Artist Poon Lian travels often just to paint

After nearly five decades, artist Poon Lian, 67, still maintains strong links with the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), which he graduated from in 1969 with a diploma in Western oil painting.

So nobody is surprised that the retrospective exhibition of 50 years of his art is held at his alma mater.

He says: "I grew up as an artist in Nafa and I have seen how it has grown over the years, including the times when it was nearly closed due to financial difficulties in the late 1970s."

The works at the exhibition - his fourth solo since 2007 - show his five- decade journey in art, how he progressed from sketching to master the basics, and the big and more sophisticated works he did more recently.

Today, he is among the few Singapore painters who is adept at both Western oil and Chinese ink painting.

Poon is showing a total of 77 works dating from the early 1960s - when he studied Chinese ink painting under the late pioneer artist Chen Wen Hsi at the former Chinese High School - to last year, when he painted the scenic Guilin in China.

Besides his Chinese ink and colour pieces and still-lifes and portraits in pastel and oil, there are also his pencil sketches, human figure studies in charcoal, landscapes from his travels in both oil and watercolour and a couple of modern abstract works.

The highlight of the show is a huge Chinese ink and colour painting measuring 5m by 2m titled Every Tree Tells A Story (Angkor Wat), which he did in 2010 over one month.

He says he painted it in four different parts because of its size, before mounting them separately and putting them together as one in four separate silk scrolls.

"I painted that famous Angkor Wat temple scene in that size because I need the space to show its grandeur and how imposing it is," adds Poon. He is married with a grown-up daughter, a Chinese- language school teacher.

Poon taught at Nafa's old campus at St Thomas Walk for nearly a decade from the early 1970s to the 1980s, and was a school board member from 1993 to 2008, when he saw its move from San San School campus to the present Bencoolen Street premises in 2004.

He is now secretary of Club Nafa, an active art group formed by Nafa staff, alumni members and other art lovers about 10 years ago.

Though he has never stopped since learning to paint in his secondary school days, he became a full-time artist only about 10 years ago. That was when he retired from business and sold his packaging business and investment in decorative arts in Hebei, China, which he started in the early 1990s.

He says: "Now, I am truly enjoying life as an artist, travelling often just to paint."