New Straits Times, 5 July 2009
Terengganu Immortalised
by Viimala Seneviratne

Chen interprets what he sees and feels in his paintings

Chen interprets what he sees and feels in his paintings

Jambu Bongkok, one of the more obscure places in Terengganu

Jambu Bongkok, one of the more obscure places in Terengganu

Visitors at the Two Three Six exhibition in Wei-Ling Gallery, Brickfields, KL

Visitors at the Two Three Six exhibition in Wei-Ling Gallery, Brickfields, KL

Artist Chen Wei Meng’s emotional connection with his native East Coast State is evident in his breathtaking canvases, writes VIIMALA SENEVIRATNE.

SWIRLING white and grey clouds gather along the vast expanse of a deserted coast while gentle waves sweep the shore in an age old rhythm.

This scene, captured on canvas in acrylic, was one of 10 paintings at a just concluded exhibition at Kuala Lumpur’s Wei-Ling Gallery entitled Two Three Six by Terengganu-born Chen Wei Meng who celebrates the beauty of his native State.

“I have an absolute sentimental attachment to my home State Terengganu and I interpret what I see and feel in my paintings. The Two Three Six refers to the length in kilometres of the coast line of Terengganu from Kuala Besut to Kemaman.”

It took the 44 year-old, bespectacled, self-taught artist, about two years to complete the paintings – from visiting the various sites and gathering materials to painting them on canvas.

“For about eight months I travelled the entire coast line of Terengganu by car, almost always taking the off-the-beaten path. That, to me, is where the true spirit of my native State lies.

“Sometimes I would drive around, enjoying the scenery and simply appreciating nature. People should do that often – it’s wonderful for the soul,” says Chen who is currently based in Kuala Lumpur.

With more than 30 sketch books filled with pages of drawings as well as hundreds of photographs of the dramatics landscapes of the coastline, he returned to his studio-apartment in Rawang where he spent several months capturing what he had seen and felt on canvas.

He is meticulous in creating perfection. Chen’s paintings have to be seen up close for better appreciation.

He painstakingly paints each blade of grass and every grain of sand with all their minute details to give them a life-like appearance.

“I don’t use knowledge to paint – instead I use my eyes to judge and my instinct to lead. The painting process involves seeing and instinct, as it is an interaction of paints to create an illusion of space on a plane surface.”

Looking at some of the vast landscapes on the canvases the viewer will have difficulty trying to figure out the locations within the paintings.

One scene depicting a semi-arid landscape could easily be passed off for savannah land somewhere in Africa. “That is in Jambu Bongkok, one of the more obscure places in Terengganu,” he says.

Born in Dungun, Chen, the younger of two children, spent his formative years living in and around the small towns of Terengganu.

His love affair with the State began as a child living and playing on the beaches.

“I felt the need to document its ever-changing character, moods and vistas. I guess I have an acute sense of observation and I believe that once our heart is quiet and calm, we can see the beauty in nature.”

Although he took up drawing during his schooldays, he did not pursue it seriously until he began working, first as a graphic designer and later as an illustrator. “When you do illustrations, you use various techniques, materials and your creativity goes into overdrive. I enjoy that.”

Chen, who has taken part in group art exhibitions at the National Art Gallery and other galleries in Malaysia, Korea and Britain, began to paint during his spare time, usually after office hours. It was also one of his ways of unwinding.

He enrolled for an interior design course where one of the subjects was drawing but he quit after two years.

“I wasn’t getting anywhere with that course. But I learned the basics for drawing that are applicable to painting as well.”

He began painting and experimenting with various mediums and styles and, over the years, perfected his work. Now he prefers to work with oil and acrylic.

Because he is so meticulous about his paintings, he produces fewer than 10 paintings a year.

“I don’t believe in painting for the sake of painting. Whatever I produce comes from the heart.”