Chinese ink artists are back in the spotlight

(From left) Artist Nai Swee Leng; artist Lim Kay Hiong; Dr Phua Kok Khoo, a director of Chui Huay Lim Club; Mr Paul Yao; Ms Teresa Yao, daughter of the late artist Fan Chang Tien; and Professor Heng Chye Kiang, with an artwork by Fan.
(From left) Artist Nai Swee Leng; artist Lim Kay Hiong; Dr Phua Kok Khoo, a director of Chui Huay Lim Club; Mr Paul Yao; Ms Teresa Yao, daughter of the late artist Fan Chang Tien; and Professor Heng Chye Kiang, with an artwork by Fan.ST PHOTO: NABILAH SAID
Chinese ink artist Tan Kee Sek will open his solo exhibition, which celebrates 50 years of his practice, at Ion Gallery in Ion Orchard.
Chinese ink artist Tan Kee Sek will open his solo exhibition, which celebrates 50 years of his practice, at Ion Gallery in Ion Orchard.ST PHOTO: NABILAH SAID

Chinese ink painting, one of the oldest living art traditions, is going strong with five exhibitions on now and two to open soon

Chinese ink painting is alive and well in Singapore. There will be at least seven exhibitions, including three now ongoing at the National Gallery Singapore.

Chinese ink art, which involves applying ink with a brush on paper, is one of the oldest living art traditions. Its history dates back 3,000 years.

Prominent Chinese ink painters in Singapore's art history include the innovative artist Chen Wen Hsi, whose iconic gibbons appear on the $50 note.

Next month, the Chui Huay Lim Club in Keng Lee Road is mounting an exhibition in tribute to the late ink master Fan Chang Tien. The artist, who died in 1987, taught high-profile students including Chua Ek Kay and Henri Chen.

The 11-day exhibition comprises about 150 artworks by Fan, his students and his students' students.

Chua and Chen are among the 17 students whose works are on display, while the exhibition's 18 third-generation artists include Ang Cheng Chye and Tan Mui San.

National University of Singapore Professor Heng Chye Kiang, 59, who was Fan's last student, says: "He was one of the most renowned artists of his generation.

"He didn't seek fame or fortune. He just wanted to pass down the culture of Chinese ink painting and calligraphy to his students."

Ms Teresa Yao, who is in her 70s and is one of Fan's adopted daughters, is hoping to spread awareness of her father's legacy through the exhibition.

"An artist from China told me, 'Your father is in the wrong place. In Singapore, he is like a pearl hidden in a grain of sand'," she says.

Tomorrow, Chinese ink artist Tan Kee Sek, 66, will open his solo exhibition at Ion Gallery in Ion Orchard. The show, with works from 1968 to this year, celebrates 50 years of the artist's practice.

"I felt 50 years is a good time to give myself a report card of my work.

"The time left for me is not much and I wanted to leave something behind for people and see how I can develop my art," he says.

And at Ins' Art International gallery in Bras Basah Complex, a solo exhibition by second-generation Chinese ink artist Tan Oe Pang, 70, has been extended by a week. It will close on June 18.

According to Ins' gallery owner Janet Fong, Tan's works have not been publicly shown for more than 10 years.

The National Gallery Singapore is betting that today's audiences will relate to Chinese ink paintings.

It has been holding three ink exhibitions - Strokes Of Life: The Art Of Chen Chong Swee, Wu Guanzhong: A Walk Through Nature and Rediscovering Treasures: Ink Art From The Xiu Hai Lou Collection.

These represent a total of 200 ink works, including masterpieces never seen before in public.

Mr Low Sze Wee, the gallery's director of curatorial, collections and education, says that ink art has remained largely unchanged for the past 3,000 years and continues to be practised, collected and studied by many today.

He adds: "This reflects the importance that tradition and heritage continue to play in contemporary society, particularly the instinctive human need to develop one's sense of cultural identity through tradition and heritage."


Ink exhibitions

Fan Chang Tien & His School Of Ink Artists Exhibition

What: A tribute to Chinese ink master Fan Chang Tien. It comprises about 150 paintings by Fan, as well as his second- and third-generation students. Where: Level 4 Chui Huay Lim Club, 190 Keng Lee Road When: July 1 to 11 Admission: Free Info: www.chuihuaylimclub.com

My Passion In Art For 50 Years: Chinese Calligraphy Painting & Seal-Carving Exhibition by Tan Kee Sek

What: This exhibition of about 100 ink and calligraphy works by Chinese ink artist Tan Kee Sek marks 50 years of his practice. Where: Ion Gallery, Level 4 Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn When: Tomorrow till Tuesday, 11am to 8pm Admission: Free Info: www.facebook.com/siawtao

New Ink Spectacular - Tan Oe Pang's Solo 2017

What: A solo exhibition by Chinese ink artist Tan Oe Pang, with more than 80 Chinese ink pieces, dating from the 1960s to 2017. Where: Ins' Art International, 03-03 Bras Basah Complex, Block 231 Bain Street When: Till June 18, 12.30 to 7.30pm Admission: Free Info: www.insart.com.sg

Evening Climb: The Later Style Of Lim Tze Peng

What: An exhibition that documents how artist Lim Tze Peng moved away from Chinese ink landscapes to more abstract works in his later years. Where: NUS Museum, University Cultural Centre, 50 Kent Ridge Crescent When: Till July 29, 10am to 6pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), closed to the public on Sundays and Mondays Admission: Free Info: cfa.nus.edu.sg

Strokes Of Life: The Art Of Chen Chong Swee

What: Artist Chen Chong Swee was one of the earliest to incorporate South-east Asian environments into traditional Chinese ink paintings. Where: Level 4 National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road When: Till Dec 3, 10am to 7pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 10am to 10pm (Fridays to Saturdays) Admission: Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents; $20 (standard ticket) Info: www.nationalgallery.sg

Wu Guanzhong: A Walk Through Nature

What: A show of 16 paintings by contemporary Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong, created on his travels in China from the 1960s to the 2000s. Where: Wu Guanzhong Gallery, National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road When: Till Dec 3, 10am to 7pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 10am to 10pm (Fridays to Saturdays) Admission: Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents; $20 (standard ticket) Info: www.nationalgallery.sg

Rediscovering Treasures: Ink Art From The Xiu Hai Lou Collection

What: The Xiu Hai Lou Collection is the largest private collection of Chinese painting and calligraphy in Singapore, founded by the late Teochew businessman Yeo Khee Lim. This show comprises close to 100 works, including pieces by artists such as Ming-dynasty painter Chen Hongshou. Where: Wu Guanzhong Gallery, National Gallery Singapore When: Till Dec 3, 10am to 7pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 10am to 10pm (Fridays to Saturdays) Admission: Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents; $20 (standard ticket) Info: www.nationalgallery.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'A brush with tradition'. Print Edition | Subscribe