a bohemian of the old school, the new and somewhere in between.  He is a gentleman so relaxed that sometimes, when you talk with him, he seems to almost fade out and go to sleep, but then comes back with an observation that startles you.  In the end, his energy and love of the art of batik is extraordinary and what he does not know about batik is not worth knowing.  He and Karin have kept Galerie Smend open for thirty seven years now, through good times and hard times, through times when batik was popular and through times when it has fallen out of favour in Europe.  Batik was introduced to Europe by the Dutch who had colonies in Indonesia for centuries; Europeans were first exposed to this art through the complex Indonesian tradition that Rudolf has made his specialty and for which he is now known as the world’s foremost authority.   He has consistently supported all of us contemporary batik artists and exhibited the work of all the best batik artists in the world, artists from Indonesia, Europe, America and even West Africa, holding innumerable seminars, workshops and courses in all forms of batik technique.  The art of painting on silk was so popular in West Germany in the 1980s and 1990s that the gallery had to take on extra staff.  And Rudolf has had also a book-selling business specialising in the ever-burgeoning field of Asian Textiles and their socio-historic contexts.  Galerie Smend has produced a number of beautiful books about batik of its own, the most outstanding of which are sumptuously illustrated volumes on Rudolf’s own batik collection, primarily of his own ultimate passion, 19th and early 20th century Javanese batik.  He first went to Java in 1972, following the hippy trail through Iran, Afghanistan and India but it was Indonesia that grabbed his attention and has never let go.  He studied the craft of traditional batik in Yogyakarta, fell in love with the exquisite work and the intricacies of the process and spent thirty years collecting rare and fine examples of the art and exhibiting and selling them in the gallery in Koln. He has supported every style and refinement of the process- from abstract to hyper-realism, from impressionistic to pointillist batik and beyond, exposing a whole generation of batik artists to the world, keeping an art form vibrant and flourishing in the process.  And he is still enthusiastic and in love with the art, promoting a new catalogue of extraordinary traditional batik as this issue of MyBatik Magazine goes to print.

Rudolf- we salute you!  We all owe you a great deal- for you, more than anyone else and out of the very best motives, have worked to keep an ancient art form and culture alive in this rapidly changing and fickle world.  Were it not for you and your love of this art, all of us batik artists might well be working in banks!  I look forward to seeing you down the road, for I know that, as two individuals who share a deep love of batik, our paths are continually destined to cross.

A Passion for Batik

by Shahidul Alam

The spiral staircase leading to his den exudes modernity. The shiny metal rails offset against the solidity of dark wood are in bright relief against the orange yellow walls.

Mohammad Najib Nor bridges the solidity of tradition and the pragmatism of utilitarian fashion with his own presence. His thickset physique betrayed by the mischief in his eyes. When I ask him to display the colourful fabric draped across his shoulders, Najib does it with aplomb — swirling the cloth around him like a nubile dancer.

He becomes animated as we talk about Batik, his art and his passion. A flashback to the traditional usage of Batik takes us to the expectant mother. He talks of the batik cloth suspended over her, protecting mother and child in womb from lurking evil spirits. To Najib, Batik is more than a shape on fabric, more than a technique for rendering form, colour and texture. It is alive. A language rich in symbols and metaphors. A vibrant form of tactile storytelling. Sensual in its touch. Fluid in its narrative.

He talks of the phallus and the vagina. Of the spirit and the profound. Of Buddhism and war. Of architecture and dance. He refuses to categorise it in terms of fabric. Seeing rather the magic of creation that rises from the pre-visualisation of form. As an artist he sees the linear flow from water colour. The imagery evolving from negative space. The visual culture of the medium and its identity. He sees the geometry of the triangle as a metamorphosis of the human form. Puberty, marriage, birth, death and the rites of passage in between, are all woven around this fabric. Through giving and acceptance, through preservation and use, each finds one’s location in a tapestry signifying, identifying, embedding, circumscribing, the personal within the familial, in a complex social hierarchy.

Najib refuses to accept the categorisation of Batik as a traditional art form and sees its encroachment into contemporary art as a welcome intrusion. To him it is much more than clothing. The wearer is the object d’art. The visual and the textural unified in fashion and in utility, seen as a lived performance. His experimentation extends not only to the medium, where he weaves, materially and metaphorically, between natural fibres and modern alternatives oscillating between the linkages of source, but also to the diffusion of motifs. Fruit, trunk, bark and fibre merge as banana trunk seamlessly goes into cloth.  He takes the openness of the medium to explore it as an art form, as a vehicle for design. Assimilating new ideas, exploring new markets, transcending boundaries, Najib revisits the form, not only by reaching into the past, and recognising the influence of cave drawings and the flatness of perspectives of Egyptian art and the tonalities of Persian drawing but also through recognition of the influence of contemporary Malaysian visuals.

Appreciating the role played by the 1st lady of Malaysia in taking Batik to another level, Najib is open to the diverse influences of western art form. He embraces the utilitarian changes brought about by market pressures. Rather than seeing this transformation as a threat, he sees the markets of Germany and Japan, the catwalks of London and New York as the new theatre for his favourite performance art.

While he recognises that one cannot force Malaysian forms into other cultures, his methods are subversive. By accepting change, he seeks to extend the reaches of his art form. For him the needs of the present generation, stretches the limits of Batik beyond tradition, beyond sarong, into high fashion. If Najib has his way, the Javanese pagi-sori, once traded in the 50s and 60s in Singapore’s Arab Street and Penang’s Chowrasta Market, will in its reincarnated form, be a must-have in Parisian fashion parades.

