By Mei Kuan
Ipoh Echo recently caught up with Ipoh-born Lian Kim Keong who taught himself to paint at age 49 whilst recovering from a stroke four years ago, to learn all about his artistic journey and the insights behind his multiple eye-catching creations.
“I studied graphic design at the Malaysian Institute of Art and honed my creative skills when I worked for a gem company overseeing all their advertising and design work. After studying and working in KL for 8 years, the then 25-year-old me returned to Ipoh to join my family business. I was fully involved with it, with little time to do much else but work, especially when I took over the business from my father. It was only after my stroke where my right hand was paralysed that I wrapped up the business, and moving forward, taught myself to use my left hand. I taught myself to draw and paint with it and it was incredibly therapeutic,” Lian explained.
His essential art tools include a Chinese brush, art brush, knives and his own fingers as he works wonders with oils, acrylics and watercolour on various surfaces — paper, canvas, wall and beyond. Did I mention that he also sketches, sculpts and creates murals in addition to painting?
While his works span across genres, he cites abstract, semi abstract, Chinese ink painting and pop art as his favourites.
“When I was recovering and began painting, friends who saw my work started asking me to create pieces for them. It just went on from there, with them introducing me to their friends (of friends), and that eventually led to participating in competitions, exhibitions and commissions. The sale of my work helps me continue doing what I love. My first piece was sold at Art Showdown in Penang in 2019,” he recalled.
Painting has now become his full-time passion.
“I paint everyday. I forget everything else when I paint. I want to travel more, to learn more about different cultures and traditions. Art is expression and impression. I want to create art to bring joy to others and to help others express themselves through the pieces they buy or commission from me,” the stroke survivor enthused.
According to him, inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere in our environment: “We just have to be open to embracing different things. For instance, in 2018, the first oil painting I did was a Mona Lisa wearing a facemask to express my concern about the degrading state of our environment.
“I feel an affinity with animals because they are part of nature. I feel especially aligned with horses because they represent power, strength and ambition. And we need to be ambitious and reach for the stars. When I was recovering and learning to function again, the second piece that I did was a horse. The title of that is ‘Don’t Look Back’.”
Depicting flowers painted in abstract at the back of a horse in motion, “Don’t Look Back” remains one of his most treasured pieces because it has many representations — him learning to paint, starting afresh and the world was beautiful.
His use of color has evolved over the years, from employing dark colours like deep purple to now brimming with bright and vibrant hues. “I paint to give hope to people, especially those who are suffering from sickness, to communicate that life can be wonderful,” he added.
While his colour-filled pieces are immediately recognisable, equally well-loved by art enthusiasts are the story and powerful message behind each.
“For example, my piece “Little Lonely Girl in a Man’s World” reflects myself as a lonely person taking steps into the big unknown world, in much the same way as a vulnerable little girl entering a man’s world. Many people are also surprised to find me participating in art competitions as a normal, not handicapped, person,” Lian expressed.
“Now I feel great! Since I have recovered, I have had the opportunity to go out to sketch with others, especially on trips to create art in Taiping, KL and Penang. I am also excited to be part of a team working on a mural of Sun Yat Sen in the city,” he continued.
The fan of Picasso also shared that he has an exhibition in the pipeline.
Here’s his advice for other stroke survivors: “Don’t give up! People who have had strokes feel very negative and cut off from the world. You need to connect with people and meet the world, not expect the world to come to meet you. Take the first step out and forward. Motivate yourself, regardless of how difficult. Plus, in taking that positive step forward you will find that the world will come to you.”
His artistic strokes caught the eye of many aesthetes, one of them being William Balasingam, a lawyer who’s been involved with horses since the age of 11. He commented, “I first saw the horse paintings by Lian a month ago. As a horse lover, I wanted to meet the artist because I thought he caught the real essence of the horse, which is difficult to do. Upon meeting him, I heard his story which Ipoh Echo is now publishing. I am amazed that the horse paintings I saw were all created post-stroke. He has trained his left hand to paint. When he started his rehab, one of his feats was to teach himself to eat with his left hand, and that helped him regain his skill to then hold a paint brush.”
Interested readers can commission a piece from Lian or find out more about his work via his Facebook page. Collectors also can email Sue Meng who is helping him out at firstname.lastname@example.org.