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FRONT AND CENTER: Ray Khoo

Internationally renowned artist resides in Jacksonville

By Jeanni Brosius

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ray Khoo of Jacksonville is an internationally renowned artist who has held art shows worldwide. Originally from Malaysia, much of Khoo's work is inspired by the theme of water

— Known as Khoo Sui Hoe in the art world, most people just call him Ray, which he said is similar to the Mandarin pronunciation of his name and easier for Americans to say.

Khoo, 72, is a humble man of immense talent.

He was born in West Malaysia and grew up close to the border of Thailand. For two years, he was an elementary teacher before he went to the Nauyang Academy of Fine Art in Singapore, graduating in 1961.

Since his first one-man art show in 1965, Khoo has had 48 one-man shows all over the world, including a show at the Butler Center in Little Rock that ran from Nov. 13, 2009, through Feb. 13, 2010.

“His paintings are also at Christie’s [Fine Arts] Auction and Sotheby’s,” Shu Khoo said about her husband’s art.

Just returning from his latest art show in Malaysia, Khoo said the first day of the show, he sold 11 paintings.

“As an artist, Ray Khoo is to the Asian art world what Picasso is to Spain,” Jacksonville artist RB McGrath said. “He is one of those rare finds in the art world that can be regarded as pure genius. He is, in my estimation, one of the only painters in the last century to actually be original and do something that no one else has done, in ways that no one else can do it. When [he] visits my studio on occasion, I always consider it an honor that he even looks at my work. He is a master of fine art.”

Sponsored by the JDR 3rd Fund in New York, Khoo moved to the United States to study contemporary art in 1974. The JDR 3rd Fund was created by John D. Rockefeller III in 1963 to encourage an East-West cultural exchange.

Khoo and his family migrated to Houston, Texas, in 1982 in hopes of giving his children, then 4 and 6, a better education. In 1996, he moved to Jacksonville, where his wife, Shu Khoo, who is an interior designer, runs the couple’s business, Unique Furniture.

Khoo said that although his father wasn’t happy that his son had become an artist, he later supported Khoo’s career choice .

“Dad never agreed with what I wanted to do,” Khoo said. “Anything away from your textbook is a distraction.”

Khoo said he would draw in class; then his teachers would be so impressed that they would display his drawings in the classroom.

“I know where I stand, and I know what I have achieved and how much I have yet to contribute,” Khoo said about his art. “There is so much joy in this profession that if I have a next life, I would certainly become an artist again.”

Inspired by life, Khoo said many of his landscape paintings are of water. He believes one should feel things instead of just see them.

“I was fortunate to enter school at the right age after the Japanese surrendered during the Second World War,” Khoo said. “Life was thrifty, but also enjoyable, when most people had to bathe in the river right in the town. The river provided much inspiration for my paintings in the later years.”

Many describe Khoo’s style as modern primitive, and Khoo said people tell him that the colors he uses in his work aren’t that of a 70-plus-year-old man, but those of a young person.

“Ray has developed his own unique style of painting over the last four decades,” art collector and Jacksonville physician Alan Storeygard said about his friend. “His paintings are very creative, full of color and convey a wonderful sense of happiness and hope. Ray is a down-to-earth, very friendly, humble and very creative man who is happy to share his ideas with others and encourage others. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Ray and Shu.”

By showing his work, Khoo wants people to get to know him as a man and an artist.

“His body of work is incredible, dating back to 1965,” Storeygard said. “I have a 1-inch-thick book of his paintings over many decades on my coffee table. His creativity is an inspiration to me. Shu and Ray are a team, and we are so lucky to have them both living in Jacksonville. They both bring a very personal connection to Indonesia and China to us. Their zest for life and positivity is infectious. I encourage everyone to get to know both of them and to check out Ray’s art.”

Khoo’s art is mostly on display in museums around the world, and in Hot Springs; however, he said if someone is interested in buying a piece, it could be transported.

To see Khoo’s work, order a book or buy a painting, visit his website at www.artist-khoo.com.