This is exactly how you would describe a father and son who share a passion for capturing birds on canvas, writes VIMALA SENEVIRATNE
JAAFAR Taib and his second son Syaffeq Syahman share a fascination for birds. “The feathered ones,” says Jaafar jokingly. He adds: “The more exotic and rare they are, the better for us to capture them on canvas.” He is in his studio on the third floor of a shoplot off Jalan Kuching, surrounded by brushes, paints and paintings of various sizes on the floor or hanging on the wall. The soft-spoken and lanky 58-year-old father of six is well-known for his vibrant paintings of birds. He has been painting for more than 30 years and his works are powerful, even intimidating with the rainforest always as the backdrop.
His eye for detail is evident in every painting — each twist and turn of the many strands of twigs and leaves of the weaver bird’s nest in one painting, for example, is clearly visible. It looks more like a photography rather than a painting. “This bird spent a lot of time and effort building his nest for his mate and it would be a great injustice if I don’t duplicate all the details of his handiwork, which is really a work of art itself. So yes, I am a stickler for details — that’s my style.” Jaafar, who is also an established illustrator, cartoonist and publisher who started the iconic Gila Gila and Jungle Tales comics more than 30 years ago, is proud that Syaffeq is following in his footsteps, not only in paintings but in publishing as well. His other children also dabble in painting. Standing beside his father and observing him paint, the bubbly Syaffeq, 26, points to the fuzzy, almost blurry background on the canvas. “That’s my style which dad has incorporated into his painting,” he says softly. Syaffeq, who’s getting married soon, also likes to paint portraits, landscapes and other forest creatures. It was only five years ago that he decided to take up painting seriously. “For a long time, it was just a hobby, but after watching my dad and learning from him over the years, I slowly began to take an interest in what I was doing.” His first solo exhibition, From Nature With Love, showcases 15 of his works on the different species of birds. It is on until July 15 at the Hillside Corner Restaurant in Hulu Kelang, Selangor.
“Of course, I’m a little nervous but I am glad to be sharing space with Dad as he will have three paintings on display as well.” Syaffeq’s first taste of art was as a little boy entrusted with the task of keeping his father’s paintbrushes washed and cleaned. It was only when he was 11 that he was allowed to tag along with his father into the jungle. “Dad, armed with his camera, would be busy looking out for birds while I was fascinated by all the sounds from creepy crawlies and insects. It felt like an adventure for me.” Father and son often spent a day or two in the jungles, including those in Sabah and Sarawak. His favourite is the Royal Belum rainforest in Perak. It was also during these jungle treks that Jaafar allowed Syaffeq to handle his precious, expensive camera.
“It was an educational trip all the time. I was always learning new things like what to look for and how to handle the camera.
“The first time I saw Dad reproduce on canvas what I captured on camera, I was completely bowled over. I saw not just a brown bird flying past but a beautiful bird frozen in time,” says Syaffeq, who now spends at least four fours a day, three times a week, painting.
When he drew his first painting, a bird, in 2005, it was obvious that he shared his father’s love for avian-themed art.
He is thankful that his father is still there to guide him. How do they treat each other’s work? Jaafar says: “When it comes to work, I am very professional. I give constructive criticism on the technical aspects — the use of cool and warm colours, perspective, lighting, that sort of stuff. I don’t criticise his style because that is very personal — it’s an artist’s trademark.” Syaffeq nods. “I can now appreciate the technical advice he has given me over the years. It’s only when I see the end product, the finished painting, that I fully realise the value of his advice.” Meanwhile, Jaafar is teaching Syaffeq the ropes of the family’s publishing business with the aim of eventually handing it over to him. Syaffeq is in charge of business development and takes care of promotions and events. “We have lots of things planned for Gila Gila. We hope to set up 10 branches throughout the country over the next two years,” says Syaffeq excitedly. With their publishing business taking up much of their time, does this mean the painting will take a back seat? Says Jaafar: “Painting has always been my first love. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t spend at least four hours painting. I’ll probably be painting until the day I die.” And what about Syaffeq? “It’s all about time management. Painting is in my blood and like Dad, I will probably be painting for the rest of my life.”
Syaffeq’s exhibition is at 12 Jalan Wangsa 2, Wangsa Ukay, Hulu Kelang, Selangor. Admission is free.