Development of Malaysian Modern Printmaking Through ITM Academic Programme
By Dr. Choong Kam Kow
Printmaking is an art form created by transferring images from wood block or metal plate through the act of printing. It involves the transfer of drafted sketch or sketch directly onto the block or plate, carving or etching the images and inking the block or plate, then printing (transferring) the carved or etched images onto paper by ways of rubbing or pressing either by hand or machine (press).
The printing methods and processes of prinking have been improved, evolved and expanded along side with the development of printing methodologies through the centuries.
The modern printmaking I am referring to in this article is the modern approaches in relief, stencil, intaglio and planography printings produced through woodblock, silkscreen, etching and lithography processes which have been widely explored and gradually developed since the second half of 19th century. After the invention of photography, newly discovered methods and processes together with the newly invented materials and new printing equipment has inspired and encouraged the artists and print masters to develop innovative approaches in printmaking as a unique art form of expression rather than just serving as illustrations and reproduction of oil paintings as in the past
Since the early 20th century, printmaking began to gain wider recognition as a unique art form. Unlike the past practice that the whole printmaking process was solely handled by master printers, more and more painters preferred to work and collaborate with master printers. Painters would handle
themselves in drawing, plate making and printing the art works under the supervision of the master printers to ensure professional quality of prints. Masters like Paul Klee (1879-1940), Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Joan Miro (1893-1983) all have explored with this new approaches to produce innovative prints (1)
These modern masters’ interest and involvement with innovative printmaking has raised the keen interest among the artists, college students and general public to take up printmaking as an art form for visual expression in early 20th century. The setting up of Atelier17 by prominent printmaker Stanley W. Hayter in Paris in 1927 was to meet such keen demand. It provided facilities and space for artists and art enthusiasts to explore and experiment with new approaches in wood cut, etching and lithography. Such keen interest in learning printmaking reflected the general recognition of modern printmaking as a unique independent art form, like painting and sculpture rather than just served as illustration or reproduction of painting like in the past.
In the 1930’s, stencil and screen prints were widely used in commerce and industry which has prompted a group of American artists to established the National Serigraphic Society and coined the term “ Serigraphy ” to differentiate innovative prints from commercial and industrial screen prints. They then formally declared screen print as fine art. At the same time, many artists were engaged in exploring relief and intaglio etching, lithography and screen prints with new techniques and processes as well as combining multiple plates and newly developed processes to allow different ways of self-discovery and self-expression for original and innovative art works in printmaking. (2)
After the Second World War, these modern approaches further spread from USA to other regions of the world. Modern printmaking (wood cut, etching, screen print and lithography) became an important area for art studies in high schools, art colleges, academies and university art departments.
I had the opportunity to be exposed to this new trend of printmaking in New York during the mid-1960’s. The endless possibilities of modern printmaking techniques and processes which produce marvelous visual effects excited and impacted me a great deal while I was pursuing my MFA degree course at Pratt Institute there. I took up graphic arts (printmaking was called graphic arts in America) as my Minor area of study which provided me the opportunity to learn all the techniques and explore all the relevant processes during the course. I managed to learn etching which covered relief, engraving, intaglio, soft ground, lift ground, mezzotint, dry point, aquatint and collograph techniques and processes. Besides etching, I also learned lithography and serigraphy. I must say here that the experience I gained in modern printmaking from USA has enriched my paintings and 3-D works tremendously throughout the whole journey of my creative career. Viewers can easily discern the incorporated print elements and processes in many of my works.
Likewise, from the 1950’s to early1970’s most of the returned Malaysian art graduates from art colleges or academies in U.K. France, Germany and Australia also had learned modern printmaking during their pursuit of studies in art. They were Syed Ahmad Jamal, Lee Joo For, Yeoh Jin Leng, Ismail Zain, Lim Yew Kuan, Tang Tuck Kan, Latif Mohidin, Joseph Tan, Ahmad Khalid Yusof, Sulaiman Esa, Long Thien Shih, William K. K Lau, Kok Yew Puah and Chew Teng Beng, just to name a few. It was very encouraging to see that they had contributed to enhance our Malaysian art through their innovative works in modern printmaking since the 1950’s. It was also generally anticipated that they could contribute, besides personal art practices, through teaching printmaking in schools or colleges so as to further develop modern printmaking in Malaysia. The encouraging fact was that many of them did engage in teaching printmaking in secondary schools, teacher training colleges, universities and ITM (now UiTM).
