Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Rubber Trees
Rubber Trees

In Rubber Trees, Tay Mo-Leong has innovatively utilised the feature of batik crackle as an image-making technique, a degree above the decorative function it usually serves. (Batik crackle is created by applying wax to the fabric and crumpling it, so that the dye, once it is applied, travels through the fissures in the wax.) Here, it has been used to depict the crowns of trees in a rubber plantation. The complex and chaotic web of batik crackle strikes a sharp contrast to the flat pictorial plane and simple, abstract figures which are characteristic of Tay’s style. Bright splashes of colour are selectively utilised to balance the blue crackle and give life to the sparse, minimal landscape in the bottom half of the painting. 


80 × 65 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Tay Mo-Leong
About Tay Mo-Leong

Tay Mo-Leong (b. 1938, Penang) received his art education from the Taiwan Provincial Taipei Normal College (now National Taipei University of Education) in 1957 and later at the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, Florida, in 1970. It was in Taipei that he first developed an interest in batik. Upon his return to Malaysia in 1960, he set about perfecting his batik skills through repeated study trips to Kelantan. Though mostly known for his batik works, he was also proficient in watercolours, and served as Chairman of the Penang Watercolour Society for twenty years from 1985 to 2005. He has had solo exhibitions locally and internationally, in Japan, the United States, and Australia. In 2009, the Penang State Art Gallery honoured him with his first retrospective.

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Look at the figures in Tay Mo Leong's artwork. What do these figures tell us about rubber production? The figures are quite small in relation to the artwork as a whole. How would it feel to be one of these figures?

  • Natural rubber is derived from latex of the Hevea brasiliensis tree. In 1888, twenty-two rubber seedlings from Brazil via the Kew Gardens in London were sent to Malaya.  It is said that you can still see the rubber tree in Kuala Kangsar, Perak that was planted from one of those original seedlings! Thanks to the efforts of a botanist called H.N. Ridley who introduced new methods of rubber tapping, rubber became commercially viable.  The massive boom in rubber trade came in the first decade of the 20th century as prices rose as a result of  the US automobile industry and the related demand for rubber tyres. By  the 1960s, Malaysia was one of the largest producers of rubber in the world. The cultivation of rubber trees in Malaysia changed the country in many ways. How would the country be different today without the introduction of rubber trees?

  • In this artwork Tay Mo Leong has exploited the unpredictable nature of the Batik process to create the tangle of rubber tree branches. Why not play with other techniques that embrace a lack of control? Pour some watercolour or ink onto a page. Use a straw to blow the ink around the page. The patterns created should resemble the branch of a tree. You could add figures below the branches to respond to Tay Mo Leong’s work. What other techniques are useful for mimicking the disorder of branches and twigs?