Cham, who was five years old then, was mesmerised. When they went home after the movie, he drew a portrait of the painter on the floor with cake powder that belonged to his mother. That was his first portrait.
In his teens, he contributed cartoons, portrait drawings and caricatures to magazines in Malaysia and Singapore.
Then when he was 26, he followed a voice that told him to go to France.
“My dream was to bring contemporary art to Melaka, to set up an art colony, much like Le Bateau Lavoir in Paris or the Yellow House in Arles. There were not many tourists then, rent was cheap and houses were big. It seemed like a perfect place with all the old colonial shophouses and back-in-time atmosphere.”
Cham set up The Orangutan House at Lorong Hang Jebat in Melaka in 1993. The orangutan mural he painted on the wall is still there today, albeit having been retouched a few times over the years.
“When I did The Orangutan House mural in late 1992, a lot of locals didn’t actually know what an orangutan was. When the mural was completed, they thought it was a gorilla, King Kong or Garfield,” he says.
Today, he has two other outlets, one on Jonker Street and the other on Temple Street.
“Over the years as my paintings grew, I needed more wall spaces to exhibit them. So, the only way was to have more galleries. It did not happen exactly like what I had envisioned, but at least from being a lone artist on Jonker Street, today there are more than 20 artists of all disciplines including painting, calligraphy, pottery, wood carvings, graffiti, paper cuttings etc setting up studio in this area,” he says.
From the very beginning, the Orangutan House has always depended on walk-ins, especially the weekend and public holiday crowds. With the pandemic, closure of borders and restrictions on travel, the whole Jonker Street area has been empty for months.
Cham notes that the pandemic has changed everything, from how businesses are run to how we live our lives. He has been spending a lot more time painting and is contemplative about how his works reflect his state of mind throughout this time.
Address: 59, Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka
Contact No: 06-282 6872