The Art of Batik Painting

by Beth Mccoy Evans

My artist this week is none other than my own dear wife and fellow-conspirator, Beth McCoy Evans.  I can counter any charges of blatant nepotism by explaining that not only is she one of the foremost Batik artists in America, but that she is also the love of my life.  We met on-line eight years ago when I was living at the house that we now share in Northern India and she was living in Huerfano County.  We both have large websites with galleries of our work; she admired my Batik portraits and I liked her landscapes and still-lifes and we quickly started an email dialogue about representational Batik painting.  We corresponded for almost a year before she took an enormous leap of faith and flew over to Europe to meet me in London.  Two weeks later, I packed up my life and flew to Denver and we have been joined at the hip ever since.

For those who do not know what Batik is-and there are many- it is a method of painting on cloth.  It is widely practiced in Indonesia, all over Asia and Africa where it has been a highly respected art form for at least two thousand years.  You have probably seen the archetypical Grateful Dead tee-shirts with their skulls or peace sign symbols on coloured backgrounds.   Batik is a wax-resist process; hot wax is used as a medium to separate dye colors.  In its simplest form, the artist starts with a piece of white cloth, usually cotton or silk, and applies hot wax, using a brush or a pen-like tool called a tjanting, to any area that she wishes to keep white in her painting.  If the picture is to be of white clouds in a blue sky, for example, the cloud-shaped areas are covered with the wax.  When the wax is cool and hard, the cloth is dipped into a pot of cold water blue dye or painted over with blue dye, using a brush.  The wax resists or repels the dye, whilst the rest of the cloth is dyed blue.  When the wax is removed, the artist is left with white clouds on a blue sky.  Batik paintings characteristically have a veined pattern on them; this is caused by the wax cracking and allowing the dye to enter and dye the cloth.

But Beth takes this basic process a lot further.  She often repeats this same process fifty or more times, dyeing her cloth from light to dark or white to black, superimposing dye after dye to create her pictures.  It is a painstaking process that can take weeks to complete and takes a special patience and a rare ability to envisage her finished piece from the beginning and then to work backwards in order to achieve the desired result.  Batik is definitely not an instant or even quick art form and there is little room for maneuver or changes along the way.  Each painting is a one-shot deal and one has to learn to live with one’s mistakes.

So why work in Batik, Beth?

She says:

“I still get excited by that magic moment when, three quarters of the way along, the image first ‘pops’ out.  It’s a genuine rush when the picture becomes apparent and clear for the first time after a long slow process and that moment is addictive.  Plus, I like working with cloth.  It’s tactile and that’s what I like.  Before I did batik, I painted on cloth and made hand-painted clothing, which I used to sell in ‘The Wild Iris’, my gift shop in Cuchara, Colorado.   I’d always known about Batik, started to dye clothing and Batik was a logical step from that.  I started to make batiked canvas cloth bags which sold very well and moved on to doing frameable Batik paintings.  I had always painted with oils or acrylics on canvas and Batik was just an extension of this.

Whilst painting clothes in Cuchara for three years, I was inundated with special orders and this developed my drawing skills massively.  It also explains the versatility of my subject matter; I like to paint landscapes, animals, people, still lifes and architectural scenes.  Learning to connect the dots has connected the wide range of my paintings.”

Beth started to batik in a Pointillist style two years ago.  It is a technique used by the French Neo-Impressionist painters like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in the late nineteenth century and is the scientifically based use of coloured dots, in Beth’s case points of wax on dye, a form of optical color mixing.  This mixing of the colors takes place in the eye of the beholder, not on the cloth.  When done correctly, there is a luminescence in the painting that isn’t found otherwise.  It is a technique, unique to Beth in the Batik world, which works particularly well in this fiber medium.

Beth goes on to say:

“Sometimes being a full-time professional artist can be hard, especially in these difficult economic times, but it has afforded me the freedom and the luxury of being able to travel.  In the past two years alone, I have been to India twice for long periods, to Spain and to the UK and have taught batik and had shows, along with my husband Jonathan, in the south of England and Köln, Germany.  I have just been invited to exhibit my work at a Batik gallery in Malaysia in 2011.  I also do gallery shows and top-end art festivals in Colorado and all over the States.”

She continues:

“I grew up in Maryland but came to Colorado over twenty years ago where I had family.  Coming to live in southern Colorado is something I had wanted to do all my life.  My grandmother and her family, originally from Oklahoma, walked across the country to settle in Kim, East Colorado. At sixteen, she was the first school teacher in Kim, setting up and teaching classes in her father’s home.  She worked until she was seventy six, mostly in one-roomed schoolhouses.  I cherish the small book she wrote about her experiences as a pioneer in Colorado.  My Dad graduated from La Junta High School and I spent my summer vacations with my grandmother there.

After living out of a suitcase for seven years and traveling around the world a couple of times, coming back to settle in Colorado City, feels like coming full circle and coming home again.  Southern Colorado is as beautiful as any other place I’ve seen.”

Even though she is now an internationally recognized Batik artist, Beth prefers to keep a relatively low profile in this community although recently she has been seen selling our imported handmade Indian scarves and shawls at local art shows.  She is busy working on her Batik paintings in a new studio and with building an addition onto our house by Lake Beckwith.  I know her to be a shy and unassuming woman for whom her art comes before almost everything else.

To finish on a somewhat personal note, as a fellow artist and writer, Beth has given me the space and freedom to do the work I want to do and to get out and about in the community.  She is my best friend and I am her number one fan; as her husband, I sometimes think that I am nothing without her and that together, we are unstoppable.

This Christmas, you can see Beth’s Batik paintings at the Sangre de Cristo Center in Pueblo, in the Commonwheel Gallery of Manitou Springs, at First Street Gallery in Trinidad and at the Rye Gallery.  She is now available to teach classes in the Batik medium and may be contacted at bethtik@gmail.com or through her website www.batikartbybeth.com.

