GEORGE TOWN, July 3 — Kids on a bicycle. A girl swinging from two windows. A boy looking back furtively while on a motorcycle. And one boy on a chair reaching up to peep into a window.
These are murals that play with their environment, using actual things in a playful way. And in many ways, these murals that use real windows, a chair, a bicycle and a motorcycle propped against a wall reflect Ernest Zacharevic’s view of life as an artist.
“It’s all about play,” says the 25-year-old Lithuanian whose works are one of the highlights of the month-long George Town Festival (GTF) in Penang.
The festival, which ends on July 15, is a celebration of art, music, theatre, dance opera and film to commemorate Penang’s capital city’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage listing on July 7, 2008. The festival first began in 2009 just about the time Zacharevic paid his first visit to the island state.
He has made the island his base for travelling with his writer-manager girlfriend to other countries in the region, where he has had some commissions for his work.
But it is in Penang that his work has attracted attention, even before this year’s GTF.
It began when a six-metre-tall mural of an old man’s face appeared on the wall outside an Armenian Street corner shop. The tropical weather and humidity is causing the work to fade and peel, prompting the boy-faced Zacharevic to experiment with other paints to make his murals more durable.
“It is a lot of work but I do it all alone except for the girl swinging from the windows,” he adds, saying he puts on his headphones and focuses on painting.
The girl swinging from the windows is near a temple on Muntri Street, where 19th-century shophouses are now boutique hotels and Japanese-style ryokans. It was inspired by one of his eight-year-old art students, who came one day to class in a Wushu martial art outfit and played around to show off her moves.
“I keep ideas in my mind and when I saw her show off her moves, it clicked for that wall,” says Zacharevic.
The Lithuanian, who goes back every summer to catch up with old friends, says he begin drawing and painting from the age of seven. He later went to a Soviet-style art school learning all the rules before furthering his studies in London’s Middlesex University which he completed in 2009. While he still works on canvas, Zacharevic says the murals are a work of joy for him.
The GTF has commissioned him to produce six works and when he met The Malaysian Insider, number four was freshly painted on a wall, showing a small boy on a chair trying to reach up a small window to peep in.
But he is getting more ideas and requests from excited residents who offer their walls for a piece of his art in Penang, which has become his second home.
“There are better beaches in Thailand, better hills in Laos but in Penang, the people are friendly. And the food is good,” he says, before walking off to survey another wall.