Jamaliah Morais works her deft and talented Oriental brush painting strokes at her studio within a Torpedo factory – yes an actual, former torpedo manufacturing factory that was refurbished to become what is now the largest arts centre in the United States.
The Malaysian-born artist has been painting for more than 35 years. The late I-Hsiung Ju, Emeritus Professor of Art, Washington and Lee University, Virginia, described her work as one where “the brush dances and the ink sings”.
Morais first studied the art form under the tutelage of master painter Professor Chen Bing Sun in Manila, the Philippines, where she lived for several years. She made her debut with a solo exhibition in Manila in 1985.
In 1986, she relocated to the United States with her husband Herbert Morais and three children and settled in McLean, Virginia.
Through the years, she has had several solo exhibitions in Washington DC, including exhibitions at the Malaysian Embassy, the Arts Club of Washington, the University Club and the Audubon Naturalist Society. Her group shows in the United States and Canada included exhibitions at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, James Madison Univer-sity and the Ratner Museum. Her paintings have won several national, regional and local exhibition awards and prizes.
Why Chinese brush painting? “I can do other genres but somehow I am very comfortable in an intuitive way with this medium,” she says. “It may have something to do with being Asian and the affinity of being Malaysian.”
Morais decided that she wanted to be an artist when she won first prize in an art contest at the age of nine. Her journey into the world of the ancient Chinese and Japanese art form was to begin years later in the Philippines.
“When you first learn, you copy the masters. You follow the mould of your teacher – but then you need to evolve, to develop your own artistic stamp. That I have been doing for the past 20 years. I stretched the boundaries, found my own style. I used more colour. Experimented with paper – gold paper, for instance.
“Today, I am in my 35th year. I believe one can never get to the point where you think you’ve learnt everything. I continue to draw inspiration from many things, such as nature, travel. Mexico, for instance, inspires me in so many ways, not least of which is Frida Kahlo. I keep a journal, make notes and do little water colour sketches.”
Morais’s work covers subjects like panoramic mountain landscapes, waterfalls and rivers; flowers, particularly peonies and cherry blossoms; majestic pines; bamboo; birds – strutting peacocks, egrets, mandarin ducks in lotus ponds, silvery and gold carp in motion, galloping horses. In her watercolours, her tapestry of lines, colours and shades blend East and West motifs and influences.
“I will be honoured to exhibit in Malaysia,” she says. “Why has it not happened? It may have something to do with family commitments whenever I am in Malaysia. I should spend a longer time there and, now that my kids are all grown, that may happen.
“I do, however, bring work that I have done in the States and continue in Malaysia.
“Framing is very expensive in the United States. I do my silk mounting in Malaysia. This way, it is rolled up and put in a tube for me to hand-carry.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from Malaysia, especially from the plants – hibiscus, ginger plant, bird of paradise, lotus – and birds, and (trees like) Flame of the Forest.”
She was juried into the Torpedo Factory Art Center in 1999 by a panel of leading art curators and artists in the Washington DC area.
Today, she teaches brush painting in the art enrichment programmes in McLean and Alexan-dria schools and to private students. She has also participated in programmes and workshops at the Smithsonian Institution and the Wolf Trap Foundation.
And, she continues to do what she loves best. “I try to capture the essence and spirit of my varied subjects by weaving a tapestry of lines, colours and shades. In so doing, my aim is to create a poetry of nature that will breathe life into and give special meaning to each of my paintings.”