National Day Awards: Lim Tze Peng: Pioneer artist who brought scenes of old Singapore to life

Mr Lim Tze Peng, the oldest of the 3,959 National Day Award winners this year, is known for his Chinese ink paintings of old Singapore and semi-abstract works of trees. The Meritorious Service Medal is the third National Day Award for the 95-year-old
Mr Lim Tze Peng, the oldest of the 3,959 National Day Award winners this year, is known for his Chinese ink paintings of old Singapore and semi-abstract works of trees. The Meritorious Service Medal is the third National Day Award for the 95-year-old, who put away his brushes for good last year.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

At age 95, artist Lim Tze Peng is not only the most senior of the four Meritorious Service Medal recipients honoured for their outstanding contributions, but also the oldest among the 3,959 National Day Awards winners this year.

Mr Lim, a self-taught artist who painted full-time after he retired as principal of a primary school 36 years ago, is known for his Chinese ink paintings of old Singapore scenes and, more recently, semi- abstract works of trees and, as he called it, "muddled calligraphy".

He is Singapore's oldest living artist to join the ranks of the small group of pioneer artists who have been similarly honoured.

The four who preceded him, all of whom have died, are Cheong Soo Pieng, who received the award in 1962; Chen Wen Hsi in 1992, a year after he died; Pan Shou in 1994; and Liu Kang in 1996.

"I am very surprised to be among the winners honoured this year," he told The Straits Timesat his three-storey house in Telok Kurau, where he lives with his 92-year-old wife, Madam Soh Siew Lay.

The medal is his third National Day Award. He received the Public Administration Medal in 1963 for his years of service in education and a Public Service Medal in 1981 for his achievements in the arts.

Mr Lim also received the Cultural Medallion, Singapore's highest arts award, in 2003.

A tireless and prolific painter, he put away his brushes for good last year owing to old age.

"I would like to continue, but my hand just couldn't hold up the brush any more," said Mr Lim.

Still, he is grateful for being able to enjoy painting full-time for more than three decades.

Born in Singapore, the father of six has been donating his much sought-after works to Singapore museums. Some sold at public auctions and art galleries are priced at more than $100,000 each.

In 2003, he and avid art collector Koh Seow Chuan gave 231 works to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), which later in the year held an exhibition of his works, making it his fourth solo show.

In 2009, SAM again exhibited the collection with some of his new works before they went on show in Beijing and Shanghai - his first exhibitions in China.

Two years ago, he donated 110 of his paintings to his alma mater Chung Cheng High School, where a Lim Tze Peng Art Gallery was set up to house them.

Next month, a retrospective of his works will be held at ArtSafe, a warehouse in Changi, showing about 40 of his best works, dating from the late 1940s to last year, when he stopped painting.

The exhibition, opening on Sept 28, is expected to run for at least six months, he said.

"At my age, all I want is for more people to come to see what I have created all my life and hope they like them," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Pioneer artist who brought scenes of old Singapore to life'. Print Edition | Subscribe