Cancer-stricken artist Lee Boon Wang misses show opening

Lee Boon Wang at the gallery last week with his 1989 oil self-portrait as a sailor.
Lee Boon Wang at the gallery last week with his 1989 oil self-portrait as a sailor.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Singapore painter Lee Boon Wang continued painting despite poor health until he became too weak

Cancer-stricken second-generation Singapore painter Lee Boon Wang may well be staging his final solo exhibition, which opened at a local gallery last weekend.

His condition took a turn for the worse recently. The 82-year-old artist recovered from pancreatic cancer after surgery two years ago, but suffered a relapse in January when the cancer spread to his colon.

Still, he was painting until a month ago and was looking forward to his latest solo show, his 11th since 1981.

His wife of 40 years, Madam Helen Teo, 70, says: "My husband was still painting at home despite his poor health, but had to stop a month ago when he became too weak due to difficulties in eating and drinking."

Lee did not make it to the show's opening at Hai Hui Art Gallery in Tanglin Shopping Centre last Saturday, to the disappointment of his artist friends and collectors because he was in hospital, says Madam Teo.

His eldest son from an earlier marriage, Thomas Lee, 52, an engineer, was at the opening. He apologised for his absence and said the show would probably be his father's last due to his condition.

  • VIEW IT / LEE BOON WANG SELECTED OIL PAINTINGS

  • WHERE: Hai Hui Art Gallery, Tanglin Shopping Centre, 19 Tanglin Road, 03-33

    WHEN: Till Monday, 11am to 7pm daily

    ADMISSION: Free

Some 28 of Lee's oil paintings, including his recent work titled Memorial Of Cervantes In Madrid, which he completed last year, are on show. The others are local scenes and those he painted overseas since the 1970s.

In spite of difficulties with his speech and hearing, Lee was well enough for an interview with The Straits Times at the gallery last Thursday. The avid sailor said many of the paintings at the show were inspired by his travels at sea, such as those he painted of the islands in neighbouring Indonesia.

That perhaps also explains why many of his works show the blue sea, sky and boats.

He once said: "I have great feelings for the sea. The sea is also a part of my life."

Lee was born in Guangdong province in China and moved here with his parents when he was a child for his education, including training as an artist at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa). He graduated from Nafa in 1953 and was among the founders of the now-defunct Equator Art Society, a leftist art group which promoted realist art here in the mid-1950s.

He is the elder brother of former Cabinet minister Lee Boon Yang and brother-in-law of recent Cultural Medallion recipient, painter Chua Mia Tee. His younger sister Lee Boon Ngan, who is married to Mr Chua, is also an oil painter.

Asked which period was his best as an artist, Lee replied: "During the 1970s, simply because I was stronger physically."

He taught at Nafa briefly after graduating before going into the advertising industry.

In the early 1970s, he became a full-time painter and started sailing in his spare time.

Art writer Choy Weng Yang, also a second-generation Singapore artist, describes Lee as someone who had mastered "the skills of painting very early in his career".

He says: "I admire him because he has kept up with his art all these years with the same discipline and drive, and it is time places such as National Gallery Singapore keep more of his works for show in public spaces."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Cancer-stricken artist misses show opening'. Print Edition | Subscribe