Karwai Chan: From brushstrokes to philanthropy


WITH each brushstroke on the canvas of Karwai Chan’s artworks, a tale of personal evolution and artistic discovery unfolds.

Her journey, initially embarked upon for personal enjoyment, has burgeoned into a prolific career marked by the fusion of passion, collaboration and a commitment to cherishing life’s simple joys.

It started in the peaceful surroundings of Ipoh, where the landscape inspired and guided Chan. The calm retiree’s haven, contrasting with busy urban life, gave her the freedom to explore her creative interests without commercial pressures.

“I am the youngest child at home and my father frequently travels. My brother and sister are older than me by 10 years, hence I often find myself alone at home.

“It seems that painting has become my companion, a confidant I turn to when solitude feels akin to keeping a diary.

“When I was very young, I was captivated by the image of the starry night in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings featured in newspapers. I don’t exactly know why, but somehow, I harboured a desire to become an artist. Fortunately, that aspiration has become a reality,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Her admiration for the unique expressions of various artists, from Picasso’s abstract marvels to Da Vinci’s meticulous realism, highlights the diverse palette that has influenced her creations.

“I don’t have favourites, but van Gogh is the artist who inspires me,” Chan said, expressing the difficulty of choosing a favourite artist, akin to picking a single brushstroke from a masterpiece.

Yet, her artistic voyage extends beyond the strokes of a brush. Her social media presence, once an avenue for personal expression, has transformed into a portal connecting her with a global audience.

“At first, when I was young, I posted for fun and then, somehow, someone liked my work. Inquiries for commissions started pouring in, and I realised that painting could earn money,” she added.

As inquiries and commissions flooded in through her social media platform, Chan recognised the transformative potential of turning her passion for painting into a full-time pursuit.

However, the art world, with its various styles and sometimes contrasting preferences, presented challenges. The distinctions between abstract, realism and surrealism often resulted in judgments regarding professionalism.

In response, Chan champions collaboration and mutual support among Malaysian artists, recognising the collective strength derived from fostering a united artistic community as she expresses her admiration for fellow artists who bring their unique perspectives to the canvas.

“Red Hong Yi, a talented Malaysian artist who studied architecture, creates most of her work by hand, unlike me who works with paint. I admire her art,” she added.

Her current focus revolves around the captivating “Cupid Series”, a collection where ethereal Cupids descend from heaven onto blank canvases, symbolising the purity of human experience.

Through this series, viewers are encouraged to pause, appreciate the overlooked joys in their daily routines, and embrace the simplicity and excitement reminiscent of childhood experiences.

Reflecting on a period of solitude during six months of travel last year, Chan delves into the contrasting emotions observed in bustling cities like London.

“Amid the hustle and stern expressions of busy individuals, the laughter of two children running changed the atmosphere instantly. This prompted me to explore painting children,” she said.

Currently, Chan enjoys the flexibility of her artistic journey, described as “following the flow”. The ongoing “Cupid Series” keeps evolving, captivating audiences with its emotional depth and timeless themes.

Additionally, her exploration extends into more car-related projects, drawing inspiration from her successful collaboration with McLaren. Immersed in the expansive canvases of large-scale works, such as the car project, Chan remains motivated and enthusiastic about the boundless possibilities that lie ahead.

Making a Difference in the Community

Chan’s story isn’t just about financial success; it’s about a passionate commitment to philanthropy.

Earning recognition from esteemed voices within the art community has empowered Chan to boldly channel her deepest emotions and concepts into her artwork.

The pivotal moment in her journey came when her pieces garnered substantial bids at auctions, marking a turning point where she wholeheartedly embraced her artistic prowess.

Subsequently, her career not only propelled her artworks into the realm of prestigious luxury cars but also enabled her to achieve remarkable fundraising milestones.

She held her first charity auction at The Fullerton Hotel, raising a significant amount in the five digits, all dedicated to the Singapore Red Cross.

“I consider myself fortunate to have joined an auction at a young age. Surprisingly, the bidding went beyond what I expected. When asked about the starting price, I thought of RM2,000, maybe RM4,000.

“To my surprise, it went up to S$9,000 to S$10,000 (RM35,445). At first, I doubted if someone would buy, but during my first auction at Singapore’s Fullerton Hotel, my artwork found a buyer.

“The proceeds were donated to the Singapore Red Cross organisation. This experience significantly bolstered my confidence in pursuing a career as an artist,” she said.

Charitable endeavours hold a special place in her heart, driven by her personal experiences with loss, depression and a challenging upbringing.

Her overarching goal remains steadfast: To contribute to humanitarian causes by donating the proceeds from her art.