Art + Design

24 Minutes with Malaysian graphic artist Arty Guava


By Stephanie Boey

24 Minutes with Malaysian graphic artist Arty Guava

Born and raised in Penang, Vancouver-based artist Lay Hoon is a true “Penang kia“. After relocating to Vancouver with her family and living abroad for years (she moved to Singapore after secondary school to pursue a degree in Bioengineering), Lay Hoon still considers Malaysia her real home—she even proudly announces that she is Malaysian in her Instagram bio! “It is a place my heart and stomach call home,” she says. And reveals that she misses indulging in our local delicacies such as Penang Laksa and Nasi Lemak, and will go as far as spending CA$12 (approx. RM40) for a Malaysian meal in Canada.

Only three years in Vancouver, Lay Hoon (also known as her moniker Arty Guava) has already made her mark in the local art scene. She is a participant in the Vancouver Mural Festival and 2021 is her second year participating. Somewhere in the city of Vancouver, there is a wall as wide as 56 inches and 22 inches tall, beautifully decorated with her art. Closer to home, she has collaborated with Singaporean designer Ong Shunmugam for a collection of casual wear printed with her colourful and quirky designs.

Read on as we speak to her about her artistic style and inspirations, and her hopes for the local art scene. 

BURO: How did a Penang-born artist find herself in Vancouver?

Lay Hoon: “About three years ago, my family (myself, my husband, and my five-year-old son) decided to move to Vancouver for work reasons. I had great difficulty adjusting to my new environment (perpetual rain and gloomy weather from autumn to spring, building new friendships, homesickness). Just when I was getting used to life in Vancouver, the world was hit with a global pandemic, Covid-19. With so much uncertainty and chaos happening around the world, I really needed something to centre myself.

“I started illustrating religiously every night after I put my son to sleep and sharing my works on social media. It was something to take my mind off my worries and to focus on things that make me happy. I was yearning for the warmth of the sun (it rains nearly 200 days in a year in Vancouver!), female companionship, freedom of movement, and the familiarity and comfort of home. The women often seen in my art are my ‘companions’ born out of social isolation. That is how it all started.”

BURO: Arty Guava is such a cute and unique name. Can you tell us more about your moniker?

Lay Hoon: “It is a combination of the two main loves of my life—art and guavas. Hence, Arty Guava! It was actually my husband who came up with that moniker.”

BURO: What inspires your work?

Lay Hoon:I draw inspiration from my idyllic childhood in Penang, my son, and the natural world around me. I’m often inspired by how free, silly, and full of life my son can be and I try to capture that mood and feeling in my illustrations. All of us need a little reminder on how to be a child again.”

BURO: Describe your style to us in three words.

Lay Hoon: “Whimsical, joyful, easy-going.”

BURO: What mediums do you use to create your art?

Lay Hoon: “I used to work a lot with watercolour but I found it to be an unforgiving medium. Not a lot of space for mistakes. But since having a kid, I started creating more on my iPad as it is less messy and I don’t have to worry about my son tipping over my glass of water. (True story: He did tip over a glass of water over my laptop which cost me CA$1,500 to repair it.)

“I’m also currently experimenting with acrylic on canvas, which I only do after my son sleeps at night.”

BURO: Please walk us through your creative process.

Lay Hoon:I would usually start by checking in with myself and focusing on what I am feeling at that moment. Maybe it is loneliness because I miss hanging out with my girlfriends. So with that, I would create a piece that reminds me of the joy of being with my friends. The picture might turn out to be a bunch of women dancing, having fun, and being carefree. Most of the time it is set in a tropical background because it reminds me of home (Malaysia and Singapore).” 

BURO: Can you tell us more about the women ‘companions’ in your work?

Lay Hoon:I love drawing female figures because to me, they represent nurture, care, and gentleness, and those are the qualities that I naturally gravitate towards. Also being female myself, I just feel like it is a subject I’m more familiar with and can easily relate to.”

BURO: Tigers are also a common motif in your art. Why is that?

Lay Hoon: “My fascination with tigers stems from it being my Chinese zodiac sign. They are ferocious and fearless but at the same time have a lot of elegance.”

BURO: What do you hope to convey in your work?

Lay Hoon: “I see my work as little nuggets of hope and joy. When we are bombarded by nothing other than bad news every day, I hope my work offers people a little respite, reminding us of the little joys in life.”

BURO: Are there any artists that you look up to and are inspired by?

Lay Hoon: “I’m inspired a lot by the works of Paul Gaugin, Henri Matisse, and Gustav Klimt.”

Less than a week after the announcement of the Langkawi travel bubble plan, the government has decided to relax the SOPs for the arts and entertainment industries for those who are fully vaccinated in all states in Malaysia, including those under Phase One of the National Recovery Plan (NRP), beginning September 9.

Cinemas will be allowed to open at half capacity, whereas art exhibitions, galleries, and museums will be allowed to resume operations at 30 per cent capacity. 

Those who are fully vaccinated will also be allowed to perform indoor busking and lounge performances in hotels, as well as carry out filming or creative shoots both in and outside studios. Meanwhile, live musicals, theatre and comedy performances, shows with a live audience, as well as pre-recorded and live broadcasts are allowed at a venue capacity of 30 per cent. 

In a statement on this decision, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said allowing more of the sectors to operate would benefit over a million artists and more than 19,000 businesses. 

“The creative industry contributed 2 per cent or RM29 billion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2019. Apart from enabling more than a million activists, artists and industrial workers to start working and earning a living, the relaxation will also revive the country’s creative industry," he said.

He added that this decision will also revive all initiatives and programmes planned by the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia (MCMC), through the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (Finas), MyCreative Ventures and Malaysian Cultural Economic Development Agency (Cendana).

This move comes as several states have reached 80 per cent vaccination rates or herd immunity among its adult population. 

Earlier this week, Malaysia netizens had urged the government to consider reopening cinemas in time for them to catch the latest blockbusters. In case you were wondering what the fuss is all about, here are some upcoming movies to take note of:

  • Spiderman: No Way Home
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  • Black Widow
  • The Suicide Squad
  • No Time To Die

Will you be watching any of these on the silver screen once they're out?

For more vaccination guidelines and SOP updates:

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