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Artist Christianne Goonting Devaser believes art both reflects and nourishes the human soul, writes Kerry-Ann Augustin

MORE than 17 years ago, Christianne Goonting Devaser hovered over a student of hers who was painting a picture of a gardener planting seeds under a twilight-lit sky with Mount Kinabalu beckoning in the background. She smiled and pointed out what looked like a tiny detail which could be easily ignored: “Try not to leave any white spaces, okay?” she uttered in a gentle tone, pointing to some small gardening tools near the farmer.

For the next half an hour, after the rest of the class had left, the student was encouraged to stay focused, patient and relaxed as she finished off the painting while Devaser waited. That was typical of the Borneo-based artist, more fondly known as Tianne — if a painting was not detailed or filled with a colour, no matter how muted, it wasn’t really complete.

Art Mix — An Exploration in Colour, Tianne’s latest solo outing, is a glimpse of her career that has spanned over 30 years.

The exhibition, at the Selangor and Federal Territory Eurasian Association’s clubhouse in Duta Vista, is on until Nov 11 and will showcase Tianne’s expansive collection of works ranging from her acrylic-styled ethnic series to her watercolour paintings of nature, as well as the various other mix-media mediums she has worked with over the decades.

DASH OF COLOUR

“I just want people to feel rejuvenated and happy after they’ve seen the exhibits,” says Tianne from her home in Kota Kinabalu where she’s preparing the pieces to ship over for Art Mix, her fifth exhibition of the year.

The week-long exhibition will also feature the ceramic art work of Lesley, Tianne’s twin sister. “The best thing about having a twin is having a best friend from birth!” she shares, adding that her sister’s work often ignites creative sparks in her.

“Her unique pieces encourage me to create another dimension through my art so that our works can be displayed in pairs. When I see some of her pieces, I can already visualise the painting that needs to be created to complement and enhance the whole experience.”

Those familiar with her craft always leave feeling rejuvenated and happy after looking at her pieces. Walk into any gallery full of artwork, and Tianne’s pieces are instantly recognisable. If the details in the painting don’t reel you in, her use of vibrant colours surely will.

Greatly influenced by the brush strokes of the impressionist movement, and the bold colours of expressionist artists, Tianne kick-started her career in art with something completely contrasting — black and white Chinese brush painting.

“I was introduced to Chinese brush painting under art master Chung Chen Sun at the Malaysian Institute of Art and I immediately fell in love with the spontaneous yet disciplined aspect to this art form,” she confides, adding that her mother had enrolled her and Lesley for classes. “The fact is that you needed to plan your ‘brush strokes’ during the execution of a painting, yet let the spirit of the moment guide the process of creation,” she says.

The discipline of Chinese brush strokes, she shares, is something that has stayed with her despite the evolution of her painting style. She adds that even today, 70 per cent of her concepts are visualised mentally, while the remaining 30 per cent evolves as she paints.

“I started out with black and white Chinese brush strokes, but I wanted to learn more about the different styles so as I progressed as an artist, I kept what I felt I liked and applied that to my own craft,” says Tianne, who in the 1990s underwent various stints in art colleges across the UK where her husband was pursuing his medical studies.

ART OF HERITAGE

The kind of art that defines Tianne’s work now revolves around three major themes: Environmental conservation, cultural heritage and reflections of the self, a body of work largely inspired by Sabah, a place she has called home for the last 23 years.

“The pace of life here is comfortable and allows for one to absorb and enjoy things that are happening around. It’s not too packed with must-dos, neither is it hurried or rushed,” says the KL-born-and-bred artist, who’s quick to add: “Enjoying the spectacular sunsets of Sabah alone is a fascination I’ll never tire of!”

Sabah, she feels, is blessed with the richness of natural beauty and cultural diversity. “Some of my work is a form of social commentary, especially with the natural heritage and ethnic heritage series,” she notes.

Both themes, as she observes, are an essential part of our spiritual, physical and emotional wellbeing. “I document the special moments that touch me and are meaningful to me and what may be important to future generations. I then exhibit these works to share my thoughts and concerns with others.”

Of Portuguese, Dutch and Anglo-Indian descent, Tianne also draws a parallel between the indigenous community of Sabah she often paints and the Eurasian community in Malaysia. Her depictions of Eurasian life appear in Linggu Mai - A Kristang Keepsake, a book on the creole Portuguese language by cultural activist and author Joan Margaret Marbeck. “There are many indigenous communities in Sabah who are trying to hold on to their fast disappearing cultures, traditions and identities. I feel it is the same for the Eurasian community.”

STROKES OF HOPE

These communities she works with is part and parcel of why even with an illustrious career and over 100 solo and group exhibitions around the world, including the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Australia, Brunei, Japan, Cyprus and Singapore, Tianne’s continues to push for better recognition of art in the East Malaysian state.

The art scene is a growing one, but its progress is heavily dependent on the appreciation of art by relevant ministries, private sectors and the general public. “The more art is recognised as an important sector of development that needs to grow in tandem with education or infrastructure, for example, then the more progressive the art scene will be,” says Tianne, who’s also a long-time member of Persatuan Pelukis Seni Visual Sabah.

The mother-of-three who regularly organises art workshops when she has time to spare, feels very strongly about making art an essential part of life for the betterment of the community. “Art should be very much a part of everyone’s life just as much as, let’s say, exercise, work, prayer and so on. A workshop is where members of the community come together to exchange ideas and express their thoughts. It acts as a platform for all who are interested in art to join, to relax, to learn and have fun. It’s engaging, interactive and enriching.”

Tianne, who reveals that this will be her last show of the year, hopes that Art Mix will encourage anyone visiting to pick up a paintbrush and get creative, just the way visiting galleries with her mother as a young girl sparked her passion for art. Concluding, Tianne says: “Maybe those who come by may be able to look at things in a different light, and who knows, perhaps to even inspire the secret artist in themselves!”.

It may have been more than 17 years ago, but patiently painting the tools down to the smallest detail, in retrospect, was really important for the big picture.

Art Mix - An Exploration in Colour by Christianne Goonting Devaser

Date: Until Nov 11, 2016

Venue: Selangor and Federal Territory Eurasian Association (SAFTEA), Duta Vista Suites, 1 Persiaran Ledang, Taman Duta, KL