Art Talk

Peter Harris painted my portrait
By Ee Lene


Peter Harris (born 1923, died 2009) was the first art superintendent in Malaya from 1951 to 1960. He founded the Wednesday Art Group in 1952, whose members included Syed Ahmad Jamal, Patrick Ng, Dzulkifli Buyong, Cheong Lai Tong, Ismail Mustam, Jolly Koh and others.


Young girl with ball

In 1996, he was rediscovered by Yeoh Jin Leng, and he was invited to participate at the "Wednesday Art Group - Then and Now' exhibition at Galeriwan in Kuala Lumpur. He was given a solo exhibition at Galeriwan the next year. In 1991, my father managed to get him to come for a solo exhibition at our gallery, The Art Gallery, Penang from 7 - 31 January. The exhibition was accompanied by a 48 page catalogue, which included his autobiography.


Morning market

Unfortunately, my mother, Mrs Tan Siau Bian (who passed away in November 2001) became very ill with leukemia in September 2000. She was hospitalised for one year at Singapore General Hospital for stem cell therapy. My father, my brother and I took turns to keep her company in Singapore. I was spending half a week in Penang looking after the gallery, and the rest of the week in Singapore.

Penang Water Tower

So I was able to spend some time with Peter who stayed in  Hotel 1926, Penang for a week. He arrived in Penang just in time for the official opening, which was officiated by Dato' Chuah Thean Teng (Teng). He said that he was happy to be back in Penang, but the journey made him "almost half dead due to his creaky old bones". After that, we took him  to visit Teng's gallery at Batu Ferringhi. We were fortunate to spend time with him at his hotel, and we took him to various food stalls where he loved to study the faces of people walking by or eating.

Just before he left to return to England, he suddenly offered to sketch my portrait. I was honoured and readily agreed. He asked me to have a conversation with my dad, while he drew my portrait in pastel. Peter loves to sketch while observing human interaction. After that, he wrote on the portrait that " Ee Lene is far more lovely than this". I was flattered and have treasured this painting ever since. I am happy to share this portrait and other paintings on this blog.
I was managing our branch gallery in KL from 2009 to 2010. When news of his death on 14, March, 2009 was announced, I quickly organised the Peter Harris Memorial Exhibition as the first exhibition for our new gallery. There was much interest in the exhibition. Unfortunately, we had to close this gallery at the end of 2010 as the owners wanted the space back. Our gallery in Penang is still operating, on a viewing by appointment basis.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely the current opinions of the author and should not be construed to reflect the opinions, policies or positions of any entity other than the author's.