As many of my friends know, when it comes to sketching, I’m attracted to the presence of chipped paint & plaster, mould, rusted corrugation, broken objects, and clutter – the results of man-made objects that have been abandoned, then left to collapse & disintegrate in the tropical climate of SE Asia.
I’ve done nearly 100 drawings in Johor Bahru, Malaysia since I arrived here 2 years ago – many are in the old Johor Heritage District, an area that is slowly undergoing a revival. Numerous times in the past 18 months, I’ve walked along a short alley in the area, where I’ve passed by this vacant old shophouse. I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the elaborate patterns & weathered textures found on its’ walls. Over the years, the natural elements of heat, sun & rain (and some local taggers) have created a colourful ‘accidental’ canvas - it’ a great example of “beautiful decay”.
It took me a number of months before I finally attempted a sketch of the wall. Ironically, the longer it took me to finally decide to draw the wall, the ‘better’ its’ surface became! Finally, in mid-August, I decided to sketch the shophouse wall, spending three sessions to complete this drawing. I sat along the edge of the alley, looking up at a sharp perspective angle to draw the building, making sure to also include the tilting TV antenna. Cars slowly passed by only several feet away from me, and I’d see faces peering behind tinted windows, wondering what this crazy foreigner was doing here! On the second day, a brief storm blew in, which gave me a dark contrasting sky against the wall’s traditional Peranakan blue paint.
I’m happy to know that other Johor folks have also noticed this natural canvas: on the first morning, a wedding photographer stopped to take pictures of a new bride & groom in front of the wall. And on the third day, a group of local photographers came by to photograph the colours & textures, and I became their unexpected model/prop in their pictures!