New Batik & The Fruit of Modernism

by Jeannie Cotter

Fast forward to year 3015. Imagine being in a time-capsule and transported into a new city – you see batik monuments erected on the streets, nicely done almost resembling art sculptures. Artists begin to speak of wax in abstract language. Instead of wax being used as a dye-resistant agent on a piece of fabric, it can be seen as borders that join different continents of the world. The rain seems like wax applied on batik fabric and a great leap has been made. Welcome to seeing things in 11-dimension.

A sort of telepathy occurs between David Kibuuka and his viewers. Being one of the originators of Fragmentation in Batik, Kibuuka believes genetically, we are all artists. It is only that some of us strongly express the ability to create objects.

Born in Uganda (East Africa), David Kibuuka left Uganda in 1977 for Nairobi, Kenya to continue his studies in fine art. Encouraged by his parents and late brother Henry Lumu to the path of art, Kibuuka loves art as it gives him unlimited freedom of expression and is therapeutic to his soul. His late brother Henry Lutalo Lumu had a great influence on him.

Traditional batik technique came from Java, Indonesia to East Africa in the 60’s. A number of Ugandan artists left Uganda during the heights of Idi Amin regime to sell and work in Nairobi, Kenya in 1976. The late Henry Lumu Lutalo revolutionized the traditional batik technique to match his realistic painting in watercolour and oil. Kibuuka being a student of realistic pencil drawing was able to learn from his older brother the technique of Modern Batik. Kibuuka added a number of components like pure toning, reversed half tones and fragmentation. This dramatically altered the technique from the traditionally cracked background.

Through the guidance of his brother, Kibuuka was greatly influenced by the western masters like Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Gauguin. He began painting at an early age and sold his first painting when he was 11 years old. He enjoys working in oils, acrylic, watercolour and modern batik. A number of his paintings depict ethnic subjects, wild life and nature.

To Kibuuka, the human civilization is incubated in art – without it, we wouldn’t have a blue print of where to go and what to invent. Art is being repackaged in high tech and the future trends in art will be on flat screens and cyber galleries. But the original art will always be king to collectors.

Some of his latest paintings are focused on spiritual life. Paintings like Thorns and Life Force and Pain, Power, Glory depict such spiritual energy. The whole idea is to transport the viewer into the spiritual world or motivate them to think about it.

Inspired by life to paint, Kibuuka also believes humans live in a space of time called life and in his timeline he would like to leave something behind when he’s gone. That inspires him to keep on painting and assist others who are not as fortunate on this good earth. Apart from painting, Kibuuka is also involved in fundraising activities with a number of organizations for humanitarian purposes. He loves movies, especially science fiction ones.

He discovered batik through his high school teacher in 1974. Amazed by how wax and dyes in fabric produced different results, Kibuuka came up with a technique called the fragmentation technique and began using the technique in modern batik. Fragmentation can be manipulated to create all kinds of abstract patterns and designs in the background that eventually becomes part of the subject matter. e.g. compositions like Mother and Child, Togetherness and many more. This unique style remains a characteristic of East African Modernism.

Most of his clients could not separate his modern batik art technique from some of his acrylic or watercolour paitings, so he wanted them to see the difference between the other media. Hence, the birth of a book on batik. His latest book “Modern Batik Workshops” has 50 colour plates that go back as far as 1981 to 2007.

Painting aside, Kibuuka organises modern batik workshops that are held all over Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean. They are intended to motivate, inspire and empower youth who are artistic. He has a good number of adult and senior students who love the workshops for their therapeutic energy in the process of applying wax and dyes on fabric.

His advice to young artists: “Stay positive and focused. Innovation should always be the word, use the Internet to social network in the global village.”

Readers can view David Kibuuka’s artworks at www.modernbatikartworkshops.com.

The Cosmos That Bind Nizam Ambia

by Cecilia Tan

The interview with Nizam Ambia took place on a sunny Monday morning in October, 2008 at his company, Kubang Gajah Blatik Industry in Kampung Kubang Gajah, Negeri Sembilan. The primary business of the company is to design, manufacture and market batik fabrics, fashion products and Nizam’s art works, under the global brand name “Ambia”. Throughout the interview, he remained totally engaged, ever willing to converse and explain. Nizam Ambia is slender and lanky, and a handsome figure at his age. His aspect is intense and jovial, his manner gracious and courtly. His hair is stylish and neatly kept; he speaks with a strong KL accent. When he talks, the small shifts of his slender body, the voice’s inflections and the mind’s dartings reveal a fashion designer passionate about his art.

Nizam Ambia was born and grew up in the royal town of Seri Menanti, Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia). When he was very young, Nizam developed a passion for drawing and fashion, often spending hours on sketching his imaginations and keen observations. He has always been inspired by the beauty of nature, the environment, the cosmos as well as the mystical world.

Nizam graduated in Graphic Design from the University of Institute Technology MARA (UiTM). When he first started to explore the world of art, financial support was always his main challenge. On the other hand, Nizam has never worried about branding because he believes that the work will speak for itself – perhaps with just a little support from the media. His greatest strength is his passion for art which keeps him from giving up easily.

In the past, he has worked in advertising agencies, as a stage set designer at a TV3 station and as lecturer of art at the Lim Kok Wing University College of Creative Technology. During his first years, he experimented with a variety of compositions which molded him as one of the most versatile Malaysian artists in existence today.

His passion in utilizing mixed medium in his art work illustrates his love for all beings on the face of this earth. Nizam Ambia has created a significant and unique brand of work that is all his own. His infatuation with other different kinds of artistic expression has turned into an enthusiastic love affair with art installations, such as an eight-foot metal phoenix in the campus of Lim Kok Wing University College of Creative Technology, plus other sculpture work, interior designs, stage designs and landscaping.

