Monday, April 20, 2009

Elephant Stomp

Genial beasts or savage creatures? One artist paints his own elephant story to tell, Home Pride Magazine, June 2005

If you not familiar with the work of Yusof Gajah, you might just get a clue from his name. Truly like an extension of his identity, the elephant, you might say, is everything that this artist stands for. “The elephant is the ingredient of my subject matter”, as he would tell you. “It has become my icon.” And so it really has. Known for his colourful and abstract depiction of elephants, Yusof’s work is among one of the more recognizable facets of Malaysian art. But this identity is one that has taken him over two decades to carve.

Journey of the Elephant

As early as the age of seven, as he recalls, Yusof was already showing an interested in art. But back in the 60’s, even paper was scarce, and the young artist-in-making had to resort to doodling on his school books to express himself. “I used to fill up every page of my textbooks,” he vividly recalls. His ride with elephants came a little bit later. It was in the mid-70, in fact, when the artist adopted the name Yusof ‘Gajah’. Given to him by a friend of a friend after seeing one of his elephant pieces, the name stuck on. In fact, it was this name that had spurred him to focus solely on elephants as his subject matter.

Elephants can be seen even in his earlier work, though with much less prominence. Done in the form of na├»ve art, these early paintings produce a collection known as his landscape series, which, until today, receive attention among his collectors. In time, however, this gave way to his current style of contemporary art, which brings the elephant to the forefront in a bold exploration of colour, shape and form. Yusof’s liberal use bright and contrasting is one of the most definitive aspects of his work – something that has remained constant throughout the whole of his artistic career.

Yusof The Realist

Being a successful artist in Malaysia means knowing how to balance between the art scene and the business aspect of the field. Many artists, according to Yusof, try to avoid being labeled as ‘commercial’. While there is always a fine line to tread, he is more practical. “I try to think of what my customers will like, and come up with something new everyday.”

Inspired by bright, sunny conditions, Yusof is always keen to heighten art appreciation within society. Toward this end, he has involved himself with many charity events, and has also participated in children’s workshops to promote reading and literacy. To date, he has even illustrated 20 children’s books- the most recent one being collaboration with the National Cancer Society.

A word On Art

Since the 80’s and 90’s, according to Yusof, Malaysians have shown a greater appreciation for art, especially with the rise of what he calls ‘new millionaires’ and young couples returning from their studies abroad. However, as he will tell you, “most people don’t spend enough an art as compared to other things for the house like the sofas.”

He advises that when purchasing artwork, people should not only find something that fits their taste but to think of the process as a future investment. Look for the works of good budding artists, he says, whose value increase in 10 to 15 years.

As for himself, Yusof thinks that his art is more suited to houses with a minimal-style design. He currently has over 20 customers who keen collector of his elephant artwork. “There are not many painters here who paint elephants seriously,” he says. This undoubtedly makes his painting unique in the art scene.

His vivid use of colour, in fact, makes his art more popular among certain foreign customers than others. Scandinavians, in particular, make up his biggest clientele. The reason for this? “People from different countries like different colours. The German like earth tones, whereas the Japanese like pastel colours. Scandinavians have long winters, so they like bright colours”.

Elephants Taking Stand

Yusof latest endeavor, which he reveals specially to Home Pride, is a collection of wooden sculptures done in the form of his elephant work. Taking inspiration from the wayang kulit concept, these sculptures are flat-like and are fixed onto a wooden base fore more 3 dimensional effects.

Fans of his art will be able to see his characteristic elephants in a whole new form. Each piece is uniquely different, designed with its own distinctive shape and colour form. What’s interesting about these sculptures is the reverse side on each piece, which reveals a whole different aspect to each elephant. Known as ‘the otherside’, the painting here gives each sculpture a special character that relates to the elephant in front.

True to his word, Yusof continually comes up with new collections for the public. And even after all these years, his passion of elephants remains the same. As he would tell you himself, “I never get bored of doing elephants.”

We certainly hope not.

Whimsical elephants