Nicole CHANG is currently a PhD student in the Department of Development Planning and Management at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. Her PhD research is on contribution of the art sector in revitalising and developing local economy. Her research interests are related to the development of urban regeneration, creative cities/creative industries, place making/place branding, community engagement, public art and art economy. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Koh Teng Huat (Ah Koh), an impressionist artist who devoted to ART and his Hometown
Ah Koh: “Artists’ heart is as wide as the sea and the hill at Balik Pulau. Let’s feel the inner soul of this beautiful city before the flow of development engulfed it completely.”
Koh Teng Huat, widely addressed as Ah Koh, among the local community in Penang, especially among the art circles. His endless devotion in promoting the unspoiled fishing village town of Balik Pulau through art, culture and heritage has touched many local peoples’ heart in Penang, particularly in Balik Pulau. Through art, he attempts to elevate more awareness about environmental conservation and also to advocate the multicultural harmoniousness in the country.
Ah Koh is a self-taught artist who painted out his very own style of palette knife paintings. He uses his palette knives and paint brushes, painted out the scene that he has seen onto the canvas. His bold and expressive personality as well as his exuberance in art is uninhibitedly demonstrated through each of his art strokes. Throughout the years since he started to paint, he has produced a series of art pieces that mostly captured scenes at Balik Pulau and George Town, Penang. Other than that, he also travelled to other places within or out of Malaysia to capture the interesting places, objects, peoples or activities onto his canvas. As he likes meeting different peoples, he enjoys painting outdoors. You might spot him among the crowds in the cities, painting on the streets. You might also see him painting on the hillside, at the seaside or on the farmlands. His on-the-spot demonstrations of palette knife paintings always attracted the crowd of locals and visitors.
Ah Koh’s Art Journey
Ah Koh, a Penang-born artist, is now 52 years old. He was growing up in a Malay Kampung (Paya Kongsi) in Balik Pulau. After completing his secondary education, he left his hometown for career development at cities in other states within Malaysia. He had been working in many different fields. He was a reporter, a sales personnel and a businessman as well as an educator. In 2004, he decided to move back to his home town together with his family, looking for simplicity of life.
In 2008, after some academic case studies were conducted on the community of Hakka immigrants and the heritage as well as the culture of Balik Pulau, this little fishing village town has caught the media’s limelight. Many local and international media teams came for the documentary shootings. Besides, many locally as well as internationally famous artists were attracted to visit Balik Pulau. They came to taste the famous durian fruits and, at the same time, to sketch and paint the natural scenes of this town. Slowly, this town become a great hideout for artists to source for creative inspirations. At that time, Ah Koh voluntarily became the local tour guide for the visiting artists. Seeing the artists painting the scenes of his hometown beautifully on the canvas, Ah Koh’s long dormant desire in painting was aroused. He then took up his paint brush again, started with a piece that painting soil, rocks and rivers, using the leftover paints from the visiting artists. Later on, he was exposed to palette knife oil painting. He was so attracted to the uninhibited and bold brush strokes. Since then, he recognized palette knife oil painting is a medium that well suit his personal character. Subsequently, he started his journey in the art world.
His Participation in Art Activities
In 2010, together with his friend, Ah Koh founded Balik Pulau Art Society. Next, he set up his own art studio at Pulau Betong, Balik Pulau in 2011. Ah Koh loves to invite friends, especially artists from different places to his art space for sharing and exchange in art. He always hopes that through the engagement and interaction among artists from different places, it would eventually help to promote Penang’s art to the international market.
Since 2010, Ah Koh has started to showcase his artworks in group exhibitions which held within Malaysia. Also, he had participated in international exhibitions in Taiwan, China and Singapore. In 2013, he had his first solo exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. In 2014, he had participated in more than 10 exhibitions including his 2nd and 3rd solo exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. In 2015, he held his 4th and 5th solo exhibitions in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Although being a self-taught artist, his passion and determination in art is never less than the professional trained artists. Nowadays, his paintings are one of the favourite collections of the local as well as the international collectors. Beside of individual collectors, his artworks were also collected by many art galleries and some private institutions. Since 2014, his artworks have started to be included in Malaysia’s art auction market. Total five pieces of his artworks were sold out during Masterpiece Fine Art Auction, in Kuala Lumpur (Oct 2014, March 2014, August 2015 & October 2015).
Ah Koh said, “Art is not supposed to be treated as something prominent. Art should be meant reachable. People should be able to feel or experience art in everyday life!” Along his artistic journey, Ah Koh always attempts to creatively bond art with nature, culture and heritage. He attempts to promote the awareness in conservation of nature, culture as well as heritage through art engagements that linked to people’s life. He started this move at Balik Pulau. He enduringly organizes art activities at Balik Pulau, hoping that one day he could realise his long-awaited dream, i.e. making Balik Pulau an International Art Village, or preferably called The Art-topia. Through art, he hopes to encourage more peoples to explore different sides of Balik Pulau. With continuous supports from friends that consist of artists, academicians, entrepreneurs, businessman, industrialists and activists in art, culture and heritage as well as the nature conservationists, he is looking forward to preserve and retain the unspoiled native scene of Balik Pulau. Although he is aware that this is unlikely happening, he never gives up. He hopes that, with the artists’ joined effort, they could at least documenting the existing scene of Balik Pulau onto canvas before it being fated away along with the development process.
From Ah Koh’s perspective, I learnt that life can be simple and less complicated without too much demand for luxury. Ah Koh, who enjoys living a simple life, appreciates and thankful to what he currently has. He hardly bothers to emphasize on the return or outcome of his initiatives. But rather, he enjoys every single process that he went through in building up what he dream of. I think this is what we called the value of life!