“SORRY sir, I don’t know how to create latte art,” the girl behind the counter at McCafe mumbled nervously.
The guy smiled and reassured her it was okay. He understood that she wasn’t a trained barista and he just wanted to have coffee — art or no art. Noticing how stressed she was getting as she prepared his drink, he started doodling the mischievous penguins from the Madagascar movie on a serviette.
“Here, something to cheer you up,” he said, handing her his doodle. As her face slowly lit up with joy, a roar of excitement came from her colleagues who’d witnessed the exchange. Meanwhile, from his table across the counter, the guy responsible for that sliver of happiness watched the unfolding scene with a contented smile. “I need to bring some joy to this world with art,” he declared to his mother seated next to him.
That was three years ago.
The guy’s name, or rather alias, is DuDu, and he’s taken the Instagram art scene by storm with his doodles. With over 30,000 followers, DuDu uses his unique artwork to spread happiness and convey positive messages through inspirational quotes using personalities he doodles, such as Steve Jobs, Johnny Depp and Audrey Hepburn.
DuDu is a unique artist — he never reveals his face nor his name. And whenever he’s in the picture, he’ll make sure to don a cap and a mask.
Today, I’m meeting him at a cafe in town, hoping to unmask this mysterious artist.
As I take my seat at Feeka Coffee Roasters in Bukit Bintang, I catch a glimpse of a guy wearing a cap and sunglasses next to my table. He waves at me.
“Hi, DuDu?” I ask, just to be sure. He is “mask-less”. Maybe it’s my lucky day, I muse excitedly to myself.
He smiles, nods and politely offers me a seat. Without wasting time, he begins unloading things from his bag onto the table. “So, here are some of my artworks,” he says, as eight normal size sketch books are produced with a flourish.
As he flips the pages, I notice two familiar characters from his impressive collection of doodles — Totoro from My Neighbour Totoro (1988 Japanese animated fantasy film) and No Face, a spirit from another Japanese animated film, Spirited Away.
“Hayao Miyazaki, the director for both anime, is my inspiration and influence. There’s a hidden message in every single anime he has created. I like to do that in my works also,” he confides.
DuDu relates his popularity to the crossovers of different animated characters and their funny expressions and actions. Sometimes, he incorporates real objects such as spoons, cookies and other items as part of his art. On why he does that, DuDu replies: “Art has a story and sometimes people can relate. They like cute and funny things too.”
DE-STRESSING THROUGH ART
Recalling how it all started, DuDu says that his initial plan was to have a business where he would have his artwork printed on T-shirts or shoes. But that idea didn’t work out as there were already many artists doing the same thing.
These days, he doodles in his free time and is currently exploring coffee as a medium to create his art. Doodling and drawing with coffee, says DuDu, is a great way to de-stress after a long day at his corporate job. “The more complex the doodle, the clearer my mind becomes,” he explains.
He shares that his alias, DuDu, is derived from the word doodle. “It’s fun and easy to remember,” he says, grinning. However, the mask has a darker story behind it. “I was bullied in school, college, and even at work. I’m not sure why,” he confides, before adding jokingly: “It’s probably because of my face.”
Back then, he recalls, people were more focused on academic results and art was not something that many felt could guarantee a good living. Looking down on students who didn’t pass with flying colours was the norm, adds DuDu.
His voice low, he confides: “I thought my luck was bad but then I gradually began to realise that everyone has their own fate. So I decided to change mine.” He remembers friends advising him to give up art, dismissing it as a hobby. “I’ve managed to change that perception and prove that art is able to connect people. There are people who like to judge you by the way you look. The mask is my way of telling such people that you don’t have to know who I really am. Just enjoy my art.”
His close friends, adds DuDu, liken him to Batman — the fictional superhero from DC Comics who leads a double life. Just like Batman, DuDu only dons the mask when necessary to protect his identity. When the NST photographer arrives, DuDu turns to me and apologises for having to put his mask on. There’s no unmasking the doodle artist today.
Other than his pens, DuDu is also adept at using other mediums. The most recent one is rather unique.
“Disney Malaysia approached me and asked me to create a piece for their movie Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 using cassette tapes!”
That makes sense, I muse, considering the fact that Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), in the first movie, listens to various mix tapes using his cassette player. It’s an important part of Star-Lord’s character and his connection to his past.
Smiling, DuDu admits that it was quite a challenging undertaking as there were no specific tutorials on how to work with cassette tapes. “With coffee it’s easy; you just pull the liquid in any direction you want,” he says. The other challenge was to get the cassette tapes... in 2017.
Fortunately, Disney did eventually provide DuDu with the cassette tapes and it took him three days to develop three artworks of the three characters from the movie — Star-Lord, Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana) and the cute little Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).
His work didn’t just impress Disney Malaysia, it also impressed the director of the film, James Gunn.
“It was unbelievable. Gunn shared it on his Instagram and suddenly I received many followers from other countries,” says DuDu, beaming.
As an artist, DuDu doesn’t limit himself to his comfort zone, enthusiastically embracing different mediums and constantly pushing himself to better his art. So far he has worked on murals, drawn with eyeliner, created cassette art, paired art with food, tried speed coffee painting, digital painting and lots more.
So, which one does he prefer, doodling or coffee art?
“I’m in love with coffee art at the moment,” he replies, eyes excited. “It’s so much easier. When you master the technique of watercolour, you can do coffee art anytime.”
Grinning, he admits that he’s had some accidents in the past with this medium — spilling coffee in the course of creating his masterpiece with the beverage. “When my mood kicks in, I have to find a table. One time, I painted Steve Jobs on a kopitiam table. One auntie saw it and praised me, but the kopitiam uncle was so garang (fierce) and just wiped it off!”
These days, adds DuDu, he always ensures that he brings tissues with him wherever he goes. “I’m actually having a love-hate relationship with coffee art. At first I love it. Then I hate it because I have to clean it off. I can’t really keep it. So it’s important to have videos and photos as proof.”
Thanks to technology, he gets to record, snap and save all of his artworks and share them with everyone.
“I’ve loved art since I was 9. I wasn’t very good in other subjects at school, probably because I was just too playful,” recalls the KL-lite, adding that he loved Lego and video games growing up.
His mother noticed his potential so she enrolled him in art classes at a Yamaha school. “Biasalah (as usual), Asian parents!” he remarks, chuckling.
Before we leave, I ask the 33-year-old if he’s contented now that he’s reached this stage of his life. He ponders the question before replying: “I guess I am. I’ve been through some unpleasant times in the past with all the bullying incidents but that experience drove me to want to spread joy. There’s no better feeling than being able to make another person happy.
“I also want to inspire young artists to share their passion for art and let the world know that Malaysia Boleh!” concludes DuDu, his voice filled with enthusiasm.
Check out his Instagram: DuDu Doodles The World (@dududedoodle)