Exploring the beauty of nature with Narong Daun
By Jude Toyat
FROM KAMPUNG GARUNG, Puncak Borneo, Narong Daun, 44, grew up surrounded by nature, and that has been her primary source of inspiration in her artwork. Growing up in a farming family, she has a unique, deep-rooted affinity for Sarawak.
When asked how she first discovered her creative talents in art, she said, “I knew that I loved art, especially paintings, since I was in Standard 2. At that time, though, I only painted like other normal kids did.”
Narong completed her Form 6, and throughout her school years, she always excelled in art which convinced her that this was where her talent lay.
“That is when I told myself that since I have these talents and passion for arts, then I might as well concentrate more on it and become an artist.”
The field of art, however, turned out to be extremely tough and her choice to pursue the arts was not an easy one to make.
“When I first started my career as an artist, it was not an easy way for me and definitely not an easy thing for me to do. My parents wanted me to become somebody else and they told me that life as an artist cannot make money. I told my father that I wanted to become an artist, and he was very disappointed.”
From that moment on, she was driven to prove to her parents that she was not playing around, and that she was very serious in her decision to pursue the arts.
She first worked as a batik artist with Fabriko for three years, before showing her work at ARTrageously Ramsay Ong art gallery in 2001. Narong worked with Ramsay Ong for about 13 years and during that time, she also sold her paintings, mostly to foreign tourists apart from joining art exhibitions.
Later on, she continued to develop her painting skills and techniques, first at Nelson’s gallery and then as an artist at Technographic. Today, she has been painting professionally for 15 years and currently, she continues to paint on a freelance basis from her own studio at home.
Even though Narong regards her works as pure joy and not for financial gain, she can proudly say that her paintings hang in homes all over the world including the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Thailand and New Zealand.
Her artworks are also being displayed in Kuala Lumpur as well as in Hawaii and New Delhi.
‘Indah: The Hidden Beauty of Nature’ exhibition currently being held at the Sarawak Art Museum, was her way to prove that she had made it and that she was born to be an artist.
“I wanted to send a message to parents nowadays, if they see their children have a talent, let them do it, I don’t want them to be like my father. I can say that I am stubborn but if this is what I wanted to do in life, I need to show them that I can excel in this.”
Narong, the Artist
One of Narong’s proudest achievements is when she developed a new technique in her art.
To paint, Narong prefers to be in a comfortable, calm and clear space. In her mind’s eye she sees her hand dancing across the canvas and her imagination spilling out onto the white canvas in color.
“I get my inspiration from my surroundings and also by talking to people. I spend most of my time at the village going into the jungle, which is where I find inspiration for my paintings,” she said.
Narong’s inspirations include hornbills which have become part of her artistic signature, besides heliconia, orchids, sunflowers, towering trees, and mountains. Her paintings are often embellished with Dayak motif that ground her artwork intimately to Sarawak.
Inspiration is a driving force in her work, and for Narong, the most difficult part of being an artist is when she doesn’t have any inspiration on what to paint or how to start her paintings.
Judging by her expressive and vivid paintings on display at the museum, Narong successfully combines the realistic beauty of her subject matter with her rich vision and imagination. Her artworks are an extension of her mood, her environment and her emotions.
“I can see things differently, I always want to make things beautiful, and that is how I always manage to produce good artwork,” she said.
The most enjoyable moment for Narong as an artist is when she completes an art piece.
“When I start painting, I become so excited to see the results, because when I paint, I depend only on my imagination. I don’t do sketches; everything comes spontaneously including my use of colours,” she added.
She said that she didn’t really have a favourite piece, as every piece was special and came with different moods and feelings.
When asked how she came up with the title for her exhibition, she explained that her friend once suggested that she do an exhibition of her artwork at the museum.
“Then, while I was working on my next painting, I received a call from the museum. After waiting for a few months, they finally told me that my exhibition was approved and going to be held in May this year. I became extremely excited with the news and I considered myself a very lucky person to have the opportunity to exhibit my artworks here. That is when I painted these four paintings, and came up with the title for my exhibition.”
“It is merely a state of celebrating my happiness and I considered this as one of my proud achievements after being involved in art for many years. Not everyone can have this opportunity and I hope from here I can continue to create good artworks and produce masterpieces in future.”
