Newly minted Cultural Medallion winner holds one-man show

Chinese ink painter Koh Mun Hong (left) will feature 60 works in his one-man exhibition and that includes a 2012 artwork depicting a family fishing at Bedok Jetty (above).
Chinese ink painter Koh Mun Hong (above) will feature 60 works in his one-man exhibition and that includes a 2012 artwork depicting a family fishing at Bedok Jetty.PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG, KOH MUN HONG

Newly minted Cultural Medallion recipient, Chinese ink painter Koh Mun Hong, goes to a Chinese temple in Katong almost daily.

He is there not to pray, but to tend to the more than 40 pots of mostly lotuses and waterlilies he grows on the compound.

The self-taught artist has loved flowers since he was a boy living in a village in Chai Chee and he has been tending to the plants at the temple for the past 27 years, wearing a straw hat to shield himself from the sun.

"It all began in 1989 after I moved to my present four-room HDB flat in Marine Terrace, where there was no space for the flowers and plants," says the 64-year-old bachelor.

The same year, he quit his manager job at the Bank of China after 17 years to paint full-time.

"I am grateful the temple allows me free use of its compound to grow my flowers," he says.

Chinese ink painter Koh Mun Hong (left) will feature 60 works in his one-man exhibition and that includes a 2012 artwork depicting a family fishing at Bedok Jetty (above).
Chinese ink painter Koh Mun Hong will feature 60 works in his one-man exhibition and that includes a 2012 artwork depicting a family fishing at Bedok Jetty (above).

"Flowers are great beauties from nature and their fragrance can make you feel good all day," he adds.

He keeps fresh flowers at home all year round and even has them in his pocket wherever he goes.

Some of his paintings of flowers can be seen in the 60 recent works at his third one-man exhibition, now on at Gallery NaWei in The Fullerton Hotel.

The show, titled A Romance Of Flowers On Paper, also features works he painted in the gongbi or detailed painting style, of domestic animals such as chickens and ducks, and birds such as peacocks.

There are also several of his calligraphy pieces, featuring poems in Chinese he had composed.

This time, his works also show him painting human figures in Chinese ink and colours, such as the 2012 piece of a family's fishing outing at Bedok Jetty.

The artworks are for sale and cost between $4,000 and $35,000.

One of the few Chinese ink painters here who still follows the Chinese literati painting tradition, which has its origins in the northern Song period more than 1,000 years ago, Koh is also a skilful seal-carver and poet schooled in Chinese culture and the classics.

He says he has originally planned to hold a solo exhibition once a decade, after staging his first in 1998. His second was held in 2008.

"This time around, it was Gallery NaWei's boss Jenny Zhu who persuaded me to hold it two years earlier," he adds.

The decision to have the show was made months before the announcement of his Cultural Medallion Award last month.

  • VIEW IT /A ROMANCE OF FLOWERS ON PAPER

    WHERE: Gallery NaWei, 01-08 The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, 1 Fullerton Square

    WHEN: Till next Tuesday, 10am to 7pm daily

    ADMISSION: Free

"I am very honoured by the public recognition - it will spur me to do even better in future," he says.

What is his next move?

"I plan to do a huge Chinese ink painting of the Thaipusam procession in Singapore because of the beautiful colours," he says.

"But it may take me a few years to do it as I need to do research and some planning first."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'Flower lover carries blooms in his pocket'. Print Edition | Subscribe