During the 1950’s and early 1960’s, printmaking in Malaysia was not popular. There were numerous early Nanyang Fine Arts Academy graduates who had learned traditional wood cut and stencil printmaking, but did not actively engaged in practicing with these media. Block or stencil prints were occasionally produced for special events or exhibitions only. There were scarcely any full-time printmakers around. Even most of those who have studied modern printmaking overseas were unable to continue their printmaking actively due to the lack of facilities like etching, lithography and screen printing presses let alone the difficulty in acquiring materials such as copper plates, zinc plates, stone slabs and etching paper, etc. Nevertheless, there were a few artists-printmakers who were able to overcome the tough conditions and managed to produce fine prints like Lee Joo For, Long Thien Shih, Latif Mohidin, Lee Kean Seng, Kok Yew Puah, Lai loong Sung and K.K.Lau, etc. Through their creative efforts, the art of Malaysia has hence been enriched and enhanced. There was also a lack of keen interest for fine prints among the private collectors, corporations and public institutions. The misconception regarding prints as reproductions, lack of esthetics and re-sale value was prevailing.
It was rather disappointing to face such art scenario when I returned to Malaysia in 1969 right after the May 13 incidence. In view of the weak position of printmaking in Malaysia, I believed that it could be improved through the education system in schools and art colleges. In 1970/1971 academic year I was appointed as the Head in Fine Art Department in ITM which gave me the opportunity to re-structure the Fine Art curriculum. So I decided to make printmaking as a core subject like painting and sculpture in Year 2 and Year 3 and as a Minor area of study in Final Year’s syllabuses of the Fine Art Department. I was also pleased that such course planning was fully supported by the then School of Art and Architecture.
Relief printing process like wood cut, engraving and other improvised materials and silkscreen print (serigraphy) of various processes were introduced in Year 2 programme. The study of various processes and techniques of etching such as relief, engraving, intaglio, soft ground, lift ground, dry point, aquatint and collograph were offered in the Year 3 syllabus. Lithography would be covered in years ahead when facilities were expanded. The students were allowed to take printmaking as Minor area of study during the Final year which required independent experiment and exploration in creative printmaking. It was planned that three years after the implementation of the new syllabus, and when the printmaking studio became adequately equipped with presses and other supporting facilities, Final Year Fine Art students could opt printmaking as a Major area of study.
The new syllabus was implemented in 1971/1972 academic year and onwards when Ahmad Khalid Yusof joined the Fine Art Department. He was assigned to teach printmaking and take charge of the printmaking programme. I must mention here that he has contributed a great deal to the development of the printmaking course during the initial years before he was appointed to head the ATD Department in 1973 or 1974. I must also mention here, as far as I can remember, those artists who have been invited to do part-time teaching in printmaking during the initial years were Latiff Mohidin, Long Thian Shih, Carol Rotsiger and Ghafar Ibrahim. They all have made considerable contributions to the implementation of the printmaking curriculum at ITM.
Due to the importance of facilities and equipment for implementing the curriculum of etching and relief prints, it was necessary to equip the studio with at least one etching press at the initial stage. In 1971, if remembered correctly, I managed to obtain approval from the Registrar of ITM for Fine Art Department to acquire a unit of etching press from UK at the cost of RM 5,000.00. The press arrived in the following year and was housed in the printmaking studio at the ground floor of Happy Mansion in Section 17 in Petaling Jaya. The arrival of the press was just in time for Year 3 students to learn etching. I am pleased to say that this was the first large purpose built professional etching press to have been acquired in Malaysia for the teaching and learning of etching. The press can print up to a 75 cm x 56 cm full size etching paper. I am also pleased to know that the press is still in good condition and functioning at the printmaking studio in UiTM as confirmed in 2020 by Dr Jamil Mat Isa, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Art and Design, UiTM.
