Artist Profile: Tan Tea Hean

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Tan Tea Hean Paints the Pearls of Penang

“I love my hometown of Penang very much. The ‘Pearl of the Orient’ gets its name because of the island’s scenic beauty and also its long heritage of culture. I want to eventually paint every part of this historic city and its environs so that the culture and beauty can be preserved for generations to come.”

I had the pleasure recently of speaking with one of Penang’s most prolific and best-loved artists, Tan Tea Hean. An Expat reader, Australian Janet Nistead, is a student of Tan’s and was instrumental in arranging this Profile.

As the quotation articulates, Tan loves his hometown and finds it to be a constant source of inspiration as an artist. He enthuses below,

“In Penang, we have a lot of old colonial buildings but a few have been redeveloped or redefined. In the town itself, many hawkers stalls, trishaw peddlers, tea stalls, and morning wet markets still carry on today mostly as they have for over a century. My native city of Penang showcases daily life in ways unique to this island city.

I paint every day using watercolours and oils. Usually at 9am, I have given an assignment to myself. With brushes, I start stroking on the pigments of the specially selected colours I have chosen onto canvases. They will start to reflect the morning market at Campbell Street, Kek Lok Si Temple, Tua Pek Kong Temple, Khoo Kongsi, Penang trishaws, Loke Thye Kee restaurant, Weld Quay Stilt House, Penang Ferry, Yeng Keng Hotel, Goddess of Mercy Temple, Teluk Bahang fishing village, Penang Hill, Georgetown locales, and many more.

My afternoons are spent teaching at my art centre – the Yi Yuen Art Centre. I obtained my Diploma of Commercial Graphics from MIA in Kuala Lumpur.” Tan tells me that he recalls at age 5 being complimented by his teacher on his drawings and art work. At Secondary School his art teachers told him he had a special talent and he then realized how passionate he was about it and with his parent’s blessings pursued art as his area of study finally gaining a Diploma in Art Studies at the Malaysian Institute of Art in KL.

During his years spent in KL he came to meet many artists some of whom even traveled to Penang to mentor him. Once back in Penang, he was taught under the Master Watercolourist, Tan Choon Ghee. It is the colours in his works that impress me. They are rich and vivid, and he uses an extraordinary number of hues throughout both his watercolours and paintings done in oils and acrylics. Colour, he told me, is what fuels his passion, and it is his selection and use of them he finds so rewarding. “They ease my tensions, help me to feel inspired, and allow my work to flow and take shape.”

“I love to paint outside. I can explore facets of myself while breathing in the fresh air, enjoying the beautiful scenery all around me and be a part of the hustle and bustle.”

Tan is of course, like most Malaysian artists, very humble and is always asking for feedback so he can grow and improve his skill. And also like other great artists, he has a talent for observing and capturing the beauty around him for his paintings.


If you are interested in purchasing any of the works here, please contact me at [email protected].

This article was written by Marybeth Ramey for The Expat magazine.
Source: The Expat July 2012
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