Nizam’s enthusiasm for life is manifested in all his creative work in the world of art and fashion. In his dignified yet down-to-earth style, he has won several awards, the latest being, the Grand Prize for Piala Seri Endon 2004 in Batik design competition in the fashion category with his batik-infused interpretations of the nyonya kebaya and baju melayu. This was Nizam’s quantum leap into the world of fashion. Apart from a 3rd place award for a national level landscaping competition, he has also won Gold awards in three consecutive years (2000-2002) for Kolam designing competition at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre.

Nizam Ambia has been honoured as the only Malaysian batik designer to conceptualize and draw a set of impressive batik panels as backdrop for the “Force of Nature”, an international charity concert in Kuala Lumpur on March, 2005. His work has received much international acclaim and he hopes to produce even more works for the international market in the future. Contemporary batik is often considered formal western attire which has abandoned its Malaysian roots. To Nizam Ambia however, batik is an inherent part of the Malaysian identity and contemporary batik is included as part of this culture. He feels that batik should be allowed to ride the waves of change and have a fresh look that changes with the times.

For his inaugural solo fashion show in August 2005, Nizam developed a new style of batik design known as blatik, a new perception of batik fusion. Blatik designs portray multi-layered depth and its versatility goes beyond one’s imagination. Nizam has thus redefined batik norms and perceptions. In essence, batik art has become paintings on fabric by Nizam, showcasing him as a painter. He feels that batik is changing fast due to the large number of copycats and mass producers of batik printed fabric. He believes batik artists will need to personalize their art in the future so that clients can have more choices.

Nizam’s advice to those aspire to follow his footsteps is that artists must be true and honest to themselves and work. That’s how they can create wonders in whatever they do. In order to generate awareness in the batik market of their existence, artists must participate in exhibitions and expose themselves to the media.

The key characteristic that makes Nizam who he is today is that he never competes with other artists or their work because he knows that the competit

ion lies between the work and the artist. He strives to improve everyday and sees the journey of an artist as one that is full of joy and pain. Due to his passion however, Nizam Ambia will never give up and engrosses himself in every painting he creates – infusing his passion for life and art into every masterpiece.

Diaman, the Mah Meri: Woodcarver

by Cecilia Tan

The Mah Meri (forest people) of Pulau Carey (Carey Island) makes up part of the colourful Orang Asli indigenous minority of Peninsular Malaysia. Pulau Carey is an estuarine island situated off the coast of Kuala Langat and is connected by a roads and bridge. There are 5 Mah Meri villages on

the island. The island is widely known for its internationally acclaimed native woodcarvings. Most of the villagers presently earn a living by working in the surrounding palm estates, or have their own smallholding, others are fishermen or produce other forms of handicrafts to supplement their income.

And Diaman Bin Kisah is 47 year old woodcarver born and raised on this island. Upon visiting his home at Kampung Sg Bumbun, one would definitely be impressed with the quality of his finely crafted wood carvings. mainly ‘spirits mask’ (topeng), a subject which is held dearly in his heart as with all members of his community. The ‘spirit mask’ and ancestral figures (Moyang) have all different kinds of mythical characteristics; often relating to folktales about the community and traditional roles played by the unseen.

The wooden products are crafted entirely from a type of locally utilised wood called Kayu Nyireh Batu, a hard redbrown wood of a mangrove tree (Carapa Obovata) and also Kayu Pulai (Alstonia Scholaris). These are used to produce the ‘spirit mask’ with names like Topeng Moyang Naning, Spirit Beliung, Spirit Bojos, Topeng Sembunyi or Topeng Bunting Beliung. Most of the depicted wooden crafted spirits are of the ocean, swamp and jungle.

Coming from a traditional native arts wood carving family; Diaman is happily married and also a proud father of ten who has taken on the responsibility of carrying on with his family’s woodcarving tradition. It is through his creativity that he now solely earns a living through the sale of his very own hand-made woodcarvings. Diligently carving out an honest living, Diaman is a traditionalist who has chosen not to abandon his native and cultural roots. It is no easy task to have chosen the life of a wood carver, as natural talent must first exist in the chosen individual to produce good work. The amount of time it takes to work on these individual carvings places a real limit to the numbers which can be physically produced at any one time. They are well worth the wait and buyers of his works might consider themselves even luckier if they can find them available instantly!

The wood sculptures are a cultural heritage of the Mah Meri and have been extremely popular with foreign tourists who visit the country, as well as with native art collectors from around the globe. One can expect to find Mah Meri wood craft at various Tourism centres, as in the National Craft Centre situated at Jalan Conlay, in Kuala Lumpur. Currently a selection of Daiman’s works can be viewed at TMS Art Gallery, Taman Melawati,KL. And it goes without saying – that they are simply adorable conversation pieces for the home!

Art as Inspiration

by Gerard Yeoh & Francis Chen

One fine morning when I was driving to a nearby coffee shop for breakfast, I found a very interesting art gallery. What attracted me was the dozens of small oil paintings which were displayed at the window. Then I decided to walk inside and have a chat with the owner – Ms. Belinda Cheah to learn more about family portraits. She showed me some works of an artist from Myanmar, Min Yin.

An art graduate of the University Of Culture, Myanmar, Min Yin paints only family portraits. He creates his portraits from photographs.  All he needs is one photo of each person and about 20 minutes of their time for an interview.

He has painted families just about anywhere you can imagine: the family gathering–sitting around the living room, on a boat, in the yard, piled up in bed listening to a story, at the beach, gathered around the kitchen table—you name it, and he had probably painted it.