As a traditional batik artist working on silk, Naron felt confined to the traditional ways, drawing and outlining designs with wax before she filled it with colors. Her tenure with her mentor Ramsay Ong, however, would send her art into a new direction.
Under Ong, Narong threw away her tjantung, sketch book and pencils, opting instead for the freeform flow of creativity that characterises her artwork today.
Narong still works on silk as she did when she was working with Fabriko, because of the vibrancy of colors, only now, she goes straight to the canvas.
Primarily, she works with fabric dyes but she continues to experiment with new techniques, splashing the dye on to the canvas, even rolling the fabric in cling film. Recently, Narong started to combine techniques, applying wax in the traditional way in some areas of the canvas and her own freestyle technique in others. This way, her work continues to evolve from a Sarawak tradition into. She now allows the colors to flow freely and sometimes unpredictably, creating work of incredible intensity.
She added, “When I painted this hornbill, I brought myself out from reality into a fantasy, to achieve this. This hornbill painting took me three weeks to complete.”
Generally, Narong takes three weeks to complete an artpiece. If she is not inspired, however, it may take her more time, because she need to think of suitable colors to mix to achieve the different tones of color needed.
Narong also added that “When I start to paint, I start with a white canvas which is very difficult for me; I have to sit and imagine what I am going to do on that white canvas. So, in order for me to solve that problem, I simply put on any color on that white material, and as long as there is a little bit of color on it, my mind and imagination will start to develop.”
Narong has also tried other forms of art, including making models with old newspapers and wires during her free time, but that is only for her personal satisfaction.
Her hobbies require her to use her hands more and she loves doing D-I-Y activities such as gardening and carpentry. Narong also does traditional Bidayuh crafts such as beadwork and mats, although she admits she doesn’t really have the patience for it, as she prefers activities which are fast and allow her to move freely.
Besides Ong, Narong’s favorite living artists include Stephen Bennett, an American portrait painter.
She has always been fascinated by the use of colours in Bennett’s artwork. She met him once, and learned how to vary the colours in her paintings from him. From there, she enjoys playing with colors and regards Bennett as her idol.
“I want my artwork to move all over the world. I want people from all over the world to see my artwork and know that we, Sarawakians, have special talent that we can share it with the world. That is why I purposely use nature and Sarawak motifs because I want people to know all these come from Sarawak,” Narong said when asked about her future goals.
When asked about her current project, Narong said that she and her friends will open a new art gallery together. Located at Carpenter Street in Kuching, it is currently under renovation, and will be called the Indah Gallery when it is done.
“I am going to display my paintings in the new art gallery and also, there, I will provide art workshops for adults and children,” she said. The workshops will enable them to do some artwork together, share ideas and build good relationships with each other. “Somebody we can build an art community, which I think is really needed here in Sarawak.”
Her advice to the younger or future generations of artists is to paint as their authentic selves.
“If you want to become an artist, never try to become somebody else. Good paintings come sincerely from the heart. Paint anything you like, and remember, if you want it to be in a way, it should be paint in that preferred way. There is no need for you to bother much about what other people may say, you should show them who you really are, and note that it will only limit your imagination if you listen to them.
“Also, do not paint because you want to sell your paintings. Do not become artists for the sake of earning money, you can just forget about it. Paint, because you love to paint, and be sincere, then you can go far.”
Narong also stressed that it was very important to be generous and open-minded in the field of arts. Sharing ideas, including painting techniques is essential for the future generations. For her, if she shares it with other people, they can learn and continue her legacy.
For those who wish to get in contact with Narong, she can be contacted at 016-8070751, email at [email protected] or through her Facebook page, Narong Daun. She will also be available during her exhibition at the Sarawak Art Museum.
The ‘Indah: The Hidden Beauty of Nature’ exhibition is the third in a series co-hosted by Sarawak Heritage Society (SHS) and Jabatan Muzium Sarawak to showcase the work of artists depicting aspects of Sarawak’s cultural heritage through the unique viewpoint of Sarawak’s present and future art stars.
The art exhibition runs for three weeks from May 21 to June 13 at the Sarawak Art Museum and displayed paintings and retrospective artworks of Narong Daun. So come to the Sarawak Museum for a glimpse of color, movement, culture, nature and beauty – Indah.