(19 October 2015, Monday) My journey with art began when I was a boy. My family lived in a three-room Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flat in the Queenstown area. Our living conditions were spartan. My bed was a plank, the couch comprised wooden boxes with cushions and a cloth laid over them.
My father was friends with people from all walks of life. Artists were not the only interesting people who came to our home. I remember that Professor D. J. Enright, the famous scholar from the English Literature faculty at the University of Malaya, came to our home. Boys from the Perak Home also visited on weekends and my siblings and I played with them. I grew up in that unique environment of openness and compassion. When I think about my relationship with art, it begins in that context.
As a boy and teenager, I have vivid memories of the artists who visited our home. Cheong Soo Pieng, Lai Foong Moi, Seah Kim Joo, Chia Yu Chian, Ng Eng Teng and Vincent Hoisington. Choy Weng Yang, an artist and respected curator at the National Museum Art Gallery (NMAG) also knew my father well. The NMAG was the precursor to the National Gallery as it was the very first national visual arts space in Singapore.
When I see the paintings of the Nanyang School in the National Gallery, I am reminded of my visits to the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) with my father on weekends. The academy was then in a rambling bungalow in St Thomas Walk. My father was friends with Nafa’s first principal, Lim Hak Tai, and, later on, his son, Lim Yew Kuan, who made a bust of my father.
Nafa was established in 1938 and many key artists of the Nanyang School – Soo Pieng, Georgette Chen, Chen Chong Swee – taught there. They were migrants from China, trained in Shanghai and Paris, but their paintings expressed their sense of belonging to Singapore.
Media: The Straits Times, Page A20; Lianhe Zaobao, Page 11
南洋艺术学院 Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts