With the motto “I came, I saw, I sketched”, Filipino Rene Enriquez has been busy curating landscapes, landmarks and living history, one drawing at a time. Since living and working in Malaysia eight years ago, Malaysia has naturally been the engineer’s primary focus.
“I started my job in Ipoh in April 2015 but my first stint in the country was with a semiconductor company in Seremban, followed by another similar position in Melaka. When I first came to Malaysia because of a new employment opportunity, I knew about Ipoh through guide books suggesting it as one of the must-go-to-places in the country. However, back then, Ipoh seemed like too far of a place for us and the idea of driving a few hours north was rather far-fetched.
“Funnily enough, we once made a road trip to Cameron Highlands but did not stop in Ipoh. Nonetheless, Ipoh’s numerous limestone hills jutting out of its landscape as we drove past left a strong impression on me and I made a promise to myself to make a visit some time in the future. It just didn’t occur to me that we would relocate to Ipoh one day,” explained Enriquez.
Based in Ipoh now for over two years, Enriquez is often spotted in Ipoh Old Town on Sunday mornings, sitting on his foldable stool, with a sketchpad in hand. Initially, Enriquez, whose favourite drawing medium is watercolour, began sketching Ipoh landmarks alone but he soon discovered the city’s Urban Sketchers artist community.
“It was two months after my arrival that I had my first sketch session with Urban Sketchers Ipoh (USI). It was great to sketch with a group. Members of USI have been sketching Ipoh’s heritage buildings for quite awhile already, and I was just glad to be able to join their mission to preserve these fleeting scenes for Ipoh’s future generations.
“Drawing, sketching and painting have always been part of my life. I have been recording a mix of important and mundane scenes for as long as I can remember. As I preserve the memory of Ipoh for myself via sketches, I also get to contribute to the community. It is something that I would willingly do for my adopted city,” said Enriquez.
To date, Enriquez has completed over a hundred sketches of places in Ipoh, a few of which have found new owners. “Earning from my drawings and paintings is not a priority for me at this moment. Rather, it is a bonus and a privilege to be able to do so. Nonetheless, each sale encourages me to do more for my hobby and improve myself further,” said the 43-year-old.
Enriquez, his wife Jolana and their daughter Annika have certainly experienced much more of Ipoh since their first ever trip to the city about a month before their impending move from Melaka, when, by a stroke of good luck, they managed to rent a house in a pleasant neighbourhood with Ipoh’s famous limestone hills as backdrop. “Our first Ipoh trip was a mission to rent a house and to look for a suitable school for Annika. We only had two days to spare, so we were quite disappointed to not come up with anything concrete at the end of the first day. The following day, everything just fell into place and we accomplished whatever we had set out to do,” recalled Enriquez.
Ipoh is like a blend of Seremban and Melaka to the Enriquezes, although each place has its own unique charm and qualities. “When we lived in Seremban, it was just beginning to get more vibrant. Melaka, on the other hand, was very busy due to its touristic values. Ipoh, however, offers us a serene environment, yet when we want to feel the hustle and bustle of crowds, we just have to go to Old Town to search for the city’s famous delicacies, just like any tourist to Ipoh would do,” Enriquez laughingly shared.
Ipoh’s old world charm that exudes through the dozens of heritage buildings calls out to Enriquez. He said, “I am probably an old soul because this kind of environment stimulates my senses. As an artist, Ipoh’s colonial past appeals to me. Through Urban Sketchers Ipoh, where the aim is to sketch on location, focusing on Ipoh heritage buildings, we want future generations to remember their past. I am indeed fortunate to have found this group of like-minded people who love to sketch, draw and paint as much as I do.”
Note: An edited version of this article [Sketching for posterity] was published on 3rd June, 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.