Sculptor Lim Soo Ngee's angels in casual clothes

Lim Soo Ngee with a bronze sculpture in his solo show.
Lim Soo Ngee with a bronze sculpture in his solo show.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Sculptor Lim Soo Ngee likens his winged figures to people who are like angels

Sculptor Lim Soo Ngee is composed as he recalls how a Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts student once said that he is "not doing contemporary art".

Lim, 53, a senior lecturer in fine arts, has in the last 15 years worked primarily with recycled wood, carving rustic sculptures of human figures and animals.

His works seldom check off the boxes of what commonly describes sculptural art today - large-scale, mixed-media, site-specific installations - and he admits that there is a touch of "tradition" and "primitiveness" to his hand-hewn pieces.

Yet he believes they belong very much to the present.

In his latest solo show, held at the Esplanade's Jendela Visual Arts Space, his works lay bare his keen observation of the human condition and experience today.

He says: "What is contemporary art? Does it have to be trendy? And is art that is considered contemporary superior to traditional forms?

  • VIEW IT / BETWEEN/WORLDS

  • WHERE: Jendela Visual Arts Space, Esplanade Mall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Till April 3; weekday, 11am to 8.30pm, weekend, 10am to 8.30pm

    ADMISSION: Free

"For me, it is enough to live in the present and make art that responds to the times."

Lim, who has a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Edinburgh College of Art, is married to print- maker April Ng and they have a 17- year-old son.

The new show, titled Between/ Worlds, features 13 sculptures in bronze and wood, as well as four drawings.

The sculptures of human figures with wings are a familiar motif in his works. They express his belief that "in life, one encounters people who are like angels and bring blessings".

Wings aside, however, these figures do not look extraordinary and this is deliberate, says Lim, who was a signboard maker before he became an artist.

He portrays ordinary-looking folk with Asian features and casual dressing. "Some have legs that are short and arms that are long. This imperfection is intentional but it also happens because I do not make overly detailed drawings of my sculptures beforehand," he says.

"To me, sculpting should not be about copying a 2D design in 3D; that is not creating."

He prefers to work intuitively and often with a sense of humour and whimsy.

A winged figurine, for example, is shown barefoot, wearing a white T-shirt and white briefs. The image conjures a curious contrast between the divine and earthly, sacred and profane, and the private versus the public.

He refrains, however, from being didactic about what each sculpture represents, including some of the hand gestures which may bring to mind religious gestures.

He prefers to let the viewer slip into an open-ended reverie, finding his own meaning and resonance within the works. This is why he deliberately omitted artwork labels from the show.

He also placed some sculptures on high plinths to elevate the gaze of the viewer and evoke an other- worldly quality, both in the works as well as the gallery space.

Exhibiiton curator Agnes Lim, 36, says the Esplanade chose to work with Lim because his works are "very honest, down-to-earth" and easily relatable.

This solo show comes a decade after his last one at the now defunct Sculpture Square premises in Middle Road.

He says: "It takes some time for me to make a sculpture by hand and more to put together a set of works for an exhibition. I hope it will not be another 10 years before I have my next solo show."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'Angels in casual clothes'. Print Edition | Subscribe