Mention eucalyptus, and most people either think of medicinal oils or food for koalas. Yet this tall, versatile plant can also be used for artistic purposes.
Veteran artist Datuk Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir discovered this while on a trip to Guangzhou, China, in 2014.
There, she saw rows and rows of these trees, which greatly fascinated her. On a second trip back there the same year, she took a full case of eucalyptus barks home with her.
“It was the grain of the bark that fascinated me, you could feel it, touch it. And there were layers and layers of the bark, you could pull one off, and the grain would still be there! I found it very intriguing,” recalls Sharifah, 70.
No surprise then, that her latest exhibition Song Of Eucalyptus at the Segaris Art Centre, Publika in KL prominently features the bark of these trees. This show is an extension, of sorts, to her exhibition Recent Works, which was shown in KL earlier this year. Song Of Eucalyptus features 32 new acrylic abstract collages, all of which combine the rough textures of eucalyptus bark with bright and exuberant colours. The show is divided into four broad categories, namely Song Of Eucalyptus, Pattern Of Dream, Eucalyptus At Rectory and Eucalyptus Image.
Sharifah, who is known as The First Lady of Malaysian Modernism and Abstraction, was among the first graduates in fine art from UiTM (previously known as Institut Teknologi Mara in 1967), and since then, she has gone on to a long and colourful career spanning almost five decades.
The Alor Setar, Kedah-born artist has won many awards and accolades over the years, and she is no stranger to experimentation when it comes to her art. Her previous works have also incorporated elements of collage.
“Eucalyptus is easy to work with. It cuts well, just like fabric. You will be surprised at how versatile this material is,” she explains.
In the studio, Sharifah reveals that her works take shape through a sequence of layers. She starts by placing modelling paste on a canvas, before adding paint, then the woven material, and then the eucalytpus bark, before adding a final layer of paint. Each painting can take from a week to a month to complete.
Also incorporated into many of Sharifah’s paintings are traditional mat weavings, which represent the artist’s acknowledgement of her Malay heritage and childhood. The bright hues of her acrylic works, when combined with the muted, earthy hues of the eucalyptus, often give out an atmosphere of being in a forest.
Such is the evocative nature of Sharifah’s art. However, she is graciously silent when asked to elaborate on the stories behind Song Of Eucalyptus.
It was not the job of an artist to explain her creations, she mentions. However, she hopes they would inspire people to appreciate their natural surroundings.
“As long as I’m not satisfied, I feel my work is not complete. It also depends on the size (of the works) and how I feel,” she says.
Sharifah appreciates the attention focused on the eucalyptus bark element. But she isn’t someone too tied up to any specific raw materials.
“In any case, there are so many ways of creating art. You can be inspired by nature all around you. I want to make people aware that you can use anything you want. It’s art, you have the freedom to experiment. You can even use stones and sand,” she says.
Song Of Eucalyptus is on at the Segaris Art Centre, Lot No 8, Level G4, Publika, Solaris Dutamas in Kuala Lumpur till Oct 1. Open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10am to 7pm. For more information, call 03-6211 9440 or visit www.segarisart.com.