The Fine Arts Department saw the first batch of 3 pioneer printmaking Major students, Abdul Mansor Ibrahim, Aziz Abdul Rahman and Jaffaruddin Zainuddin graduated with Dip. AD (Degree equivalent) in 1975 from Shah Alam Campus.
Another ITM Fine Art (painting Major) graduate Tajuddin Ismail, one year senior to the first batch of the printmaking Majors, was probably one of the early ITM fine Art students to have taking the advantage of the new etching press to do etching prints. His early etching prints Untitled and Cloudscape were found in the permanent collection of National Art Gallery .
Abdul Mansoor Ibrahim later went to France to undertake an art programme at the Centre Audiovisual de Royan CAREL pour l’etude des Langues under the French Government Cultural Exchange Scholarship in 1976. He further remained in France to continue his pursuit in art from 1977 to 1980 during which he enrolled at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts and Atelier17 in Paris where he focused on learning the viscosity printing technique in etching under Stanley W. Hayter. After his return from France he further pursued and completed the one-year ATD teaching diploma course at ITM in 1984.
I am pleased to note that through his pursuit of further studies in art in France and the teaching diploma course (ATD) in ITM at Shah Alam, Abdul Mansoor has developed himself as a contributive printmaker and art teacher in the country. As early as mid-1970’ onwards, he has been active in participating art exhibitions which included the following : Young Contemporary’75, National Art Gallery (1975); Graphic Prints Exhibition, Raya Art Gallery, Melbourne, Australia (1976); Exposition des Artises Etrangers Boursier du Gouvernement Francais, Maison des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1978); 7th International Miniature Prints Competition & Exhibition, Pratt Graphic Arts Centre, New York (1979) and 23rd Salon International of Prints, Madrid, Spain (1979); just to name a few.
To his credit, soon after he also held two solos, “ Contemporary Prints Exhibition” in 1980 at Alliance Francaise and “Graphic Prints Exhibition” at Hotel Equatorial in 1983 in Kuala Lumpur respectively.
Luna A/P (Viscosity technique), 59 cm x 43.5cm, 1978 by Abdul Mansoor Ibrahim,
(Source: from the artist)
I would like to acknowledge here that upon his graduation, Ponirin Amin (Minor in printmaking) was employed as a tutor in 1975 to take charge of the printmaking studio and offered tutorial guidance to the students. With enthusiasm, he took advantage of the facility to improve futher his skill in etching and develop creative potential in printmaking. Credit must be given to him as he has helped the Fine Art Department to set up the standard working and safety procedures for the printmaking studio. All the students and staff members working in the printmaking studio must adhere to the rules and regulations to ensure proper handling of the press, proper use of the etching solution and all other chemical solutions. The Fine Arts Department emphasized very much the importance of students’ working disciplines and health consciousness in handling printmaking equipment and chemical solutions so to ensure safety and avoid ‘creative hazardous’ in pursuing printmaking as an modern art form.
Dalam Sinar Mu, 1978, Silkscreen, 51x68cm, by Ponirin Amin (Source: from the artist)
Ponirin Amin was then awarded the Young Lecturer Scheme Scholarship in 1977 to pursue his post graduate studies in UK. I was glad that he opted printmaking as his Major area of study in his Master Degree programme as the Fine Arts Department was in dire need for a well trained full-time printmaking lecturer at that time. Ponirin Amin was probably the first ITM Fine Art graduate to have opted printmaking as the major field of study and research in at the graduate level of study. Upon his return from U.K. he became one of the important teaching staffs, and a well trained printmaker of the country, who has contributed a great deal in teaching printmaking as well as overseeing the development of printmaking programme in UiTM. (For any further information on the continuing development of ITM’s printmaking course please refer to him as I think he is a very resourceful person in this aspect).
