Gifted artist Sim Li Wei, more fondly called Li Wei, is an architect with a passion for Chinese brush painting. Trained in the art of speed painting, it only takes 10 to 15 minutes for her to complete a single, complex artwork.
Her biggest achievement so far has been a painting of pink peonies, standing tall at six feet in height.
She said: “I believe Chinese brush painting is a valuable art form left by my ancestors. I hope people look at my drawings and feel that it is not hard to achieve.
“There is no need to have rice paper or a brush, any pen or paper will do.”
The 26-year-old artist added: “The essence is in the stroke, white space, and even the calligraphy in the painting.
“It is not just about how well you can [paint], but the process itself. I can walk by the roadside and take out my sketchbook to draw, or I can draw on stage within seconds.”
Sim’s impressive talent is limitless. She also plays Chinese musical instruments like the guzheng, flute and er hu, and even makes clay dolls.
“There are many possibilities in our life ... we don’t have to limit it to one,” she said.
What attracted you to Chinese painting?
“Chinese painting captures not just the shape but the inner essence or atmosphere of the subject with a just few strokes of the brush.
“Learning Chinese brush painting is not just about art, it is also about building the inner self, as well.
“In Chinese brush painting there are the ‘four nobles’ – orchid (spring), bamboo (summer), chrysanthemum (autumn) and plum blossom (winter) – which have been the ‘protagonists’ in Chinese art ever since the Song Dynasty.
“Each represents a character or teaches us a lesson. For example, the bamboo represents integrity, while the plum tree represents humility.
“It is very interesting and different from other arts. I like it, as it has many different perspectives and sides to learn.”
What inspired you to do speed-painting?
“There is a perception that Chinese brush painting must be done in a calm and peaceful environment, probably while sipping tea on a beautiful evening.
“Actually, it is about finding inner peace within ourselves. I feel art is something more entertaining and comprehensible, and should be appreciated by others.
“I have been speed painting for 10 years, with my family playing traditional music in the background. I hope my performances can inspire or encourage youngsters to learn traditional skills, as it is a common perception that Chinese brush painting is only for retired people.
“Speed painting showcases the beauty of Chinese art.
“It is not about speed. It is about blending the rhythm of art with the rhythm of music, the rhythm of the stroke and rhythm of the space.
“The beauty of art doesn’t matter, but it is about concentration. Speed painting promotes Chinese culture, especially in Malaysia, to create a bridge with the other races, or as a language without boundaries.”
How do you balance being an architect and a Chinese brush painter?
“As an architect, I design long-lasting art pieces, while as an artist, I have the freedom to create art pieces by translating anything that runs through my mind, without any restrictions.
“Chinese brush painting teaches us to see the empty space as white. The beauty of music lies in the silent moment of the song.
“We have a famous quote in architecture by Mies van der Rohe: ‘Less is more.’
“Architecture is not about the beauty of sculpture or arches, but about solving issues and making life easier for others.”