Monday, April 20, 2009


By Dian
KL LIFESTYLE February 2007

Born in Negeri Sembilan, Mohd Yusof bin Ismail or Yusof Gajah as he is fondly known, is a catalyst to the growth of Malaysia’s naïve art scene. His paintings recapture the fondest of childhood memories through quirky strokes and dreamy renditions. No rules rule. His spirit runs free and the result, colourful landscapes from under the banner of naïve art. His signature elephant series is undeniable by a minimal and contemporary masterpiece. Hardcore artists who refuse to crawl out of their hole label him commercial, but he is unfazed by criticism,

“They are not going to help me when I don’t have money. I make a living out of painting, so I have to map a marketing strategy to sell my paintings. Instead of collecting dust in a dingy storeroom somewhere, I want my artwork to be appreciated.”
He urges Malaysian artist to be realistic, to be an artist of this era. “There will not be another Van Gogh, and definitely not one in Malaysia,” he points out. Yusof is ever willing to share his knowledge to help budding artists find their footing and he believes as an artist they should focus on creativity and paint what people like instead of constantly blaming the society for not being supportive. Currently, he has 15 new artists under his wing who participate actively along-side their mentor in running Yusof Gajah’s galleries and their artwork is also included for sale in these galleries. Yusof Gajah also embarked on a mission to open a wood carving studio with the aid of young local islanders who attended a wood carving course in Bali through the sponsorship of Langkawi Development Authority (LADA).

A graduated of Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia, Yusof is grateful for the knowledge, creativity and discipline taught by Indonesia’s best art academy. “It was difficult getting into that art school in Indonesia as they have a very strict requirement. Instead of exam results, they scrutinize your artwork and if they think you fit the bill, you gain admission.” Yusof recalls the hardship while studying when he received a bad grade for not submitting one of the 500 sketches he was supposed to complete.
Today, Yusof Gajah’s work is much sought after by art collectors in Malaysia and overseas. His work captured the eye of our new king, Yang di-Pertuan Agung Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, and Yusof is deeply honoured to have his Mjesty as his latest art collector.
Art collectors from Indonesia are very fond of 3 Malaysian artists – Latif Mohidin, Ibrahim Hussein and Yusof Gajah himself. Yusof’s work was auctioned in Larasati Auction House in Indonesia, a popular auction house with the likes of Christie’s.

“ Having my paintings sold in Larasati is truly an honour for me as Malaysian artist find it hard to penetrate the Indonesian market because of the abundant talented local artists,” reveals this painter who has been painting elephants for 30 years now. His work is not only celebrated in Malaysia but have won the adoration of many Scandinavians who are compelled to obtain one of his masterpieces before leaving the country.
“Most of them worked in Kuala Lumpur previously and I have taught some of their children. They are especially in love with the elephant paintings I do.”
Last year, Yusof’s painting was adorned on the KL Monorail train that snakes through the city centre. Commissioned by Malaysia Airlines, Yusof depicted sceneries of Stockholm in his signature style, getting the inspiration through research and books. He finally got to see the landmarks of the city when he and Harris Ribut worked on the Elephantoidea and the Fat Ladies exhibition in Stockholm, 2005, months after completing the artwork for MAS. His proudest moment in life came when he made a speech in front of over 50 ambassadors from all over the world after he was bestowed an award for children’s book illustration in Tokyo, Japan. Yusof also had his 30 minutes of fame when he was featured in NHK’S Who’s Who.
“ I want to be remembered as someone who promoted Malaysian’s naïve art scene and someday, I hope my dream of opening an art museum with my own money would come true,” reveals Yusof, who is working out plans to promote batik art soon. Accompanying him everywhere he goes is his doting wife, Zakiah Md Isa who is Yusof Gajah’s pillar of strength. “ She’s my everything,” he coyly adds. When he is not traveling, Yusof can be found working on canvases in his spacious Batu Caves studio.