One of Malaysia’s most recognisable and beloved public artworks is Ernest Zacharevic’s Little Children on a Bicycle, painted in 2012. It is a mixed-media public artwork with painted figures on the wall, and a real bicycle. The two kids, faces screaming in excitement (or perhaps fear!) is a popular sight on the streets of George Town. But there are many more artworks to discover, too! Penang has risen to be one of Malaysia’s top street art areas.
Ernest Zacharevic, originally from Lithuania, is a public artist trained in London and based in Penang. Zacharevic was tasked with brightening up the streets of George Town in 2012 for the George Town Festival, unveiling a series of murals called Mirrors George Town. His works depict cultural elements and the rich history of Penang on the sides of Chinese shop houses.
Mirrors George Town public Art Project
There are 6 murals altogether that make up Zacharevic’s wonderful project, which ran between June and July 2012. It was commissioned by the Penang State Government. The George Town Festival is an arts and culture festival that also shows films, dance, music and photography. There’s even a walking tour that can take you through the city and discover each one! Let’s have a look at what the murals are, and where to find each one.
Little Children on a Bicycle
Arguably Zacharevic’s most famous work is located on Armenian Street in George Town. The expressions of the kids are what makes this artwork so much fun – while the older girl seems to be thrilled with her chaotic tandom bike ride, the young boy riding pillion is yelling in fear or excitement! This artwork is popular with people, who like to strike interesting poses alongside the kids.
Unfortunately, as much as Little Children on a Bicycle is beloved, it has also been the target of graffiti. In August 2012, just a few months after it was painted, it was defaced with yellow wax, but soon cleaned up. In 2013, a vandal scrawled ‘nonsence’ (sic) above the artwork. However, efforts are being made to preserve this artistic treasure, and Zacharevic retouched the painting in 2016.
Uncle Ng, the Clog Maker
There is another mural on Armenian Street as well, a huge black and white portrait of Uncle Ng, the Clog Maker. The real life Uncle Ng was Zacharevic’s next door neighbour, who provided the inspiration for this work. The wisened old face, unfortunately, is in danger of fading in the sun and grime of the city.
The Boy and his Motorbike
The next mural in the series is called The Boy and his Motorbike, located on Ah Quee Street. Similar to the Little Children on a Bicycle mural, the motorbike is fixed against the old unused door to give this work a real life quality. Painted against the beautiful faded red wood of the door, a young boy relaxes on the motorbike seat wearing an oversized helmet.
Little Boy with a Pet Dinosaur
Another whimsical peek into the imagination of kids in Penang is Little Boy with a Pet Dinosaur, showing a grinning boy trying to wrangle a fierce, crudely drawn dinosaur. The childlike scribble of the dinosaur, compared to the realistic look of the boy (in control of the fierce beast!) is a lovely look at the power of the imagination of kids.
Indeed, the motorbike and the dinosaur are right next to each other, so it appears that the boy is restraining the dinosaur from attacking the motorbike! My drawing showing the two together is based off pictures from two time periods – notice how the walls themselves change and decay!
Little Girl in Blue
The 6-metre high mural named Little Girl In Blue is located on Muntri Street, not far from the Eastern and Oriental Hotel. The larger-than-life girl, dressed in a sky blue dress and sporting marching ribbons on her pigtails, pushes herself up against the windows of the building. The shadows of the girl and the window shutters are also painted in, giving this work a wonderful three dimensional element.
Boy on a Chair
Along Cannon Street is Boy on a Chair, a small mural using an old wooden chair. The chair once had a blue cushion, but is now just a wooden frame. The boy interacts with the building, trying to reach into a window above, perhaps part of a cheeky game. Visitors like taking pictures with this work, posing as if they were helping him climb!
One of Zacharevic’s largest murals is Trishaw Man, which covers an entire wall of a building opposite the car park of Red Garden Food hawker centre. The artwork shows a man sitting in the cab of his Trishaw, waiting for clients. The Trishaw was a common sight on the streets of Penang in years past, but mainly serve as a tourist attraction today.
Other Artworks by Ernest Zacharevic
Since Mirrors George Town, Zacharevic has produced other lovely public artworks to add to the lively streets of George Town. Here are some more examples of his work.
Children in a Boat
Children in a Boat was painted on the side of a house on the Chew Jetty, one of Penang’s famous clan jettys. These are traditional housing styles in Penang, a series of stilted houses and boardwalks over the water, usually home to one clan. Zacharevic’s mural depicts 2 kids and a cat in their boat, which appears to float in the water as the tide gets high. Due to wear and tear, the mural was painted over.
Broken Heart in Love Lane
The Broken Heart mural is painted on two telephone booths, with one half of a broken heart on each. It is located in (appropriately named) Love Lane, in the old town of George Town. Just opposite is another public artwork by another artist, Cheating Husband, by cartoonist Tang Min Kian.
Since the unveiling of his artwork in 2012, Zacharevic’s beautiful, tounge-in-cheek and playful public murals have well represented Penang life. For locals and tourists alike, his art has become a feature on the streets of George Town, and make for a fun hidden treasure hunt. They have also set George Town apart as a centre for public murals, and has inspired other public artworks from other well-known artists. Louis Gan, Yulia Volchkova and Vexta are other notable Penang street artists.