Monday, April 20, 2009

The elephant, my friend

Artist Yusof Gajah finds the giant animal a constant source of inspiration and theme for his art by Sharifah Hamzah,
The Sun,Lifestyle October 7, 2000

Yusof Gajah is knomn in the art circle and to friends as “Yusof Gajah” and for a good reason, too. The elephant is a constant inspiration in his artistic career. “After 20 years of painting elephants, I have not run out of ideas on how to depict this wonderful creature. In our sober consumer society, this amiable animal lends its appealing image for me to explore my aesthetic expression,” he says.
Yusof is also Malaysian’s foremost naïve artist. Naïve art refers to a style of artistic expression which often sees the world with simplified or idiosyncratic manner, not taking into serious account the “rules” of proportion and perspective. Growing up in Johol, a village in Negeri Sembilan, Yusof was surrounded by nature which continues to be a major influences in his work. He studied art at Sekolah Seni Rupa in Yogjakarta. When he returned in 1975, he started his career as a fulltime artist. He also join Anak Alam artist colony which became known for their bold commitment to artistic and intellectual development.
Yusof also forged a reputation as an illustrator of children’s books, and won the Grand Prix Award for Children’s book illustration at an international competition in Japan. In his current solo exhibition Elephantoidea, Yusof displays elephant- themed paintings in different mediums such watercolour, gouache, acrylic and mix media. He also displays his abstract rendition of the animal with semi-abstract “portraits” that are vibrant and eye-cacthing. In some, he has added glass beads to the canvas to add texture to the animal’s body. It seems that the abstract mode has, in fact, “humanized” the elephants, giving each of them a distinct personality. Yusof says studies have shown that elephants are known to share many emotion traits as humans such as joy, grief, jealousy and anger.
They have been known to grieve over the loss of another elephant or show a smiling expression when in a playful mood Yusof has also experimented with minimalistic style with his “white on white” abstract paintings of the elephant. But Yusof is concerned over the elephant’s dwindling population. “ In the past, there were 350 species of elephants. Today, there only two, the Asian and the African elephant, and the animal is already an endangered species. “Man greedy for ivory and encroachment of their habitat poses a precarious future for the animal, and I feel that it is our duty to preserve before they follow the same fate as the other members of the elephant family.”
Yusof leads a busy schedule as an artist. He is in process of opening an art gallery and activity centre for children. He also wants to help and motivated more naïve artist in Malaysia, and see the growth of this genre of art here. In the last few years, Yusof has been active in children’s art. At his Galeri Tanjung, he has been organizing children’s art classes every Sunday for the last year. He was the coordinator for recent international children’s painting exhibition and currently involved in several art projects involving young people at the National Art Gallery.
“It’s really a two-way process. One can learn so much from children art,” he says. One result if this influence is the ‘Mother and Child’ watercolour painting shown at this exhibition. “Elephantoidea”, a word which refers to the family tree of the elephants, can be viewed at Tinta Gallery till October 16