An Ernest Effort

Updated: 12 Jun 2013

Recently, two of Ernest Zacharevic’s murals in George Town were vandalised within the space of ten days. On both occasions the public cleaned up the mess, leaving the murals intact. Here the young artist tells Su Aziz a little more about the eight murals he has painted on the island’s century-old walls

It takes Ernest about a week to paint one of his murals. ‘However developing ideas, collecting footage, sketches and the like, can take up to few years,’ he adds. Although unable to tell which one takes the most effort, he admits that all eight murals were a challenge and a great experience to paint. ‘The trishaw rider mural was very exciting to work on due to its scale. It's the biggest painting I have done so far.’

The first one was painted almost two years ago in Love Lane but unfortunately, it didn't last long. ‘It was painted over a few days after I painted it,’ he adds ruefully. ‘I'm not really sure which of my paintings should be considered murals, some of them are just conceptual doodles and some are indoors. I’ve done eight large scale paintings on the public walls of George Town to date.’

Ever since arriving in George Town a couple of years ago, Ernest had a huge urge to paint on the walls around the town. ‘All the textures, colours, all the characters roaming around the streets were running through my mind constantly,’ he recalls. ‘Since my first mural was removed so soon after I painted it, I started looking for legal ways to do my street paintings. At first, it was friends who donated me their walls and later George Town Festival organisers helped on my wall hunt.’

He admits how he doesn’t really care much about the physical challenges of executing his paintings on these walls. For example, he confesses to a terrible height phobia that seems to disappear when he’s balancing high up on scaffolding or a ladder while painting. ‘These paintings will never happen if I were to consider every unpleasant thing involved in the process. I think the most challenging part is actually to come up with an idea for the painting. You can't just wish these things to appear in your head; it really takes years of brewing the idea in your mind until you find that perfect moment to pour it out.’

Currently, he’s back in his hometown in Lithuania, exactly where he was when he heard about the vandalisms that happened to two of his murals – the first being the one in Armenian Street which was then followed by the one in Lebuh Ah Quee. ‘My friends and fans keep me updated on what's happening in Penang. I wasn’t upset to see my murals vandalised. If I wanted my art to last forever, I wouldn't have done it on an old wall in the middle of the street. To be honest, I expected it [the vandalism] to happen much sooner. What did surprise me was the public’s reaction to it – the paintings were cleaned by volunteers before I even heard about them being vandalised. I got hundreds of support letters from my fans and the incidents were featured in so many articles,’ he says. ‘Not sure if such a community bond to public art such as this has ever happened before.’

Ernest agrees that everyone has different opinions on what he has done and on his work. ‘It's impossible to please everyone. I always support people who dare to have faith and defend their opinions even if society may not agree with them. I just wish they would fight things like poverty, pollution and mindless consumerism instead. I think on that topic, arts and culture are the last things people should fight against, no matter how good or bad it is.’

As featured in Time Out Penang's 50 things to do in Penang. For more on Ernest Zacharevic, visit

Tags: Features