Khaw Sia Memorial Exhibition

Some serious attempts have been made to "categorise" the development of Malaysian art into convenient time frames. For example, the pioneers (or first generation artists) encompass those born during the turn of the present century. Those born between 1930 to the end of the Second World War (roughly 1945) would be reserved for the second generation whilst the third generation would be for those born during 1946 to the present.

This adhoc system is, in the absence of a proper format, quite a commendable effort to rectify, at least for the time being, the deficiency of a proper chronological order.

Using the yardstick of this time measurement, the late Khaw Sia seems to fall into the category of a first generation or a pioneer Malaysian artist. He can be given a unique place in the short history of Malaysian art. At his best, his works are as near perfection as possible and seemingly above criticism. Admittedly, during his era, the main stocks in trade of the artists encompassed the normal land and seascapes, the villages, the flowers (he chose the orchids). Simplicity was the order of his day although there were already some influences of "modern" art being introduced into the country. The qualified art teachers returning home after receiving their formal art education overseas became an influential lobby group in promoting the modern art movement.

Khaw Sia was born in 1931 in China at a moment of chaos and uncertainty. There was scant attention given to the development and appreciation of the arts and aesthetic values. Nonetheless, a great man did arise in such a depressed state. He managed to obtain the right encouragement and opportunity to cultivate his artistic talent to the fullest. His works, for example, were accepted for display in London and Paris in the mid-fifties.

Khaw Sia's temperament and love of the water colour medium is most noticeable. He drew and painted on subjects that interested him, especially Penang landmarks and street scenes. During his travels to Europe, he drew many buildings such as churches and castles. These are faithfully captured in his personal sketch book of 31 pages, which form part of the Khaw Sia collection. Towards the later part of his life, he specialised in painting orchid flowers, revealing his love for beauty and nature. One will, furthermore, notice his “signature” represented by the dew drops resting on the leaves of the orchid plants. There are also sketches of his travels to the homes of orchid lovers, especially in Singapore. These sketches will later be transposed to his finished works. The written records in his sketches show the names of the orchids, the identity of the owners and the dates of his visits.

Pearls of Dew ~ 1978
10.5" x 29"

Written by:
Sonny Khor. An avid collector of Khaw Sia’s paintings. A former banker, he is currently the Chairman, the State Art Gallery Committee.

Many of the exhibits on display confirm his love for the outdoor life so prevalent in Penang. His paintings show a Penang still environmentally free from pollution. The main economic activity then reflected the simple lifestyle of fishermen and farmers.

As a result of this, he has faithfully represented them in many of his scenery paintings. The kampung scenes show his feelings and confidence which he was able to translate into a communicative art form to the spectator.

It is not hard to place Khaw Sia in relation to the other celebrated pioneer artists and his great contemporaries.

The 50 works on display, each one being a clear statement by itself, have been selected to depict Penang life, represented, for example, by the kampung scene in Tanjong Tokong, the three famous bays, Sungai Pinang, farming in Batu Maung, the Kapitan Kling Mosque, the Kek Lok Si Temple, the colourful circus scene, etc. A selection of the orchids shows the popular “four” season series and the various varieties of the species, either in singular portray or in an array.

The colourful displays of his orchid paintings show his powerful control of the colours, his creative ability and control of the elusive water colour technique combined with his dexterity of the brush. A majority of the selected paintings have never been publicly exhibited in the past. Coupled with his creative imagination, thought, feelings and knowledge of his subjects, Khaw Sia was able to successfully combine these with his talents to produce some of the best loved works that are on display at the exhibition. His feelings towards his subjects and the tonal quality suggest that Khaw Sia belonged to the old traditional Victorian order and was a romantic.

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