The Art of Old Town series by Ernest Zacharevic is a key attraction of Malaysia. Ipoh is the capital of the Perak region of Malaysia and the countries third largest city. The town was founded on the tin mining industry, which went into decline from the late 20th century. Today Ipoh attracts many visitors who are drawn by its old-world charm. The town centre is a mesh of colonial-era buildings, rustic doorways, beautiful mosques and a fantastic contrast of local coffee shops and hipster cafes. In 2014 locally founded coffee chain Old Town White Coffee collaborated with Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic in a project dubbed the Art of Old Town to create a series of murals on the streets of Ipoh.
On my recent holiday to Ipoh I wanted to discover all the famous murals from the Art of Old Town series by Ernest Zacharevic. His style is more traditional than gritty or graffiti-like, and his images have a personal and sketch-like quality about them.
Old Uncle with Coffee Cup
This is the first mural from The Art of Old Town if you enter from the train station. It is on the side of the original Old Town White Coffee shop building. It shows an old uncle drinking his coffee (spelt kopi in Malaysian) from a traditional kopitiam cup. There was something about the old man’s face that looked very familiar, like I have seen him before. The artwork is located on Jalan Dato Maharajalela opposite the Ipoh field.
This mural embodies the wonderment and adventure that childhood should be. A simple fold paper plane carries two young boys off to somewhere fun. The artwork is at the top of a four stour building on Jalan Sheikh Adam road so be sure you don’t walk by and miss it.
The picture refers to the popular way coffee is served in Malaysia, in plastic bags tied with string. It is also a nod to the fact Ipoh was the birth of white coffee in the region. If you look closely you will notice the bags are hanging from string looped over rustic nails and every detail from the old-school white and red straws poking through, to the beads of condensation on the plastic, are captured. It is found on Jalan Tun Sambathan road.
A girl stands on tip toe atop an old-school stool, reaching her hands toward a cage full of birds. The artwork successfully incorporates a real stool, fixed solidly against the wall, as well as a wall grate together with Zacharevic’s illustration. You can do as I have done and become part of the artwork by also reaching up for those plump and colourful birds!
This is the largest of all of the artworks in the Art of Old Town, but it was also my least favourite because of it’s very black and smudgy appearance. Here Zacharevic has been influenced by the Chinese style of ink painting and the characters feature as silhouettes. The scene captures Ipoh’s evolution from a tin mining town in the British colonial era and sprawls the entire side of a building on Jalan Bijeh Timah road.
This happy picture of a hummingbird searching for food was strategically placed on a wall fringed by leafy greenery originally. However the tree has since been pruned back. Nonetheless the colourful scene remains a fitting symbol of Ipoh’s beautiful and natural surroundings and is located in the Jalan Panglima carpark.
The Trishaw was my favourite mural from the Art of Old Town and is also humorously referred to as Street Art is Rubbish. It shows an old man hard at work, carrying stacks and bags of rubbish on a trishaw in order to make his living in Ipoh. An actual frame of a trishaw is also mounted to the wall so observes can also add to the man’s load and take a seat.
Ipoh’s Old Town is small and it took me approximately 30 minutes to discover all 7 wall murals. If you are strolling around you will likely discover most of them on your own or alternatively just follow the crowds as most of the artworks are surrounded groups of tourists taking photographs! In addition to Ernest Zacharevic’s works, there are many other paintings and examples of street art in Ipoh’s Old Town that add to its charm but also give it a becomingly trendy edge.