A really fun part of these portraits is discovering what is important to the family and to each individual. He uses this information to set his portraits apart from more straightforward renderings finding ways to subtly tell the family story using mementos and symbols he tuck away in the painting.

For instance, if a couple went to Cameron Highlands on their honeymoon, he could hang a little strawberry chime somewhere. Or, if they fell in love at an art gallery, he could add just enough of a logo to a small glass filled with flowers to visually capture that moment.  If dad likes gardening, he could stick a trowel in his pocket.  If mom loves tea, he can paint a teapot birdhouse.

Now lots of people worry about what type of information they need to come up with (especially the husbands!).  But, no worries, the artist has a pretty good interview process to get the information that he needs to make any family portrait personal.  He will take ideas and input, for sure, but people need not worry, and together with his visual subject, he would figure out what to paint.

A really interesting thing has evolved in regards to family portraits. Those of you who are familiar with Min Yin’s artworks know that he doesn’t put faces on people he paints.  It is the same with his family portraits.  No one ever wants the faces because then a painting doesn’t look like a work of Min Yin.

So, how do you have a portrait painted without a face?  He thinks of them as emotional portraits.  He understands how to show the relationship between family members and portray each person with special tenderness.

When he paints a family portrait, he endeavours to create a blessing for the family by memorializing a happy moment at a certain place and time. He weaves in the elements that tell about the family…just how it is on a good day.  Once he is done with the painting, he will write a blessing on the painting, something that anchors and states what is good about belonging to one another.  Sometimes it happens that the family has their own language, something they say to one another, a favourite scripture, or the like, which serves as or can be used for inspiration.

When all is complete, his goal it to create a portrait that will, even on a tough, hard day, remind everyone how great it is to belong to one another and how deep their love is.

Six sources Of Inspiration

Sometimes when you look at a blank page, your mind goes blank too. You want to draw or paint, but what? Here are six sources of inspiration to get you started in drawing, painting, or even scrapbooking. Once you get started, you’ll find that one idea leads to another. Try picking one theme to explore consistently over several days or even weeks, adding written notes about your thoughts and feelings to your sketchbook.

Everyday Objects

Some of the most beautiful works of art focus on the daily life. A simple mug, or a piece of fruit can be inspiration for a simple and beautiful drawing. You can concentrate on accurate shapes and values, or explore expressive line and atmospheric tone. Try drawing and painting one object in various ways and with different mediums. Do a scrapbook or sketchbook page with a sketch of your favourite mug on your kitchen table, a photo and a note about why you love it.

Your Family and Friend

Forget drawing portraits from washed-out, glossy-magazine celebrity photos. Draw real people. People you care about. Self portraits guarantee you a willing model, and are a time-honoured way for artists to express their deepest feelings. Friends and families can be sketched as they go about their day, or drawn in detail posing. These drawings can become treasured mementoes, even family heirlooms.

Inspiration from the Garden and Nature

Complex natural forms can offer pleasantly forgiving subjects for drawing and painting -nobody knows if it’s a wobbly line or the shape of the leaf. And they can also be challenging and complex. It is up to you. You can explore nature up close, drawing leaves and pinecones, or on a grand scale, sketching scenes.

Furry Friends

Draw your pet sleeping by the hearth, or sketch them at play. Or draw from a photograph taken in natural light, at pet’s eye-level. Have a day sketching at the zoo. Zoo animals offer a range of interesting challenges – how do you draw a crocodile’s skin or a leopard’s spots? Create a series of scrapbook or sketchbook pages with zoo sketches. Draw the entrance with a wall or fence along the bottom of a page, and sketch the visitors looking at the exhibits.

Fantasy Ideas

Look at paintings in books and online for inspiration. See how artists have interpreted these themes. Bring traditional ideas into the 21st century. Get friends to model for reference photos – accurate anatomy and correct fall of light and shadow is important in creating a believable fantasy. Create scrapbook or sketchbook pages that suggest a story. Stain pages with tea or diluted ink, draw decorative borders and imagine a day spent with imaginary friends like dragons or witches.

Inspiration from Literature and Film

Have you ever read a description of a character or scene in a book that comes to life in your mind so clearly, that you can see it like a movie in your head? Try drawing it! If you love a book that’s been made into a movie, try to get the movie version out of your head, and read it afresh. Or try re-casting the scene with different actors.

Have you ever noticed your reaction to visual stimulation? Sometimes you see a photograph or painting, a sculpture or an object and your attention is immediately captured! For whatever reason, that piece of photograph or painting communicates with you and it is personal.

We all have our own personal adventures and experiences throughout our lives so when you see that print of a quaint outdoor coffee house, it may bring you back to that wonderful coffee house in Paris where you had your honeymoon. You may buy it just because it reminds you of a romantic moment.

You’ve heard before that when you look at a painting or sculpture, you try to see what the artist is trying to communicate, but from the viewpoint of a viewer, it’s not about what the artist sees, it’s about what it communicates to you and believe me, you can have two people looking at the same thing and their viewpoints will be different. Some people buy a painting because it has the right colours in it that match their furniture. Nothing wrong with that..Buy a print because you truly love it. Whether you purchase an original painting, print or poster you love, you will probably live with it or even pass it down in time to your children.

Throughout your life your décor will change many times, colour schemes will change many times, but your art will still be with you.

When you walk into someone’s home you get an overall feel for the people that live there and if you are left alone for a few minutes with no one to talk to because they are off to make you coffee, chances are your eyes would wander around the room and a good piece of art would grab your attention.

