The multicultural colour of taste through street food paintings

The multicultural colour of taste through street food paintings

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is known to many as a food lover’s paradise and one of its many wonders is its mouth-watering, don’t-even-bother-to-resist street food.

There is just something profoundly fascinating and memorable in hopping from stall to stall, sampling the spread of traditional snacks, both sweet and savoury that have stood the test of time and remained firm favourites among the young and old.

The freedom to dine in and experience the crowd at the ‘pasar malam’ (’night market’), which offers a variety of street food, won’t be happening so soon due to the pandemic and that makes the stalls and restaurants only available for ‘take away’ queues and delivery.

Thus, artist Lui Cheng Thak decided to illustrate his love towards local street cuisine with incredibly detailed sketches and paintings of his favourite food around Klang Valley.

“When I walk around the streets and lanes of a city, there is ‘taste’ that is unchanged among things that are overlooked by most of us.

“Many people would miss the moment to dine in and even travel interstate just for food hunting before the pandemic; some homesick Malaysians who are stranded overseas due to the pandemic would miss the taste of the authentic street food too.

“… by using colours to record the varieties of cuisine, feelings to describe time, lines to evoke appetite and taste. All these are used to describe the memory of all taste,“ he told Bernama in an exclusive interview recently.

Different colours and tastes

Known for his works detailing the historical buildings, culture and heritage through paintings, this time around the 54-year-old artist plays with colours of the street food with his 11th solo exhibition ‘Colour of Taste’ with PINKGUY Gallery.

The online exhibition, featuring a series of 12 oil-on-linen masterpieces which are painted on small-size canvas, will be showcased from Aug 28 to Sept 29 virtually at

The Negri Sembilan-born artist meticulously used 12 different colours and techniques and painted with different layers and lighting effects to give birth to different feelings and sensations to his masterpieces.

“There are 12 different scenes of tastes on the canvas, each of the paintings I named it with the colours such as ‘Blue’, ‘Turquoise, ‘Yellow Ochre’, ‘Cobalt Violet’ and so on.

“All 12 scenes in my canvas are mostly our Malaysian favourite street food – clay pot chicken rice, Bak Kut Teh, Char Kuey Teow, Lemang, Nasi Lemak and many more popular and iconic dishes of Malaysia,“ he said.

What is special about Lui’s masterpieces is that his paintings create different visual effects under different lighting.

“Some people think I just paint heritage buildings, scenes and people but that’s not it; the important thing is I am painting time, taste and feel.

“I use the contrast of colours and light because, for me, the feeling and atmosphere from a painting depend on the feeling and the taste, just like the light and shadows on paintings have different effects.

“So although the painting is the same, the meanings are abstract as it changes as seen at different times by different people,” he said, adding that this is the first virtual exhibition held with PINKGUY Gallery since 2010.

Love for heritage buildings, culture

Lui shares that the idea for this series came about at the end of 2020 when the country was dealing with Movement Control Order (MCO) restrictions, a muddle of Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) and a spike in Covid-19 cases.

“As a photography enthusiast, I started to capture the scene using my camera while ‘taking away’ food or walking down the streets with a row of food stalls.

“Through my photography, I sketch and paint it by using my own colours and elements to describe my feeling and taste for each of the cuisine and street food,“ he said.

He said Malaysian food is intriguing, a melting pot of flavours, ingredients and techniques reflecting the multi-ethnicity of its population.

“There are Chinese and Indian influences as well as Malay, and it can be confusing, at least initially.

“That’s what makes Malaysia unique; not only its culture and heritage but also its multi-ethnic cuisine is known to people across the globe. That’s how I express my love towards Malaysian food through paintings,“ he said.

Lui’s artistic journey started between 1987-1989 when he studied for a Diploma of Art and Design at Kuala Lumpur College of Art.

His artworks are mostly on architecture buildings from historical states like Penang, Melaka as well as Kuala Lumpur, which depict the need to preserve historical landscapes in the midst of a rapidly urbanising city.

Lui, who draws inspiration from the beauty of heritage and culture, said he spends about two to three weeks working on each painting.

“For example when I draw buildings, I need to know the history behind the building such as when it was built and what the building functioned as by visiting there.

“I will discover the beauty of each heritage buildings and add some of my own elements in my pieces,“ he said.

Collaboration with PINKGUY Gallery

PINKGUY Gallery owner and curator Winson Loh said the exhibition is Lui’s 11th solo exhibition with the gallery and the most meaningful series yet.

He said to celebrate it, all the paintings in this series will be featured in the debut 2022 mega-sized calendar of the gallery, which will be given to those purchasing Lui’s artworks.

“We organise the virtual gallery as a measure to ensure equal opportunity for all visitors to view, then buy, the artworks without prior reservations.

“At the unveiling event, collectors and enthusiasts were mesmerised by Lui’s artworks, with all 12 pieces sold on the first day of the online exhibition,“ he said, adding that Lui’s art pieces have been fitted with a classic frame design to suit his timeless works.

The exhibition, which celebrates the long-term collaboration between Loh and Lui since the latter’s debut at the gallery in 2010, marks Lui’s latest attempt in creating smaller art pieces.

“Lui has always painted large art pieces and through the years, I have learned a lot from curating his art pieces.

“He really wanted to make sure all his paintings are good. Lui’s last painting namely ‘Pink’ portrays Lok Lok, a street food which means ‘to dip’, brings out the unique colours of his pieces.

“Good thing about the solo exhibition to him is that he can improve automatically because he has the chance to see all the paintings at the same time.

“He will also realise which part is better and weak so that in the future he knows how to do it better. I do love his attitude towards all his artworks,“ he said.