Yusof ‘Gajah’ is known as Malaysia’s foremost naïve artist and children’s picture book author and illustrator but is hardly known as an art businessman who paints and sells his artwork by himself. By doing that, he is determined to cast out the myth of an artist living in a garret isolated from society. He believes that an artist should live successfully by selling his art work: ‘I don’t want to be a great artist but live in poverty ’. Artists have to struggle in their careers and are subject to the same market forces that affect lawyers and plumbers. With that in mind, Yusof dreams of having his own museum to develop and compile documentation on his legacy. Yusof will not waver from his dream until the task is complete. Therefore, he is painting and extensively developing his iconic elephant character, to pave the way to turn his dream into reality.
Yusof’s elephants can be considered as the things that people usually paint, like the human body, a dog, bottles and so on. For him, the elephant is the ‘gentle giant’ from which, if we want to relate to the remarks made by Grace Chin from the Edge upon his character as ‘gentle and calm’, we can understand why he sees himself in the elephant. ‘My personality is in the elephant’. Now we can see that his painting is not about the elephant per se; as I see it, it is more about himself. Simply put, he wants us to see him through the elephant. With the elephant, he invites us into his world that is filled with dreams, dreams of being an artist and a businessman. In other words, he uses the elephant to give visual effect to the imagination that drives him to dream and to follow his goal: ‘I have studios and later I opened two galleries’. Who knows – he may be close to having his own museum.
The paintings exhibited are sophisticated and masterfully executed. But for Yusof, to depict elephants naturalistically is not enough. It is not enough for him merely to ‘paint what he sees’. He uses his paintings to evoke non-visual content, his life experience, in a visual way. Through such techniques as successive distortion, inclusion and exclusion of form, and the simplification and abstraction of shapes; he builds up components to form the elephant so that it signifies and simultaneously depicts aspects of his experiences. We may thus regard his contribution to this dialogue an aesthetic, rather than a naturalistic depiction. By engaging in such a strategy, Yusof is able to to engage us in non-mundane communicative modes rather than naturalistic ones.
To end, we can say that his paintings are not limited to the production of perceptual surrogates or inferential aides memoire but that each painting itself is an essential site, in which the ‘gajah’ personality can constitutively guide and fulfill his dream of becoming a successful art businessman: ‘I want to keep on dreaming and encourage people to dream … to imagine … ‘.