Even family portraits are great to look at. A great piece of art is the focal point in a room and your décor can be built around that. If all you know is a piece of art you love but have no design skills, fear not. There is help there too. If you cannot afford an interior designer, you can start by looking in furniture stores and seeing how rooms are put together, or you can look at model homes to get ideas. Surround yourself with beautiful art. After all, art is universal and good taste can be cultivated. Beautiful works of art like these not only accent your walls but also send a message and are powerful reminders that motivate us in good and bad times.

Looking Both Ways: Beth McCoy Evans’ Passage to Creativity

by  Beth McCoy Evans

In a convergence of brilliant color and compelling visual narrative, Beth McCoy Evans reveals a batik-making method known as batik pointillism. Rich in detail and elegant composition, Evan’s works immerse us in a world of familiar depictions capturing natural beauty and simple humanity. Each time she creates a piece of art, she does it through trial and error ~ Jeannie Cotter, October 2009

Of all the art mediums I’ve dabbled in over the years- oil and acrylic painting mostly- drawing has been the constant and batik my passion. I first tried this beautiful, intriguing medium of batik in 1990 when I was designing and selling hand-painted apparel in my shop in Cuchara ,Colorado, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I began experimenting on clothing and table linens and was enthralled by the process and its results. A couple of years later, I saw some very realistic batik paintings in a gallery which moved me to take my work beyond simple decorative motifs. It was good to be able to fully utilize my drawing and painting experience and combine it with batik.

In my little studio nestled in among the pinion trees, I experimented intensively with wax and dyes. Living in rural Colorado, I did not have easy access to any batik classes or even anyone else doing batik. Fortunately,  I learn best by trial and error (lots of error) so that every lesson is truly learned. I enjoy the challenge of bringing all of the facets of batik together, the drawing and planning, the waxing, the dyeing and the over-dyeing. Each is an art in itself. The element of surprise as the image begins to reveal itself with each successive dyeing still excites me. I find batik a lesson in patience, acceptance and the importance of process.

Always looking for new challenges, I began exploring batik pointillism in 2006. I’d long admired the painted works of the Neo-impressionists Seurat, Signac, and Cross. Division-ism is a general term to describe the separation of color and pointillism is the specific use of dots. The process involves “optical color mixing” rather than the physical mixing of the colors before applying them to the canvas. Pointillist paintings consist of thousands, if not millions of tiny dots (Seurat’s “Sunday in the Park” has 3,456,000 of them!) all mixed to a fuller range of tones in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure that the painters a century ago never got asked “is this done digitally?” Tiny dots of primary colors render the color on our computer and TV screens, and in any 4-color printing process, these can all be considered forms of pointillism. Or maybe in the 21st century the term”pixellism” might make more sense to people! I’ve adapted some of the scientific color theory used by these oil painters to my batik paintings and have been excited by the results and the luminous effects it creates. It is also a way to create subtle shading with batik without resorting to doing gradated dye painting. Instead of doing dots of oil paint I do dots of wax on the dyed cloth.  For instance, an area of yellow and blue dots from a distance looks green. The further use of a few complimentary colored dots within that area intensifies the colors and light. It is a very slow process and takes much more time than other batiks that I do, but I find dotting quite meditative.

I begin by drawing my design on paper and then tracing it onto white Pima cotton with a black Cretacolor pencil which will come off completely in the final dry clean ,but not before. I then use a tjanting or a kistka to apply dots of a paraffin-beeswax mixture in the brighter areas of the image. The brightest areas get the most coverage, but are not fully filled in and the exceedingly darker areas get fewer and fewer dots, the dark areas getting none. In this first step, the bright and dark areas are already becoming delineated. I then apply ProMX dyes either over the entire piece or with a brush to certain areas.  For example on the batik Jam & Oranges the first dye was very pale blue and I painted only the background, the cup,the jam, and the red and green jar lids, as this would influence their color later in the process. After the next waxing came a pale yellow dye on the lower part of the painting, the table, oranges, and jar lids. The bright spots on the table were dotted heavily with wax and the shadows less. The yellow over the blue jar lid gave me the lightest green. I painted more blue over the whole piece, wetting and avoiding the oranges and yellow jar lids. After that blue was dotted in, I dyed and waxed the bright yellow and then progressively worked my way through pinks, reds and purples to a deep navy and then to black, though the black is made up of mostly very dark purple and blue dots. When the reds were applied to the entire piece the background which had been previously dyed blue took on purple tones whereas the yellow under-dyed foreground took on peach and orange tones.

I feel as though I’ve only cracked the door on this technique and look forward to further experimentation in the use of the basic color theory and the use of different sized dots.

Currently I live with my husband , batik artist Jonathan Evans, between homes in the Southern Colorado Rockies and the Northern India Himalayas. Living in two such diverse locales and visiting new places in between provides great inspiration for my art and keeps my subject matter varied. I work mostly from the many photographs I take and I look for interesting shapes, shadows, and color combinations for my batiks.

Beth McCoy Evans exhibits her batiks and teaches adult and children’s classes in the US. and abroad. Visit her website at:www.batikartbybeth.com

TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS AND OCCASIONAL TRIUMPHS IN THE BATIK TRADE

by Jonathan Evans & Lee Creswell

When I first saw Jonathan Evans’ batiks I was spellbound by the beautiful subtle layers of tonation. It certainly “wowed” me into asking “how did he do it”? He spent years on batik and is now a celebrated artist worldwide.  Instead of interviewing him, I left him to narrate his thoughts on his world of batik. ~ Lee Creswell, July 2009

I first came across batik as a young teacher in the Oxfordshire school system in the UK in the late Sixties. A fellow teacher returned from a holiday in Malaysia with a small painting on cloth, which had an unusual quality, a fine veined cracking across it and muted graded colours. And it wasn’t really a painting as, when I turned the cloth over, I realised that the same picture was on the other side.  The cloth had been dyed right through and my friend explained briefly to me that the process was called batik, an ancient technique achieved through the use of melted wax and cold water dyes. That was all he could tell me about the process but I worked out right away how the picture was created. I looked at the painting and worked backwards from point B to point A easily. I instantly figured out that to achieve this effect you had to start with a relatively clear idea of the finished picture, draw it and then apply successively darker dyes to the cloth, using the wax to separate and save the dye colours as you progressed. You’d have to start with white or very light coloured cloth and black would have to be the final dye put on.

