You may be familiar with Kuen Stephanie’s work: abstract figurative scenes from rural and urban Malaysia that tell stories of people’s everyday life. She paints both snippets of busy urban street life with many details, and more quiet scenes of kampung life.
Stephanie graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Art with a Diploma in Graphic Design in 1987 and started her career in advertising. She soon found herself trying to make ends meet as a freelancer.
“I always loved art but couldn’t afford any. Why don’t you paint one, suggested my husband”, she recalls now. She had experimented with watercolours but didn’t think her paintings were good enough. “My husband is a man of faith, he told me to keep on painting and take my works into galleries. We entered the frightening world of art galleries and eventually found one that took in one of my paintings.”
“My paintings were also up for sale in a shop in Bangsar that had a solid expat clientele. Paintings sold but I got no feedback until I got featured in the Expat Magazine. One German couple came to my house and told me they had been looking for this kinds of paintings high and low. For the first time I got feedback! Until then my confidence had been zero – it felt so good to see that people saw value in my paintings.”
She then ventured into her first solo exhibition. “Had I known what it involved I would have chickened out. Financial constraints at the time meant that I didn’t have money to build a collection. Luckily customers paid for the paintings upfront and let me exhibit them. On day one I had red dots on the paintings – it was like a miracle! The guest book had lovely comments from expats and Malaysians alike”.
Stephanie is very much a self taught artist, and has perfected her characteristic style since she started painting in her 30’s.
“My works are an extension of who I am. If I was a minimalist, I couldn’t paint these paintings”, she says. Many of her paintings have real life models from her own childhood, and are living testimonies of places and lifestyles that are getting rare. “Paintings play a part in preserving history. I draw inspiration from old things – I used to collect old paper bags and love old marble tables and tiles. If I pass a shop with an old basket, tiffin carrier or a bike, a story starts evolving”.
She sells most of her works independently, mostly because she enjoys the encounters with people interested in her art. Many buy her works as a memento of their time in Malaysia, but more and more Malaysian homes now have Stephanie’s pieces on their walls. “My works remind them of their childhoods and bring back happy memories”, she laughs.
You can follow Kuen Stephanie on Facebook – she can be also found at the German Bazaar, Alice Smith School and IGB Christmas Bazaars, where you can purchase paintings as well as calendars with selected paintings. Prices for the paintings start from RM2500. For appointments to visit her studio, please contact Stephanie at 012-2180690 or 012-2182483 or firstname.lastname@example.org.