Infusing Kuching flavour into art
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
By now, perhaps most have already seen the art mural in the food court at the third level of VivaCity Megamall.
And for that, meet Kuchingite Leonard Siaw, the guy behind the mural.
Depicting what Kuching may have looked like perhaps 40 to 50 years ago, it features several food hawkers preparing local dishes like laksa, kolo mee, kueh chap and fried noodles for their customers.
“For the mural project, I wanted it to look like the olden times,” said Leonard.
Flavours of Kuching
The mural perfectly captured a big cultural part of Kuching – our food – which we all take great pride in.
Taking place in what seems to be a lively stretch of a busy lane in town, some of the food hawkers look quite cheerful as they flip their woks around and talk to customers, while others seemed to carry a serious expression as they concentrate in their task taking extra care in preparing the food.
However, being a cat lover, my favourite part of the whole mural was the ginger cat sitting on a stool looking expectantly for the laksa seller to give it some bits of food to eat.
Inspired by Siniawan and Batu Kawa old town, Leonard said he wanted to create a nostalgic feeling of the good old days where the atmosphere was calm and not congested with cars and buildings, giving younger generations a peek into the past.
However, while many elements of Kuching have changed, the only thing that seems to have stood against the test of time is our local dishes that all generations seem to enjoy.
Designer by day, mural artist by night
Having spent two months working on the mural project before the opening of the mall last December, Leonard work tirelessly to get it perfectly completed on December 1st.
A designer by profession, Leonard said that he would spend at least five hours every day finishing his work late at night after office hours.
Remembering how nervous he felt when he first started working on the mural, he recalled having to prepare his own lighting and setting as the place was dark and murky. He also recalled some unpleasant encounters with a few cockroaches while he was working alone late into the night.
When asked if he was tired or scared even while working by himself, Leonard said that he had to bear with it as he was given the responsibility to complete the task given to him.
“Besides, it is my hobby and I love drawing. It makes me happy. During office hours, you tend to be stressed trying to chase the deadline. So, when I am drawing or painting, it helps me overcome stress. Even at midnight, I do not feel sleepy at all,” he said.
He initially started by measuring the height and width of the wall, carefully planning his ideas while later relying mostly on his vision for measuring, stressing that the mural made sense from the onlooker’s view point.
Admitting he was a perfectionist by nature, he would spend a huge amount of time just working on small details until he got it right such as the details on the food stall and the facial expressions.
Teaching himself how to sketch and paint, Leonard developed his interest in art when he was younger, sometimes doodling pictures and sketches during free periods at school.
Aside from that, he also developed an interest in sketching human expressions when he was a student in college doing live portraits, sketching during several events and exhibitions.
“I collected all those expressions in my mind and I would apply them in my artwork,” he said adding that he used some of the expression he recalled in his latest mural.
Aside from facial expression, he also has an interest in trick art, a form of art that creates illusions depicting objects as realistically as possible, which he would always incorporate in any of his artwork including the latest one.
Although he has been sketching since his schoolyears, it was not until 2014 when he first painted his first mural at the Library at Simpang Tiga. Some of his earlier works can also be spotted at the Alleycat Cafe and the Urban Ape gym.
According to the 29-year-old, when he was studying design at Limkokwing years ago, most of his course was about computer engineering.
“I had like a mentor, Mr Petrus Albert Paul, who constantly gave me advice and taught me techniques. He was teaching design himself but he was also an artist,” said Leonard.
Admittedly, when he started on his first mural down at The Library at Jalan Simpang Tiga, he was not confident about his work, but nevertheless told himself to just make the first step and go with it.
“I need to try something new. Since I know how to draw and paint, I figured I just give it a try,” said Leonard.
“Then later, when I began to get involved into more work, I started to get a hang of it.”
Citing Michaleangelo, a Renaissance artist who was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel as his idol, Leonard hoped that one day he could contribute a big piece in town someday.
“I would like to contribute a big piece in town if there is an empty wall available,” he said
As of now, Leonard is working on another art mural commissioned by an acquaintance at a coffee shop down town and when it is done, Kuchingites will have another new art mural to admire.