'Melon man' with a licence to thrill
By Scott Faulkner
Chances are many of you will have gorged on a chow mein or chop suey made by Birmingham street artist, David Loh. Next time, though, it’s probably worth asking for the dessert menu as well!
Working outside the Bullring
David Loh has lived in the Midlands for nearly 20 years and speaks with the ceaseless rapidity of a General Purpose Machine Gun.
He's like a fruit evangelist.
Talking to him is like opening a can of cola - only one that has been dropped from the top of a Castle Vale tower block.
Easy does it
The Malaysian-born chef's so full of enthusiasm for his 'fruity' work that it’s difficult not to share his infectious passion. One look at his colourful creations and you'll see what I mean.
"I've been doing this for more than 30 years and I just love showing my talent to the people," he says.
"I want children to be inspired by food. I want people to learn my skill and to eat healthily."
David, or the 'melon man' as shoppers have started calling him, is causing quite a stir in Birmingham city centre when I spot him.
Onlookers huddle around as he works patiently on a stone bench outside the Bullring.
They jostle for position and prod the air with mobile phones and fingers as he slashes a melon with a single craft knife in a blur of movement.
A look of blinkered concentration masks his face as his hand moves rapidly over the fruit's surface, twisting the blade into its reddening flesh.
The crowd swells as he places his fourth piece of fruit next to him; an intricate rose in bloom beside a cocktail of surfacing fish, a monstrous head with wild eyes, and a menacing dragon.
They look incredible but then he’s had plenty of practice - the five he’s done in a few hours here add to a tally that he says is pushing towards five figures.
"I practise ten hours a day but if I'm not working I can do 16 hours a day. I just love creating art, especially from melons."
Minutes later, and with minimal fuss, he generously hands out some of his work to families who are watching.
"Melons are the best to carve because of their colour and size but I've carved many different kinds of fruit and vegetable," he says.
"I can carve a turnip into a flower in 30 seconds but I once carved a 150-kilo pumpkin into a dragon and that took two days.
"I've created my own fruit characters and I'm working on animating them. I'd love them to be made into a cartoon; that’s my dream."
Teapots and stilettos
We arrange to meet at his home – a claustrophobic flat on a Ladywood estate a short distance from the city centre. It’s a sweltering day when I'm buzzed in. David opens his front door and I walk in to a wall of heat.
David's son is impressed!
Inside the dimly-lit hall a cute toddler emerges in a white vest and lurches towards me, arms out like a Hammer Horror Mummy.
Derek, David’s two-and-a-half year old son, has still got his arms clamped around me during the interview but his wife Joveth comes to my rescue. Daughter Mei Mei, four, shyly peers around the door at the visitor.
David, the son of a chef mother and carpenter father, looks much younger than his 49-years (he's one of the few people I've met who is proud to be turning 50 soon).
He came to England in 1990 to live in Stourbridge and married his Filipino wife, working in some of the region's many takeaway restaurants.
About 15 years ago he settled in Birmingham and is soon to start work as a part-time chef at a Chinatown restaurant.
David with his wife and son
Pictures of his family proudly adorn the walls alongside some of his best fruit sculptures, including framed fruit teapots and vegetable stilettos.
He’s worked as a chef in Malaysia, Holland, Jersey and Germany but says an accident 20 years ago with cooking oil has restricted the amount of time he can stand in a kitchen.
"I trained as a chef and all my life I've loved cooking but I can only work part-time because my legs are painful," rolling up his jogging bottoms to show me his scars.
"I left school without any qualifications but loved art. My father would bring me to the restaurant and I saw some food that had been carved and I decided I would start.
"That night I got a carrot and I carved it into a dragon. I was 16. No-one taught me. From then on I've always been carving, always practising.
He added: "I get a lot of my ideas from my culture and nature, or from artists like Picasso; others just pop into my mind."
If music be the food of love...
Music is the other passion in David’s life and an electric guitar rests in the corner of his living room.
He’s taking lessons and doesn't need a second invitation to play. Soon he's launching into The Shadows' Apache before ending a medley of tunes with the James Bond theme.
That's David Loh: 00-melon with a licence to thrill.
last updated: 11/06/2009 at 15:40