Abdullah the artist

Abdullah Yusof pointing to himself in his Form 1A
class photo in English College Johor Baru
He’s come full circle.  Inspired by his teachers at the tender age of ten, he decided to be a teacher.  And when he mixed his art expressions with his passion for teaching, he was recognized with the State Level Guru Aktif Art Teachers Award in 1984 for his contribution to Art Education.  In 1994 he retired from teaching to pursue his passion for art.

Reminiscing on his primary school days in Bukit Zarah School, Abdullah Yusof realized that his passion to excel was ignited by the fine example of class teacher, Charlie Hu Wei Teh.   

Hu, an audio-visual enthusiast, had set up his camera on a tripod to take their class photo with the top eight boys seated with him while others stood behind or squatted in front.  Being second in class, Abdullah was proudly seated in that prestigious row.

Form 1A with teacher, Gurnam Singh, in English College
Abdullah Yusof [2nd row standing 2nd from Right] and
Arthur Lee [2nd row standing Far Left]
Hu organized a class excursion to Singapore that coincided with the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  His initiative and commitment made a deep impression on Abdullah.  Abdullah who vividly remembers how he and his 10-year old friends were wide-eyed with wonder when they visited Haw Par Villa Gardens and the seafront Esplanade, part of which was renamed Queen Elizabeth Walk. 

At the end of three years of Primary School in 1955, Abdullah sat for a Post Primary Exam to qualify for admission into Secondary School.  In those days, students must pass this entrance exam because entry into secondary school was not automatic.  Fired up with a firm resolve to excel, Abdullah passed and gained admission into English College [Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar], Johor Bahru’s premier boys’ school.

Pencil sketches of screen sirens, Marilyn Monroe [Left]
and Eartha Kitt

In Form 1A he moved into an English-speaking environment with form teacher, Gurnam Singh.  Here he made friends with boys of different races and Arthur Lee Meng Kwang became his best friend.  Sharing a similar height and build, and common interests like singing, they sat together and even sang a Dean Martin song in a duet for a concert.
Abdullah values how art teacher, Lim Teck Siang, encouraged him to explore and hone his artistic skills.  Through Nancy Lim, his English literature teacher, he learnt to appreciate literary classics like Madam Bovary, Wuthering Heights and Twelfth Night.

In Form 3, Abdullah’s hard work paid off when Headmaster R J Swales commended him highly with a certificate for his presentation at an annual art exhibition.  Abdullah’s love for art and music gave him a hobby in sketching portraits of popular movie and music stars like Rita Hayworth, Jean Simmons, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe and Eartha Kitt.

While Lee went on to start his law practice and later migrated to live abroad, Abdullah joined the Malayan Teachers College and the Specialist Teachers Training Institute to become an English and Art teacher.  He taught in secondary schools in various parts of Malaysia until retirement but the artist in Abdullah did not stop there.

“An artist lives a cosmopolitan life,” said Abdullah as he described how art transcends race and colour and the way it unites people.  Working mostly in acrylic, he also uses watercolours, gouache and oil on favourite subjects are flowers, figures and Malaysian scenery.  Since 1975, his art has been exhibited in galleries and events from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur and Shah Alam.

Johor traditional dances rendered in watercolour and charcoal,
reproduced as postcards
In 1998, Abdullah started a series of paintings on Mosques and Johor Traditional Dances. 

As these highly acclaimed works found their way into private collections and royal palaces, they were reproduced in postcards that are now available for sale exclusively at JARO or Johor Area Rehabilitation Organization, and the Japan Club of Johor.  

Postcard picture of Abdullah's
"Fire-cracker Heliconias with Caladium"
in acrylic

Between 2002 and 2005 he completed commissioned work on paintings of Johor Bahru’s iconic buildings for Hotel Mutiara Johor Bahru and started the heliconias series which were shown in his first solo exhibition entitled, “Heliconias and the Waterfalls,” at the Puteri Pan Pacific Hotel.

“My little garden is my source of inspiration,” laughed Abdullah as he explained how he would often take artistic license to add or minus some feature in a God-given scene to make it his own.   His “Flora of Malaysia” series of fine acrylic paintings of various species of heliconias found in Malaysia are now available, printed on greeting cards.

Abdullah completed a series of larger heliconia paintings, this time created on canvases measuring 80cm x 68cm.  Some of these works like, “Ornamental Banana Trees in Cadmium Red” and “Pink Heliconias in the Morning Sunrise” were displayed in Galeri Seni Johor in a show organized by the Johor Heritage Foundation from July to August 2009 to showcase works by 10 Johor-born artists.

Some exhibits from his show, “A Symphony of Orchids”

Golden Showers in watercolours
Vandas Three in watercolours

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