Ponirin Amin, Solace, 59.5x42cm, Silkscreen, 1980
There are another two ITM printmaking major graduates who have further studied overseas I would like to mention here are Johari Said and Bahaman Hashim.
Juhari Said was graduated in 1983. After years of hard working and self development, he shot to fame by winning the Permodalan National Berhad prize and the main prize in printmaking category of Salon Malaysia in 1991. In 1993, he represented Malaysia to attend the ASEAN workshop in Manila and was also awarded a French government grant to do research in Paris. In 1994, he was awarded a study grant by the Japanese Cultural Foundation to study traditional Japanese printmaking under print master Yoshisuke Funaaka in Tokyo. He has also won or received numerous grants and fellowships to undertake studies or research at various institutions at home and abroad in subsequent years. All these study, research or workshop experiences, the Japanese sojourn in particular, have provided valuable knowledge, creative thinking and working experience to enable him to develop himself as a versatile leading contemporary printmaker in Malaysia. Over the years Juhari has not only been able to produce large scale quintessential woodblock prints but also been able to extend woodblock print onto wood sculpture. His works whether 2-D or 3-D, all are powerful visual expressions with profound meanings and sometime with sarcastic manifestations.
Katak nak jadi lembu, Woodcut, 78 X 90cm, 1999 by Juhari Said (Source: from the artist)
Bahaman Hashim is another printmaking major from ITM Fine Art Department to have further studied modern printmaking abroad. After having graduated in early 1980’s, Bahaman went to further study printmaking at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and returned with a BA and Master degrees in Fine Art in 1988. Upon his return he was absorbed into the Fine Art department as a printmaking lecturer to enhance the teaching force in printmaking. As far as I can remember, he has produced a series of excellent etching and silkscreen prints during his study in USA, all of which showing high level of professional handling of techniques and materials. As a member of the teaching staff he has undoubtedly inspired his students a great deal in pursuing the study of modern printmaking. In the studio, he placed great importance of developing the students skills and idea in printmaking. As a teaching staff, he also contributed in upgrading the syllabus contents by placing greater emphasis on modern serigraphy and book binding. He was later appointed as the Head of Fine Art Department from 1997 to 1999 during which he further expanded the scope of study into multi-media, a very timely approach for fine art students at the eve of the new millennium.
AP 6/10 - Bumi Larangan , Etching, 23x34cm ,1984 by Bahaman Hashim
(Source: from the artist)
As a progressive individual full of creative drives, he made a bold decision to leave ITM and moved into advertising in the private sector after having discharged his duties as a lecturer and Head of the Fine Art Department at the turn of the century. He then soon further developed his career as a scuba diving trainer as well as an underwater photographer. He has indeed developed his underwater photography and scuba diving related businesses very well which I am unable give more details as it is not within the scope of this article.
AP 3 Medicine Chests, Silkscreen by Bahaman Hashim (Source: from the artist)
Of course, there have been so many fine art students pursuing printmaking as major subject study in the subsequent years and became outstanding printmakers or teachers which I am unable to mention all of them here as I have already been retired for many years.
Half century has gone by, I reckon that UiTM Fine Arts Department alone must have produced nearly, if not more than, one thousand graduates who all have studied printmaking as a Major or Minor or Elective subject. Through their creative practice or teaching, printmaking as a unique art form has undoubtedly been widely introduced and promoted in schools, art colleges and among the general public. The teaching and learning of modern printmaking through the academic programme of ITM and then UiTM has certainly contributed tremendously to the overall development of modern printmaking in
Over the last 5 decades, we have witnessed the gradual increase of groups and solos printmaking exhibitions held both in public and private art galleries with the aims to promote appreciation and recognition of modern fine prints as a unique art form. However, in the art market to-day, private collectors, corporations and public institutions are still very much lacking of enthusiasm in acquiring fine prints for collection. Many of them are still having the misconception that printmaking is reproduction due to its multiple editions, hence lower in value. The value appreciation rate is slow and limited as compared to painting and sculpture.