Bingo! A light went on for me. I loved the idea of the technique straightaway, the building up a painting using different colours, and the interaction of different colours to produce another.

I remember doing my first batik in the classroom with seven year olds; we all brought in old plain-coloured T-shirts, I rounded up some cheap coldwater dyes, paint brushes and candles and we spent a messy afternoon painting peace signs, skulls and crossbones or our names on the T-shirts. I found a friendly drycleaner to take the wax off for us and we were in business, or at least in the business of education.  But I didn’t stay in that business for very long; teaching could be very frustrating and at twenty five, I was realizing that I had itchy feet and that I didn’t want to remain a teacher for the rest of my life. So, when my early marriage ended, I took off to live in Ibiza where a friend had gone a few years before and wrote to me about magical mountains, full moon parties and amazing sunsets.

Although I’d lived in East Africa as a child and had seen quite a bit of Europe, my travel started with that short step away from the UK to the Spanish Mediterranean and in a real sense, I’ve never looked back. The land beyond the immediate mountains has eventually always looked more appealing than the current one; my life has been one of travel and of living and settling in different countries. And the art of batik has enabled me to have such a life; it has given me a fabulous freedom and a reason to travel and an identity that no other profession could have ever given me. At times, struggling to market this obscure art form, it has been a curse; at other times, it has opened doors that I never even knew existed.

The first thing that I had to do when I landed on the island of Ibiza was to find a way to support this new lifestyle; I tried different art mediums to try and finance my life on the island. I tried making crystal glass mobiles, painting in water colours and doing linocut prints; with my new Spanish partner, Marie Luz, I painted Easter eggs at Easter, tried wood block-printing clothes and eventually made some simple batik shirts. It was while I was teaching English to a Spanish senora who owned a clothes boutique, that my way became clear. She saw what I was doing, had never seen or heard of batik before (it was quite unknown in Spain in the Sixties and Seventies- and still may be, for all I know) and asked me to batik some shirts for her shop. They sold immediately, terrible though they probably were, and I never looked back. So in a very real sense, my early career as a batik artist was based in commerce. All I knew was that if I was going to be a full-time artist, it had to pay its way.

I spent the next eight years between Ibiza and Barcelona, working like a maniac, learning the process, trying out new techniques and graduating from batik clothes to batik paintings. I sold at the infamous Hippie Market where we used to squat like monkeys in the dust for the entertainment of German tourists and in a wonderful co-operative shop called Happy Valley owned by an American friend of mine. I did several batik shows at galleries and shops in Barcelona and, although I survived, I never seemed to get very rich doing it. But I learned how to use a canting expertly and to alternate between dipping the cloth into pots of dye and applying the dyes with a brush directly in order to achieve more control of the medium. The paintings became increasingly complicated and this period was invaluable in figuring out what was and what wasn’t possible in the medium.  Basically, I came to realise that the only limits that batik had were those which my mind imposed on the medium. Anything was achievable if it was conceivable; my technique improved to take in much more sophisticated subject matter and effects.  I learned about graduation dyeing, lowering a batik piece into a pot of dye and drawing it out slowly so that parts of the cloth were, subtly, a stronger colour than others. I learned how to take a drawing apart, tone by tone, and reconstruct it using increasingly strong dyes. I painted the fincas, the terraces, the hills and the beautiful skies of Ibiza and even tried a few portraits, as it was people that really interested me.

In the late Seventies, a friend took a bunch of slides of my work to New York and quickly called me to say that a big interior decoration shop had seen my work and wanted to buy a large number of them for the store. I was to come to New York and work out the details there. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. I loved the country from the very beginning; I had always loved the music that America had contributed to world culture, jazz and rock. Of course, the Sixties had changed the social and cultural landscape forever but it was still America that I saw as representing the cutting edge of global change whilst still nursing all the errors of pre-war society.

Predictably my deal with the interior decoration store fell through completely but I was in America and there I stayed for the following ten years without leaving the country. I threw away my return air ticket and after some truly desperate times in New York when I was totally broke, crashed on friends’ floors and was one small step away from living on the street. I found a huge loft at Times Square and got back into serious batik painting again. America was a vast country, full of endless possibility and opportunity, I figured, and my English accent worked wonders in almost every situation. Sometimes, I just had to open my mouth to get admiring responses. So, an Englishman in New York, I was fascinated by the buildings and the architecture, by the abstract shapes, endless glass and by the reflections that the buildings made in one another. I started to paint complex batiks of my new environment, work which started out as very representational cityscapes but soon became rather abstracted, though I have never really convinced myself with my abstract work. I’ve always been basically a representational artist and have tried to inject something new and something of myself in all my work. I had a joint show in Greenwich Village within six months and a big solo show at a new gallery in southern Manhattan within the first year. The latter show miraculously sold out and I took a year out to travel around the States to see more of the country, hanging out in Florida and California, before I went back to New York for another show at the same gallery.

