Source: The Sunday Star, Malaysia, Sunday Plus, June 2, 1991
We Love Art
Born with the gift of art by Lida GehThere are turquoise horses and orange and pink cats. Further along the wall are spaceship crabs and stars which have eyes and live underwater.
"Oh, but they are not starfish, you know," the artist says firmly.
And what about the scaly creatures blowing blue bubbles? Well, those, she insists, are birds, while the jellyfish-like creatures are...mushrooms!
Of course they are, it's just silly grown-ups who just can't see them.
Give a crayon or paint brush to a child and an adult will always be rewarded with a glimpse of a wonderful, joyously magical make-believe world - like spaceship crabs and turquoise horses.
And when the child is a gifted artist like five-year-old Lee Hui Lian or older sister, Hui Ling, nine, the pictures can truly delight and tantalize.
The spaceship crabs and jelly mushrooms are hers while the horses and cats of unusual hues are the work of older sister, Hui Ling, nine.
They are the daughters of well-known artist Lee Kian Seng and his wife, Shoko Lee, also an acclaimed artist.
With such a pedigree, it is perhaps not surprising that the two girls are natural artists themselves.
Their exposure to art started very early. From her cot, Ling would watch her parents at work, recalls Kian Seng. And she did her first figure drawing when she was only two-and-a-half.
Kian Seng and Shoko encouraged their girls to draw by putting a crayon or marker pen in a pudgy fist and guiding it over paper. Next they would show the child how to draw familiar objects, and she learnt by imitation. From then on things came naturally, just as drawing comes naturally to all children.
"But the little one is stubborn," laughs Shoko, "she doesn't want any help and she wants to do it her own way...and just look at the things she comes up with!"
Hence, Lian's strange scenes and creatures.
But the girls do paint and draw quite "normal" pictures - their bedroom walls are covered with their youthful art of people playing games with animals amidst green fields and trees. There are flowers, smiles and frolicking puppies.
The scenes are perhaps a little idealistic but it is essentially a world seen through child-like eyes. Perhaps of their artistic temperament, Ling and Lian are more sensitive to their environment. It helps too when Mom and Dad are committed nature lovers.
Shoko, who is keenly aware of environment issues, takes pains to make her children aware of the natural world around them and educating them about waste and different ways to combat pollution.
Her efforts have paid off - Ling dreams of living on a farm so that she can ride horses, grow trees and rear chickens.
She wants trees because they "suck the dirt out of the air and breathe out clean airt".
Asked if she would like to live in the city, she holds her nose in disgust: "Oh no, it is too dirty and the smog is thick."
Her affinity for nature is so acute that she even once objected to her mother mowing the lawn. Shoko related the tale with great humour: "Ling wants to know why I was mowing the grass if it was good for the environment!"
The Lees are quite content to live far from the madding crowd of city life. Their home is in the outskirts of Port Klang.
It is also the home to the family pet, Jenny, the mongrel, which wandered in one day, liked what she saw and stayed.
"She came to us by herself; no one wanted her, so she came here," Ling tells the visitor happily.
Both children adore animals. When they used to live nearer to the kampongs, chickens, geese, dogs, goats and cows used to come and visit or graze on their land.
"All the chickens knew her," recalls Shoko, indicating Ling.
Shoko's pride in her children's sensitivity towards the environment is evident and tries hard to show them by example.
She tells of trips to town which ended with her stuffing her pockets with litter because she does not want her children to see her throwing away rubbish anywhere other than into a bin.
"I believe education about the environment requires discipline, by adults as well as children. I think that we adults must lead children by example. In a small way, we can all help change the world by influencing our children," she says.
It appears that the family that paints together, not only stays together but has lots of fun.
Shoko says they never spend a lot of money on toys, except for the almost indispensable Lego set, paper, paints and crayons.
They use a lot of paper, but every bit seems well used. "We still have to make ends meet," says Shoko with a laugh.
Their house is simple, almost spartan, but rich in art - Shoko's and Kian Seng's grace the living room walls and the children's art block on their bedroom walls.
With their simple, no-waste attitude and do-it-yourself spirit, it comes as no surprise that Shoko and Kian Seng have also taught their children to make their own toys and invent their own ingenious little games.
"There are so many things children can play with," she says. "Anything can be a toy."
Most of the girls' games are home-made. For example, the two girls have made a fishing game out of a twig, a piece of string, a magnet and fish-shaped pieces of cut-out and painted paper.
They also made their own "spinning-wheels" out of a circle of card and string.
Ling and Shoko even constructed a makeshift kennel for Jenny one weekend, using the frames from Kian Seng's pictures.
Shoko says such home-made toys require little artistic skill and expertise.
"They are not difficult; you just need common sense and plenty of patience."
Indeed, looking at Ling and Lian, with their wonderful pictures, their homely toys and their deep respect for their surroundings, one can only wish a lot more parents practised common sense and patience.
By Lida Geh, The Sunday Star Malaysia, Sunday Plus, June 2, 1991