Monday, April 20, 2009

Portrait of the artist as a dreamer

Artists must embrace society so that their work is understood by those outside their world, a daydreamer with a brush tells Vijaya Rani, Life Sunday, October 24, 1999

The massage that Dumbo, the flying elephant, has for children-to be bold and adventurous-is an enduring remainder of the power of our dreams. Dumbo’s inspiring adventures have a special meaning for the artist yusof Ismail @ Yusof Gajah, who loves to stir the imagination of the young as well as old.
“I have a wonderful childhood, with time to daydream and fantasies, so it was only natural that I became an artist,” he says.Yusof believes that every child needs a few awe-inspiring tales to add some joy and fanciful imaginings to their memory. As a result, he has spent much of his fatherhood exposing his children to moving experiences so that they too may have an inspirational childhood. Home, therefore, is a creative den for his daughter, Jaja, 16, and sons, Jojo, 14 and Jiji, 4. “We parents today are the bow and our children the arrows who will be going on to the future,” says Yusof. “So it is our duty to sharpen their skills and prepare them well.”
The metaphor has already found its target. His teenage son and daughter have sold their paintings in aid of social and charity groups in the last few tears. “Next I hope to hold an exhibition of father-child artist which I believe will promote art as a family activity. It is important for an artist to get the family to understand his art so that they will value and safeguard his work after his death,” says Yusof, who laments that many artist has disappear into oblivion for lack of appreciation by family and friends.
“Only if the family understands can the artist make an impression on his community, even though not everyone can afford to buy such work,” he adds. The community figures prominently in Yusof’s mission. “Artist must involve the community in their works so that the public can understand their ideas,” he says. “When an artist is at work, he may seem a little withdrawn, but once a piece is done he should step back into reality and take on his responsibilities.”
So, Yusof family is steeped in his na├»ve art and ‘back to basics’ values. “Our quality of life may have improved and we spend much on other activities but when comes to art we give our children only a small piece of paper and a box of crayon!” says Yusof, showing some exasperation. On this part, Yusof is determined to give art its due place, i.e as an essential part of life.
“Everybody needs art to stimulate thought or relax the mind. Surely no ones likes to stare at a blank wall, so it is a vital part of life which no one should do without,” says Yusof. His visible output makes it clear that he has more than the average share of mental stimulation. Hundreds of pieces crowd his home and studio at the Kuala Lumpur Budaya Kraf Complex off Jalan Conlay. One ardent supporter of his point of view is his wife, Zakiah Mohd Isa, who is now his full time promoter. Over past two decades, Zakiah has learnt not just to appreciate art, but also the sacrifices Yusof has made to bring his vocation to the community.
So far, his massage has found expression in six solo exhibitions in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan so far. Among his output are over 15 children’s books, numerous puppet theatre shows and a television programme for the young. Having been trained at art school in Yogjakarta (1972-1975), which share a strong social agenda, Yusof’s heart is close to issues such as children, family, environment and traditional values.
Now, he is raising funds for the Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM) welfare community. “We got children of staff and others interest in art to produce exceptionally big paintings to be put up on the walls of the hospital and we hope these pieces will be sponsored to raise funds for welfare projects,” says Yusof. This is not the first time the Yusof family has pitched in with other like minded artists for charitable causes. “We must set aside time, money and energy for children, the sick and less fortunate in order to lead a fulfilling life,” says Zakiah.
As an artist, Yusof says, his greatest personal achievement was winning the Noma Concours for Children’s Picture Book Illustrator Award in Tokyo, Japan in 1997. He won the Runner-up Award in 1992 and encouragement Award in 1988. He has also won best Children’s Book Illustrator and Picture Book Awards from National Book Council in 1992.