So I left the city and went first to Southern Florida where I took up residence in an old farm workers’ shack in the middle of an avocado grove. The avocados fed me and the groves gave me endless subject matter for my batik painting. From there, I headed west and ended up in Northern California in the Sierra Nevada where I lived with old friends on thirty remote acres in a converted chicken shed which I turned into an idyllic studio and hide-out from the world. These were some of my poorest times; although I kept batiking, with few outlets for sales. But over a three year period, I think I did some of my best work to date and showed in local galleries, while I basically supported myself working at a local half-way house for mentally ill people and baking at a local health food restaurant once a week. I might have continued like this for years but had a quick and ill-advised runaway romance with an artist from Kansas and found myself on the road once more, this time in an old Volkswagen bus. We crossed the country a couple of times and ended up in Chicago, house cleaning with a friend for six months. That wasn’t much fun but I always had a batik table set up somewhere and somehow, my batik work always continued.

My next stop, in the mid Eighties, was West Virginia where I set up shop in an old schoolhouse. I remember that period with great fondness; my romance with the Kansas lady ended badly in divorce but I got my Green card out of it and had no viable option but to batik endlessly. I remember being snowed in there in my little uninsulated wooden schoolhouse, with the ancient kids’ graffiti and old blackboards, all one winter and painting a series of snowscapes which I still like.  I had never really experienced or looked at deep snow before and found colours in there that I barely knew existed spring was a wonderful explosion of late flowers and latent hope and fall, a cacophony of coloured maple trees on fire in the balmy evenings. It was a very inspired period for me and I was discovered by a gallery in Ohio which took all the work I could do and gave me the means to leave America for the first time in a decade. I went first to the UK and saw my family for the first time in years. From there I checked out Ibiza again but it was starting to become the disco capital of the world and hardly recognizable. A friend suggested that I had a look at India and I made my first trip there. I loved it instantly, spent almost a year there and came back to West Virginia with subject matter that I couldn’t realise in a whole lifetime of batik work.

Between 1990 and the present date, I have been around the world, lived for a year in Bali where I had my own batik factory and designed batik fabrics for an English rave company called Loud and have probably been to India at least twenty times. In 1994, I found my own house in the Kumaon Foothills of Uttaranchal, above Almora in Northern India. The house is about fifty miles from the Tibetan border and has spectacular views of the highest snow peaks in the world from there. I love to trek and have walked all over the lower mountains. Above all, the Himalayas have provided me with inspiration and subject matter that I have yet to exhaust as well as somehow allowing me to be the most Jonathan that I want to be. The people are friendly, simple country folk whose lifestyle has changed very little as the rest of the world has rushed into huge transformations outside.

I had a motorbike accident in India in 2001 and retreated to England for treatment to a badly broken arm. It was a difficult time for me but I managed to dig myself out of my hole through a sudden renewed love for batik. I started a long series of portraits of the inhabitants of my Indian world and by the end of this new decade, have painted just about everybody in my village. In 2003, I met and married Beth, a fellow batik artist, and we have travelled and worked closely together since then, going to India to work in peace in the mountains and coming back to Colorado in the USA where we do shows all over the country to sell our work. In India, we have a young local boy to work with us and we sell prints of his work here at art shows in the States.

Last year we bought a small cabin in the south of Colorado which backs up to Greenhorn Mountain and National forestry land in the Rockies with a lake in front.  We came back from our latest trip to India in early summer and have just moved into our new country house. There are so many humming birds that you have to bat them off and I caught a black bear in our garbage last week. Our new studio will be built next week and then we can get back to formal work again although, compulsive batik artists that we are, we’re already working out on the deck with an improvised batik table in full summer sunshine.

Compulsive might be the operative word here, I think. It takes a very special and compulsive, even anal dare I say, person to devote a life to the batik medium. Part of the problem of the serious and dedicated batik artist is that there is a lot of very sloppy work out there under the batik umbrella. Artists, who would not be taken seriously for a moment in another art medium like oils or acrylics or watercolours, regularly show their batik work and expect to be taken seriously. Please, go that extra mile or so and really get that technique down, I would say to them.  Amateurish and badly executed work is partially one of the reasons that batik is often unknown, or if known, then what gives batik a bad name. If you’re serious about it and are driven to try and create realistic representational work, it is a very slow, time-consuming and unforgiving art form. There’s precious little room for mistakes and once they’re made, you’ve just got to live with them, although I have been known to introduce sudden new clouds into a cloudless blue sky or magnolia flowers on an otherwise flower-less tree following accidents with the wax pot.  When you’ve run through the planned sequence of dyes and waxing and when you’re done, you’re done. I might be tempted to play around with an oil painting forever, trying to improve it, but with batik, when the last dye is on, you’re finished. And that’s part of the medium’s attraction, I suppose; all that you’re left to do is to move onto the next piece and try and get it right this time.

For me, batik has always been a way to explore the world, to record my life experience and to process this weird and wonderful opportunity that we are all given, more or less, for a limited time on earth. Sometimes, I hate the medium for its rigidity, its tedious and slow process and its difficulties. Sometimes I both love and hate it for the inherent mystery of the process; as each piece progresses and gets darker, more obscure and covered with wax, it become impossible to know what you’re doing and what you’ve got. There’s a tantalizing period when you lose the plot and the vision you started out with but in the final analysis, the revelation at the end is often worth it.

Batik is still an unknown art form on the very last art frontier. And that nagging question, “What is Batik?” reflects the long trip into public consciousness that the medium still has to make, in spite of it being an ancient and honourable art form. Me, I’ve taken to dodging the issue and saying that I paint using an unusual wax- resist process on cloth. Perhaps the medium needs another name to survive and to thrive in the west. If Shibori can give good old Tie Dye a new lease of life, then Rozome is batik by any other Japanese name and has given batik a slightly new lease of life. If I could come up with my own new name for the medium, I could probably give myself a new lease of life and go onto batik for another forty years. I probably would if I could; it sure beats working in a bank, any day of the week.

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