JOHOR BARU - The "Lego man" graffiti row has taken a life of its own, with much of civil society backing Lithuanian-born artist Ernest Zacharevic's work in defiance of the local authorities.
His painting in Taman Molek, which depicted a knife-wielding man waiting for a victim around a corner, irked the authorities because the area is known as the state's financial area with the highest concentration of Malaysian and foreign banks.
Someone then painted a policeman beside the knife-wielding man, in a bid to "sanitise" the artwork.
The Johor Baru City Council (MBJB), however, was not pacified.
Yesterday, council workers painted over Zacharevic's work but within hours after they had removed the painting, it was back on the wall.
Someone had pasted paper "cut-outs" of the man and woman at the original spot.
Similar "cut-outs" were also posted in other parts in the area.
However, at press time, the cut-outs at the original spot had been torn off.
The council had also planned to remove another two pieces of graffiti about a kilometre away from the "Lego man" graffiti.
However, a group of people gathered around the art work and protested, preventing the MBJB officers from painting over them.
One shows a light blue water slide, which ends with the spout of an actual water outlet. The other transformed existing green moss on the wall into a tree top, with a trunk below it and two people standing beside the tree.
Zacharevic had actually been hired to come up with a painting for a café in Taman Molek after the owner liked his work in Penang.
The art for the cafe shows a boy doing a handstand.
Roasters and Cook Sdn Bhd café manager Jeffrey Ang described Zacharevic as a talented and creative artist who was friendly.
"We only hired him to do two for us, the one outside and another inside. The rest was done on his own and we do not want to comment on them," he said.
Ang added that Zacharevic had given them about eight sketches and asked them to select a few before coming to Johor to start work on Oct 29.
Asked about the meaning of the paintings at the café, Ang said he was not exactly sure but Zacharevic liked depicting children in his work.
"When I picked him up from Singapore, he had five huge bags containing about 60kg of painting stuff," he added.
Ang said Zacharevic completed his work within a week and was always accommodating when people asked to take photographs with him.
He said the work was done for less than RM100,000 and they provided accommodation for Zacharevic and his manager.
"We still expect him to come again to put some final touches to the small painting inside the café next month," he said, adding that the painting was a surprise for the opening of the café next year.
Asked whether he was aware that Zacharevic had gone on his own to paint graffiti elsewhere, Ang said that he had only showed him a photograph.