Saturday, July 11, 2009

Undye-ing love for Batik

It was one of those days when anything fancy takes flight. I decided to stroll at the Artists' Colony, Jalan Conlay, KL. There one can meet many artists, have a friendly chat, admire their works and do it all so leisurely from one hut to another. I met Jon Bagul in one of the huts he shares with a fellow batik artist. Jon Bagul is a batik tulis (hand drawn)artist and he hails from Kota Belud, Sabah.

I think I woke him from his reverie as I popped my head towards the table where he was seated. In between puffs of his cigarette, he welcomed me. Jon was in his element. Guess I was the first visitor in the mid morning. He introduced himself as John Travolta's kin when I asked him his name. Really, he is Abdul Latif Magit. With pride he said he could dance the floor just like the real John!

For all his cheekiness, he's a soft-spoken guy. Proudly he showed me his album of photos. Since 2002, Jon Bagul's second home is where all the dyes, brushes, cantings and wax reside. The artist spends the entire week , all for the love of batik and to make a living.

My eyes caught the big piece of batik tulis stretched across the metal frame. It's a special order by a Swedish lady. 'She wants it like this piece here,' he said pointing to a 5 feet x 4 feet piece framed. Lovely piece! - of heliconias which are one of my favourite flowers too. When done, it will grace her living room thousands of miles away from Malaysia.

I think batik needs only little introduction to my readers. Although its origins is in the Malay Archipelago, batik is found in many countries the world over. In Malaysia, demand for batik tulis is more than batik chap. In recent years, Malaysian batik has garnered international attention. The late Datin Seri Endon Mahmood's vision to put Malaysia on the world map has seen success.

So, what is batik? It is a wax-resisting dyeing technique used on textile. The cloth is usually cotton but it can be silk. The pattern is left unwaxed. When the cloth is put into the dye, the waxed parts aren't dyed and are left uncoloured. The wax is removed by washing in water. The process is repeated for different dyes till the final result is achieved.

With a canting in his hand, Jon guided the nifty tool and drew the lines and curves. The hot, melted wax flowed fluidly from the small copper cup at the other end of the canting. Believe me, you need steady hands and concentration to achieve that. I've tried before and they were broken lines like sleepers on a railway track! Not forgetting the blobs of wax dripped here and there for the unintentional design!!

As it is hand drawn, no two pieces are the same. One must be prepared to pay the price for this laborious fine art.

Batik is fashion everywhere - be it on the beach as pareos, bikinis or for the high fashion, in homes to adorn - curtains, pillows, deco pieces. As far as your imagination stretches, you can wear batik!

I asked Jon why he was in Kuala Lumpur. 'This is the big city. There's no money in a small place.' And he appears to have made the right move. For how long can one subsist on the love of one's passion without being able to 'cari makan' ( make a living)? He even tried to market his art on his website. Visitors gave him encouraging comments but the 'Wows' weren't good enough without the purchases. So he decided to change strategy. Now he runs a one man business among the other artists in the colony. Tourists and locals pop in and they recognise his talent and orders are made.

It's been 15 years since he started batik painting. Now he is a happier man and I can sense you cannot tear the man from his art. His undye-ing love for batik flourishes daily . I wished him well. Will definitely bump into him again.

Jon Bagul/ Abdul Latif Magit
Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur
Section 63, Jalan Conlay
50450 Kuala Lumpur


  1. Beautiful designs on the fabric and very interesting article on the technique.
    The only thing is that if he smokes, the fabric will reek of the smell...
    more people would buy them if he didn't smoke as the fabric will smell from it.
    A lot of people are allergic to the smell of smoke.

  2. Hi
    Greetings from Coimbatore. Your post on the art of Batik was excellent and the designs were fascinating.
    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving nice comments. Please visit again.
    Have a nice day. Best Wishes.

  3. What absolutely phenomenal color and detail! I took a batik class once and know how extremely difficult this technique is! What talent!

  4. What a wonderful post. Thanks for the information about Batik.

  5. Yes Batik is ART :)
    Thanks for all the information !!
    In our country can everybody follow a course
    (I hope its good translated)
    to make batik :)
    I have a batik table-cloth with a peacock on it
    (its beautiful ;)
    Its handscraft (I have not made it ... )

    Have a nice sunday.
    Anya :)

  6. What a beautiful art that is. The designs and colors are so glorious with all the vivid colors. It sounds like it takes a lot of work and talent to producing these wonderful fabrics.
    Thank you for stopping by and leaving a kind comment.
    Be well, be happy :D

  7. I love the pic with the koi fish.

  8. Beautiful pieces. Thanks for sharing them and the story. I think I should pay Jon a visit too to see him do it first-hand. Thanks again, Keats.

  9. Hi
    The Retired One, yes, Jon makes lovely art. The hut is not enclosed and people can stroll though . Because it's airy, I didn't get the smell of smoke :)However, there are laws that forbide smoking indoors.

