Leonard Siaw: Life in living colour

A depiction of the Sampan-river taxi under the Old Kuching Smart Heritage (OKSHE) mural project theme ‘History on Wall’.

After making a name for himself with his mural paintings, Leonard Siaw has a new mission — to discover his artistic self and where he stands in the world of art. With over 30 murals around Kuching, and several others in Penang, Australia and the US, Leonard’s artistic touch is a sight to behold, and he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

A master of detailed artworks

As Sarawak shows appreciation towards art, works of mural artist Leonard Siaw become more prominent in and around Kuching. His most recent local artwork is the “Last Bidayuh Ring Ladies” in Kota Padawan which he completed in three months. Recently, he finished his latest piece in Ayer Itam, Penang, the iconic “Curry Mee Sisters” which he completed alongside four other Malaysian artists.

During the three years after his last interview with New Sarawak Tribune in 2018, Leonard had completed multiple artworks on the walls in Kuching, infused with elements of local cultures. His aim has always been to deliver stories through paintings.

Boring old corners of the city have come to life with his strokes of colours — “The Early Merces” in India Street, “Thank You, Frontliners” in Eastern Mall, “Symphony of the Tinsmith” in China Street, and many more.

‘Thank You Frontliners’ which pays homage to our frontliners defending the country during this pandemic.

Three years ago, Leonard told New Sarawak Tribune in an exclusive interview that he had won himself an opportunity to paint the walls in Australia, being the first Malaysian to make a name for himself during the Benalla’s Wall to Wall Festival.

‘Plant, Grow & Harvest’ in the paddy field of Balik Pulau, Pulau Pinang. A collaboration work with Aries Kong, curated by Can Can Public Art – CCPA.

Asked about what he has been up to since 2018, Leonard answered, “Throughout these three years, I have been struggling to find my artistic self. Basically, I look for a deeper understanding of my art, in terms of techniques, the themes that I prefer and the style that I like.”

Still on his way to figure out his true self, at this point, Leonard conceded to knowing only what kind of colour and technique he prefers and how he would express and execute them.

“Three years ago, if a client asked me to draw a Mickey Mouse, I would’ve just went ahead and draw it. However, now, I hope that when clients look for me, they would trust my artistic instinct,” he added.

Incorporating elements of culture, heritage, human figures, lifestyle, portraits and expressions, Leonard has proven many times that his abilities is more than the average as his artwork is as real as it gets. With over 30 murals to his name, he admitted that there are none that he favours more than the other.

“Instead of picking a favourite, in my opinion, every mural painting, every street art that I did, is a draft and practice for the next one. Am I happy? Yes, maybe. But I am never satisfied,” the 34-year-old said.

Hard at work for a street mural at Riverside Majestic Hotel’s Astana Wing of the Kuching Waterfront Jazz Festival 2019.

Speaking more about his line of work, the artist revealed that painting murals indoor was never a problem. “On the other hand, painting outdoors, the are so many challenges, especially the weather. Some days I will get sunburned, some days it will rain and that will delay the progress.”

Though some work requires him to be levelled, the height no longer scares him. “It took me a while to get used to it. I believe everyone has a certain amount of acrophobia. Initially, even with just a little shake, I would feel scared but i guess it’s just a feeling, and I know everything will be fine.”

Leonard also added that he had spent his days on skylifts, scissor lifts and scaffoldings so far and he no longer fears them. “How did I overcome my fears? I talk to myself to distract my thoughts from feeling what I felt. I also listen to music while painting,” the artist shared.

Every artist must start somewhere. For Leonard, his canvas when he was a little boy was the walls of his house. “Everywhere, everybody is the same. Back then, if you draw on the wall, people would consider it vandalism. If you do it at home, your parents would scold you. If you do it at school, teachers will be on your back.”

‘Symphony of the Tinsmith’ at China Street.

Ironically Leonard

Leonard said that eventually, he shifted to drawing in exercise books he bought from the school shop.

“My school had two sessions and I was in the afternoon session. I used to draw on my table which I shared with morning session students. They reported me to the teachers. So I had to save my lunch money to buy extra exercise books for me to draw.”

Ironically, Leonard grew up as an obscured artist with people often telling him not to draw on walls. But now at the height of his career, he has been drawing on more walls than his younger self could have ever imagined. “Life changed, things changed, and people changed too I guess,” Leonard said.

He also revealed that back during his school days, he envied his peers for being able to attend art classes. “I never had the chance as my parents never sent me to art classes. For my family, the priority is in mainstream education. Hence, I was sent to tuition instead.”

Over the years, Leonard said that passion for art never waned and he had no intentions to quit. “For now, I am clear about what I’m doing. And I have started painting on canvasses too.”

With his newfound endeavour, Leonard set a new goal for himself: to hold an exhibition in the coming years. “This is part of my artistic journey, and I hope to have a solo exhibition soon which I am currently preparing for.”

A master of creating detailed artworks, Leonard continues to grow as an artist, in search of his artistic self. What’s certain is he will come up with new masterpieces that you should look forward to.

‘The last Bidayuh Ring Ladies’ at Kota Padawan.