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Shamsul Bahari - an International Artist in Penang


Shamsul Bahari is an international artist, now based in Penang. Having been abroad for about half his life, he is now back to his hometown.

I had the good fortune to meet him for the first time at Little Penang and later again at the Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Gallery, where he resides as the staff artist.

Shamsul bahari at Little Penang
Shamsul Bahari at Little Penang

Little Penang is a street market meant mainly for tourists which is held on the last Sunday of every month. So, you yourself can also meet the master at his stall. Here, he does live demonstrations besides teaching young children, which he enjoys doing very much.

He spent about 21 years in the United States, and between those years, three years in Sendai, a city in Japan. Almost everything in life inspires him. This international artist is not bound by certain styles, media or techniques to convey his work. Nature, performing art, a scene on television, abstract, everyday events and even cartoons and caricatures would be drawn as long as they hold his fancy.

Calling himself as a natural born artist who inherits his skills mainly from his late grandfather, Shamsul Bahari also has a formal degree in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin in the United States. He started having his own solo exhibitions even when he was still an undergraduate.

In Japan, his first solo exhibition was entitled: "Bahari no Poutpourri". Later, he also managed to sell every piece of his work to an ecstatic crowd of Japanese art lovers at another solo exhibition in Sendai. It sure was one of the highlights of his artistic career.

Art teacher and his students
Shamsul Bahari with his students in Sendai (Photo courtesy of the artist's collection)

He had also been an art teacher when he was in Sendai. For him, Sendai is one of the most beautiful places on earth. This place had gaven him a lot of ideas and inspiration to produce so many amazing pieces.

Shamsul Bahari never stops learning new techniques of painting.

While in Japan, he discovered that the Japanese had a long tradition of preserving old techniques that are still being used until today.

A lot of patience, not to mention overflowing talent were needed to master these painting methods.

Another interesting fact is that Shamsul Bahari is also drawn to the work and styles of a 19th century well known international artist from Japan called Hokusai.

Manga inspired by Hokusai
Humorous manga inspired by Hokusai (Image courtesy of the artist's collection)

Besides famous wood print with "Waves" themes, Hokusai also drew manga. Manga is what the Japanese called cartoon sketches.

It's a simple but entertaining art form that at times be used to convey thought provoking ideas to men (and women).

Shamsul Bahari loves and excels in doing these funny sketches. It is amazing because it is quite rare for non-Japanese to be able to get into the heart of this technique.

I especially like his work on sumo wrestlers and monochromatic brushwork of Japanese martial arts movements.

There are also some serious bits that contemplates our spiritual aspects with our Maker but done with tongue in cheek attitude. This artist surely has plenty sense of humor in the free spirit way.

However, when asked about his masterpiece, he told me it was a piece called "Flight of Soul". It was a huge mixed media acrylic and paint work that signified his search for the spiritual meaning in life.

Go to the page of my interview with Shamsul Bahari to know more about the master.

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Also later: Take a peek at his upcoming book: Cheeseburgerbuddha in Sendai.

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