Soundtrack: Beethoven: Piano Sonata#14 in C Sharp Minor Op. 27/2
Moonlight, First Movement
I have been so privileged this trip to stay with families, to be welcomed into people’s homes, invited to share food, to sit. One of the truly great privileges of this trip was being taken by a dear friend and her family to Melaka, and then invited into the home of artist Tham Siew Inn. Such an honour to quietly spend time inhaling the atmosphere of the artist’s residence, imbibing the green of their gardens. Drinking tea. Sitting us women, peeling pomelo. Talking with family members, two sons creative artists themselves and the oh so real, material, tangible woman-wife-foundation, herself a teacher and creative floral artist. There were times sitting with the art, wandering the rooms, up and down the stairs, when I caught myself almost wondering what we were doing next, but not following the thought as time had slowed, the lime infused walls cooled the heat of stress and haste, and I wanted to just be, to be breathing, to just be. The colour breathed calm into the empty places in my soul. And of course sharing together much much wonderful local food breathed companionship into the empty places in all our bellies.
When you look out from the first floor gallery through the open windows, the old green glass with its patina of the ripples of time, you see into Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, one of the oldest streets in UNESCO listed Melaka. That’s the street where you find the artist’s gallery, and it’s a street of contrasts. From the most hip art coffee house The Baboon House, to a museum with original shoes for Chinese women’s bound feet, to a UNESCO restored house showing original architecture and building styles. The atmosphere of creativity, grounded in history, twisting and tasting and reinventing identity and vision and place.
Chinese people and cultural influences remain so strong in Melaka and in my next post I’ll show you an end of Lunar New Year festival that caught us up in colour and sound and imaginings as we wandered in another world. But pause for a moment in the space Tham Siew Inn and his family have created for themselves, for their art. Let the layers of lime-plaster fall away from your mind revealing forgotten textures, touch the smooth places in your mind. Sit. Pause and allow for creative light to infuse and speak to your inner chlorophyll, merge your energy into harmony.
It’s not so long since I was in Monet’s Garden and the resonance is real, the desire for true clear light, for colour. A willingness to let sight blur into a feedback loop with all the senses and feelings and imaginings. To rewrite presumption through the fractals in a drop of cool clear water. To find art and beauty in the most simple, profound space. Tham Siew Inn’s garden is an inspiration of nature, of light, of the creative tension between order and chaos, a re-conception of value.
At our last meal together, Uncle asked me which of his works I liked best. “The purple one, second from the front, on the left downstairs,” I answered having been back to it several times. “Why?” he asked. I said something inane about feeling an emotional connection. I was thinking that Alison’s favourite colour was purple. I should have said that. When I first saw it I thought, “Alison would like that purple, it’s alive.” And I also thought, I can see two dragons hurling fire while a man walks away. I like dragons. As I returned and stood and waited, often without turning on the lights, I found myself peering into the Belle Époque, the man not walking away, actually Rac or Lautrec sitting at a piano. Would Rac play Chopin at the end of a night of Burlesque? I saw a large frame, perhaps a stage curtain or gilt edge around an enormous mirror reflecting a winsome figure wending her way through the empty tables, carrying costumes above her head, reflected, twirled, like dragons dancing in fire. I could smell the warm human stench of a night ended, of powder, cigars, of closing time, of the sun rising on the rest of the world in the east, rays bouncing off the mirror. Inside I could feel the vibrations of the piano, in the darkness of the edge of the room I could feel. There was generosity, hospitality, patience, welcome, safety. I felt like the small boy I thought I could see peering into the mirror at worlds exotic, enticing, remote and close. Real, material and tangible. But mostly I could feel.
If you are in Melaka, or if you’re in KL and can possibly make the time, go to visit Tham Siew Inn’s Gallery. Sit, look, wait. Buy yourself something to remind your soul that there are people who can taste colour, smell life. That there are places, rare places of true beauty. And each time you dip your mind into the taste of its colour you just might find something you’re missing.