It all began with a spark of an idea to provide free art classes for inmates at a local senior citizens’ home. Nurse Pauline Eu saw this need as a form of mental and occupational therapy for the seniors to occupy their time rather than just staring into space most of the day.
However, it would require at least RM5,000 to kick start the project, a sum that Pauline found difficult to pool together. Somehow, like a jigsaw puzzle falling into place, shortly after her discussion with a director of the home, Pauline was declared first prize winner in a radio contest which required her to share her dream. Naturally, she had said that it was to teach the old folk art painting as a form of therapy.
Armed with the grand prize of RM10,100, Pauline roped in her friend, Mary Jo Moh, and began their art lessons at the home. Interestingly, the first lesson was on April 1, a date that Pauline purposely chose. She explained, “April Fools’ Day was just the appropriate day for us to start off our art lessons because it was indeed foolish of us to embark on this project, something that would take up a lot of time but doesn’t come with due monetary rewards.”
That was in 2008. After almost three years, Pauline and Mary Jo were forced to move their classes out from the home as they had to make way for more inmates. That was when Colors Studio 16 was established at their current premises, a rented house in a peaceful neighbourhood in Ipoh. The number 16 was used as part of their studio name as it was their new address.
Although moving out of the old folks’ home meant that they had to discontinue their art therapy programme for the inmates, Mary Jo, who spends full time at the studio, and Pauline, were still able to provide such lessons to others who needed it to de-stress. Friends would refer their friends and Colors Studio 16 has now expanded to a group of about 12 active members who gather once a week, and a small group of art students.
According to Mary Jo, “We are a non-commercial hobby club but we do take in a small number of students who are interested to learn painting. We keep our classes to not more than ten students at a time. All our students are adults as our paint materials are not child-friendly. We teach art from the beginning; from the history of art, the material to use and medium. We put up completed works for sale at our show gallery at the studio, and once an item has been sold, it meant that the artist has graduated and is then promoted from a student to an ordinary member.”
Revenue generated from the sale of these art pieces or from commissioned work, which the members here also accept, are collected and donated from time to time to charitable organisations that require financial support. Celebrating its eight anniversary this year, to date Colors Studio 16 has already donated a considerable amount in cash and kind.
Newly-retired Pauline now devotes her time to Colors Studio 16, and hopes that she can soon take up an art therapy course. She said, “I would like to have as many people as possible enjoy the therapeutic effects of painting. To produce a good piece of work, the artist has to achieve a certain level of mental serenity. When we are calm and focused only on one thing, that is our painting, stress leaves our body. It is also a good form of expression for those who cannot express their feelings through words, such as young children and those who underwent a traumatic experience.
“At the senior citizens’ home, we were able to attract a good number of inmates to join our classes, even though some had no interest in painting. However, it was some thing to occupy them and kept their hands moving with the action of sanding wood items or painting the base coat on them.”
As both Pauline and Mary Jo are self-taught artists, they believe that anyone can paint. It is just a matter of discovering our hidden talent. Said Pauline, “It is the best feeling when we see the quality of work from our students. They surprise even themselves with the artwork that they are able to produce. Art is so subjective, you see. When their art is sold, it is a great motivator for them to do better in their next project. As for those who use painting as mental therapy, their first art sold is an empowerment to open up their mindset and it lifts them from a negative state of mind.”
Besides the Australian folk art technique of one-stroke painting where a double-loaded brush blends two colours in one stroke, decorative painting on glass, canvas and metal, among other surfaces, is also taught at Colors Studio 16, a conducive studio for friends and like-minded budding artists to come together to de-stress.
Note: An edited version of this article [Serenity Through Art] was published on 18th February, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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