Island Bound

Light projections on the Macalister Mansion set the mood for the launch

Zacharevic’s interpretation of the island is best admired by lining up four bottles in a row.

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 6, 2016.


PENANG Island is known for a lot of things, with food topping the list of things-to-do when in the home of one of Unesco’s World Heritage sites. In the last few years however, a new highlight has emerged in the Pearl of the Orient — street art.

 Walk around any of the main historic and tourist attraction areas on the island, like the food heaven that is Penang Road, the refurbished Weld Quay area or the historic Armenian Street, and you are bound to come across street art adorning the walls of pre-war buildings. The paintings, which started emerging around 2012 are masterpieces of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic.

 Considering the artist’s popularity and close links to Penang —  through not only his art but also his love for the island that drove him to make it his home — the recent collaboration with the Scotch whisky maker to create its 2017 Chinese New Year limited-edition Blue Label bottles, is fitting indeed.

 The first order of business upon reaching Penang was lunch at the famous Ah Leng Char Koay Teow at Jalan Dato Keramat and everyone was in high spirits after savouring the delicious well-known favourite. Then we were off on a trishaw tour of some of Zacharevic’s street art around George Town, complete with a thirst-quenching cendol stop at Penang Road, which was most refreshing considering the weather. Being a Penangite myself, this was an opportunity to see the island from a different perspective and through the eyes of a tourist for a change.

 During the trishaw tour, we noticed that a recurring theme in his work is children — a boy on a motorcycle, two children on a bicycle or on a swing — and that he often incorporates actual three-dimensional items into his artwork too. Besides that, there is also the large painting of a peddler resting in his trishaw, and other paintings of what the artist perceives as characteristic to the island and its inhabitants.

 The unveiling of the limited-edition bottle took place later that night at the Macalister Mansion. The Blue Label logo was projected on the fine dining restaurant’s white façade while blue lights set the ambience throughout dinner. To further emphasise the “oriental journey” that we were on, a dragon dance performance greeted us at the entrance to the mansion.

 “Similar to Johnnie Walker’s history of its carefully crafted and exceptional blended whiskies, Penang is a state of cultural stories and traditions dating back to more than 100 years ago. The design is inspired by the rich culture and traditions gleaned over the years that Ernest has spent in Penang. Through this collaboration, we hope that our consumers will savour every single drop of the carefully crafted blend while paying homage to the Malaysian Chinese community who are popularly known for their strong perseverance and persistence in holding up their traditions to date. This truly resembles the Johnnie Walker brand’s belief of ‘Keep Walking’, and we believe that this will serve as a timely reminder to everyone to continue preserving in the traditions and practices in the years to come,” said Rajesh Joshi, marketing director of Moët Hennessy Diageo Malaysia.

 The 2017 Chinese New Year limited-edition Johnnie Walker Blue Label design showcases Zacharevic’s interpretation of Penang and its heritage since he first stepped foot into the state. The bottle is also special because there are different illustrations on each side; line the different sides of four bottles up in a row to see the entire design. The complete image has a troupe of dancers holding up a spray-can-wielding dragon — the artist’s tongue-in-cheek representation of street art meets Penang culture. The iconic Komtar building is visible on one side of the bottle behind a Chinese temple.

 The design on each individually crafted bottle has been created using the latest inkjet technology which focuses on precise printing techniques to resemble the looks of a spray-painted artwork, truly making it a collector’s item.

This collector’s edition bottle is exclusively available in Malaysia at selected distributors and at a recommended retail price of RM777 (excluding goods and services tax).