KUALA LUMPUR, March 5 — Retired civil servant and watercolour artist Yeow Teck Chai will be hosting his inaugural solo art exhibition next week, from March 14 to 18, to raise funds for the less fortunate.
The Kuantan-born Yeow will pledge all proceeds from his exhibition at Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur to support the Society of the Several Mentally Handicapped and Malaysian SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) association.
“I have loved art since I was in primary school,” said the friendly 67-year-old.
As a confident, cheeky adolescent, when teachers complimented his artwork, Yeow would respond, “Yeah, I know.”
“I could reproduce anything onto paper, in great detail, just by looking at it,” he said.
Once he painted an oversized RM5 note and presented it at the hawker stall in his neighbourhood, just to see the seller’s reaction.
“Initially they would be surprised and it was fun to watch.”
However, the SK Sultan Abdullah and SMK Sultan Abu Bakar alumnus was often disappointed as his art teachers seldom turned up for classes!
“I would prepare pieces and wait eagerly to show them but, I don’t know why they didn’t come to class. Maybe they felt art was not an important lesson?”
An ardent fan of old, realism paintings like Michelangelo’s, Yeow loved drawing portraits.
“My bedroom was filled with sketches of world leaders including John F. Kennedy and Ferdinand Marcos.”
“I also used to polish plywood and sketch portraits with a pen. After varnishing and framing, they were often given away as gifts.”
In Sixth Form, Yeow took art as his fourth subject, as he was certain of an easy grade. It helped him secure a seat at University of Malaya to pursue his degree in economics.
“I was the social secretary at Fourth College, responsible for organising activities and events. My talent came in handy to create posters, banners, and T-shirts.”
Yeow’s artistic skills also included a knack for floral arrangements.
“I asked my (now) wife, Fong Lai Ching, who was a junior at the college, to sign up for a flower arranging competition and I did the work.”
Yeow’s creation, using charcoal and roses, which Fong named Heartache by the Numbers, after a 1950s country and Western song sung by Guy Mitchell, won first prize.
Upon graduating in 1974, Yeow wanted to join the advertising industry.
“Nothing was working out in that field. Fortunately, Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) was hiring and it had the best pay package. I spent the next 32 years there.”
Yeow was responsible for promoting and marketing Malaysia to the world and bringing in foreign investors. He was also stationed in London for six years, shortly after joining the organisation.
“My artistic nature came in handy when designing brochures, posters, promotional videos and commercials for the country.”
Yeow also created a comic strip titled “Durian Talks” that appeared on MIDA club’s quarterly magazine.
The father of three said he used colour pencils to draw durians discussing current issues with a light-hearted twist.
“My bosses looked forward to it, although sometimes the strip may have struck a nerve or two... it didn’t bother me.”
In 2006, he retired as deputy director-general, two years after battling nose cancer.
“As a fit guy and sports enthuse, it frightened the heck out of me when I was diagnosed with third stage cancer.”
Yeow and Fong spent six months in Singapore for treatments.
He now has a clean bill of health and takes time to attend support groups to give moral support and help encourage other patients.
“My advice is don’t look back, don’t ask ‘why me’. Be positive and look forward.”
While Yeow has never attended classes to learn watercolour painting, he did try learning acrylic painting but after two lessons found it was not his forte.
“I only pursue things that come naturally to me. In addition to painting, I am good at golf and skilled in bird calls.”
Yeow is also a cooking enthusiast who loves preparing Western dishes and makes a mean slab of siew yoke (crispy roast pork).
Asked why he waited this long to hold an exhibition, Yeow said he never had the time to pursue painting while working with MIDA. Even after retirement, he continued consulting for several other organisations until recently.
“When my children were younger, I used to sketch them with a pen, plus a few odd pieces but I didn’t take up watercolour painting again until 2015,” said the whiskey connoisseur whose favourite single malt is Auchentoshan.
Yeow, who also loves painting sceneries, has never sold a single painting.
“I painted a golf scene for a former boss and in exchange, he gave me two bottles of good red wine.”
Another friend gave him a bottle of 21-year-old Chivas whiskey for a painting.
“My former bosses, colleagues from MIDA and friends are very supportive of this upcoming exhibition.”
“Most of the pieces have been pre-booked. So as not to disappoint walk-in guests, I am trying to paint more pieces before the exhibition.”