    R. Ramakrishnan, many thanks for your compliments. Thanks v. much for following my blog.

    Marie Reed, years of practice and a very good eye are needed to reach this stage.

    Anya, yes, courses are taught in many places. so give it a go when you're up to it.

    Pam, I agree. wonderful designs and such vibrant colours too.

    Veronica Lee, Jon says the koi is popular with the Chinese. As you can see, it's on the way to being done!

    HappySurfer,I'm sure he'll welcome you too. You can also enjoy the other artists who do oil, acrylic and water colour paintings. They are all there in the sprawled compund.

  10. Thank you for posting so much details in this post.
    I've tried batik paiting in my secondary school.
    But, seems that all the knowledge had been returned to teacher.

  11. Hi There, We're home after a wonderful weekend in the gorgeous North Carolina mountains. I'll post in the morning.

    WOW--Batik is amazing.. Thanks so much for featuring this art for us.

    Hope you had a great weekend.

  12. I like the information on batik art, and your photos show how beautiful the pieces are. It must be wonderful to meet the artist, and watch him at work..

  13. That is some amazing texture and color on Batik and I think he captured everything perfectly :P have a great week ahead...

  14. Hi
    LaY Hoon, do not worry, one can always revisit and do it beter, hopefully.

    Betsy from Tennessee, will follow up on your weekend in N. Carolina. I did 2 storytelling sessions with the kids. Also took some lovely pics of the latest fountain in the city. Will post later.

    Icy BC, Yes, it was a nice talk with jon. Like most artists, they seem a relaxed group of people, unhurried and calm :)

    M. Kate, I'd give anything to be able to draw and paint well; sing too!!

  15. What lovely batik work Keats. Love the colors in some of them and the patterns. This is really a wonderful art. Thanks for visiting my blog today.

  16. Thanks for visiting my blog & comments.I am only a beginner,,,thanks for your supports ...i wish more in future .
    Your blog looks nice,,great arts....

  17. thank you - his work is very beautiful. have never seen different shades in one bit of a batik - am used to blocks of colours. a real labour of love

  18. Artist Colony, is it Handikraf Malaysia? I've been there once or twice but can't say I saw any artists. It is really good to see the artist in action. Will dropby the next time around and check it out.

  19. Hi
    SAPhotographs (Joan), Jon will be pleased to know he has many admirers. Thanks for popping by too.

    SUGEETH, one step at a time and you'll improve :)we all start from somewhere. Just try to improve as we go along.

    sonia, yes, the work is painstaking and it is a true labour of love

    Ocean Girl, The artists are behind the main block . Have a little wander and you'll find them.Tourists and locals come by , even schoolchildren. There are exhibitions now and then. A Wedding Works has just finished.

  20. Hi Unseen Rajasthan, thanks for your comments. Do pop by again.

  21. I have always been fascinated by batik fabric. How wonderful to speak with the artist and learn more about the process. The designs are beautiful!

  22. Nice batik you have there. Hand drawn ones are the best!

  23. Dear Keats,

    I used to work right across the street, at the KL Regional Centre for Arbitration. I love the craft complex and would look forward to the days when the designers would change the displays. Simply exquisite!

    That is so kewl that you got to stroll at the Artists' Colony. It never occurred to me to do that.

    You are right about the canting. We had to do batik lukis in art class in school. If you're not careful, you drip wax all over your precious cloth. Mine had blobs everywhere. The colouring part is the best part -- the dyes just bleed into the cloth until they reach the wax! Magic!


  24. Hi Diane C, thanks for visiting. There's always fascinating designs to endear us to batik.

    Pete, good day to you ! Thanks for your comments.

    ~Covert_Operations'78, I'm no stranger to the Artists' Colony myself. Have made a few friends there too among the painters:)
    Karyaneka just finished an exhibition on Weddings.When I'm visiting overseas, I'll definitely visit the centre to buy gifts.

  25. I tried to leave a comment earlier, but I guess it didn't go through...
    His work is exquisite! I took a class in batik a long time ago in school - I admire anyone with the patience to do something so intricate.

  26. Loveliest post and what a talented artist. My salutations to him!
    Many thanks for sharing this.

  27. Hi
    Adrienne, thanks for trying again! Hand drawn batik is painstaking.

    Indrani, I'm sure Jon is happy to read so many lovely comments about his work :)

  28. Beautiful, I remember doing this in High School but it wasn't anywhere near this detail. Such an artist. Takes years to develop that kind of eye.

  29. Hi flowergardengirl, you're right. It takes patience over the years to develop a talent. Thanks so much for visiting.

  30. Hi
    I am all checked everything was okay.
    I was just fainted and ended up wrong.
    I am now equipped because I've slept a lot.
    I have a part of my face blue with a little yellow ;(
    Thanks for all the kind words :)
    Anya :)

  31. HI Anya, good to hear you're ok. And what a good dose of sleep does to heal too:)


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