Therefore, a greater marketing efforts to promote printmaking as a unique art form and make the public aware of its beauty and aesthetic values is of utmost importance. New strategies, in addition to the usual exhibitions, workshops and art talks, must be developed. Frequent campaigns to persuade art institutions, corporations and commercial art galleries to support and provide adequate funding for facilities, workshops and exhibition to promote this art form and sales, etc. should be carried out all the times at all levels. Printmakers and art promoters should also take the advantage of digital communication through which promotions in all aspects can be done online, personal website, Face book, YouTube and other virtual platforms and channels can certainly be fully utilized for this purpose
It was highly commendable for the Museum and Art Gallery of National Bank of Malaysia to organize and hold a large scale printmaking exhibition titled The Art of Printmaking lasting Impression from August to November 2018 to showcase selected works from local printmakers as a continuing effort to foster greater understanding and generate keener interest in modern fine prints. The exhibition has certainly boosted the creative morale of the local printmakers so as to make greater efforts in mastering the crafts and generate effective approaches to up lift the standard of their printmaking. (3)
Likewise, through the initiative of the Director General of The National Visual Arts Development Board Prof. Dato’ Dr. Mohamed Najib Ahmad Dawa, the National Art Gallery hosted the International Master Prints exhibition of original fine prints by international masters loaned from the Taiwanese leading
printmaker and artist Prof. Liao Shiou Ping in 2019. It was held in conjunction with Prof. Liao’s solo exhibition from 20th February to 8th April, 2019, also at the National Art Galley. I was privileged to have been asked by Prof. Liao, who was two years my senior at the National Taiwan Normal University during the 1950’s to curate his Solo and the International Master Prints exhibitions. The print exhibition comprised of works by 56 international masters including Edouard Manet, Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso, Salvado Dali, Joan Miro, Pierre Soulages, Willem de Kooning, Zao Wou-Ki, Bernard Buffet, Jean Dubuffet, David Hockney, Stanley W. Hayter, Victor Vasarely, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol. Christo Jaracheff, Chuch Close, etc. It was indeed the first of its kind to have been showcased at the National Art Gallery in recent decades which offered the Malaysian artists, printmakers, art enthusiasts and the general public a rare occasion to view, study and appreciate such a large volume of world class original fine prints by international masters of art.
Poster of International Master Print, 2019 ( Source: National Art Gallery)
In The Art of Liao Shiou- Region· Diverse Approaches solo exhibition, besides the large size acrylic compositions, it also showcased 37 pieces of superb etching, woodblock and serigraphy prints with sophisticated professional handling of innovative techniques and colours with profound contents by Prof. Liao. Allow me to also have a very brief introduction on Prof. Liao here. After having completed his B A degree in Fine Art at home and post graduate study in Japan respectively, Prof. Liao went further to enroll at the Atelier 17 to study etching under Stanley W. Hayter in mid.1960. It was at Atelier 17 where he developed his printing skills and learned to master the ‘multiple colour print from one single plate’ technique from Hayter. Prof. Liao then moved to New York in 1968 and no sooner he became the assistant tutor at the off- campus Pratt Graphic Arts Center in Manhattan, New York where he developed his hallmark technique, the ‘Rainbow Technique’ in etching. Many of his prints in his Solo Exhibition were created by using this technique which he generously shared with Malaysian counterparts. (4)
In conjunction with his Solo and the International Master Prints exhibition, Prof Liao also conducted a 3-day printmaking workshop at the National Art Gallery for local printmakers and printmaking enthusiasts which has certainly opened up many innovative techniques and improvised working processes of printmaking for the participants.
By Dr. Choong Kam Kow
(1),(2). Lin Hsueh Ching & Chung You Hui, Printmaking 101, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (2018)
(3).Exhibition catalogue The Art of Printmaking lasting Impression, Museum and Art Gallery Bank Negara Malaysia (2018)
(4).Choong Kam Kow , “ The Art of Liao Shiou Ping : Vivid Colour · Concise Symbol · Rational Order”. Exhibition catalogue The Art of Liao Shiou Ping : Cross Region· Diverse Approaches , National Art Gallery Malaysia (2019)