Almost 2 years ago Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic, fresh off his studies in Middlesex University, London, planned on a backpacking trip. Three weeks into his travels he ended up in Penang and never left the island. Little did he expect to be something of a local folk hero whose street mural series Mirrors became a part of the inaugural George Town Festival.
Ernest came without any intentions of becoming a well-known artist here. Armed only with his favourite medium – charcoal – he scrawled the walls of Penang with no concern over his works, knowing that it will be washed off anyway. Yet they went viral on Penang blogs, and a local collector took notice of his work. Recalling the incident, Ernest said “he found me on the streets and just went “I’m going to be your friend now.” Then one day he invited me for lunch and brought some friends over, and told us to be friends, hold parties together, work together, and maybe do an exhibition sometime in the future. And I just laughed, that’s not how you make friends!”
Yet true enough the same people he met then were the same guys he held art exhibition Rescube with last July. Together, they’re shaping the current milieu of Penang’s art scene. “The art scene is changing into something dynamic. When I came here, it’s nothing obvious. Now a lot of people are more inspired to just go out there and put out their art. It’s gonna explode really soon, it just needs a trigger,” Ernest says.
Ernest’s presence definitely stirred something within Penang’s collective psyche. Rescube was the most frequented art exhibition we ever attended, and who hasn’t seen the murals he had done for George Town? The image of two kids riding on a vintage bicycle over at Armenian Street isn’t just recognisable locally, it has gone viral internationally. What’s more amazing is how reflective his murals are of local culture. This is a man who hasn’t even lived in Penang for more than 2 years, after all.
This, according to Ernest, is the fault of urban ennui that regulates modern folks into something like automata. “[Most people] just drive to work and back and they don’t do anything or go anywhere. They see their car, their office, their condominium, their elevator, their house. That’s it,” says Ernest before continuing that he is more of the observant type. The sort that would cycle around town, take out his sketch book, and just get inspired by his environment.
“The amount of time I interact with the location here is more than others do in their lifetime,” claims Ernest. While some might construe his statement as his being high and mighty, but being office drones at JUICE ourselves, we can’t help but agree with his observation.
Plus, we can’t disagree with someone with such strong attentive eyes that locals have taken to consider him a Penangite. “I don’t feel much like a foreigner. A lot of locals see me as a local already, but I do still get into awkward situations when they’d tell me what I can and can’t do, or explain to me what char kuey teow is,” he jokes.