Art to touch the senses

This year's United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year competition focuses on works which evoke feelings and meaning

Foreground: Raymond Lau Poo Seng's oil on canvas titled Window No. 2. Background: Koeh Sia Yong's oil on canvas titled Bali Lake.
Foreground: Raymond Lau Poo Seng's oil on canvas titled Window No. 2. Background: Koeh Sia Yong's oil on canvas titled Bali Lake.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

This year, be prepared to have your emotions stirred by the winning artworks from the United Overseas Bank (UOB) Painting of the Year competition.

Singapore's longest-running art contest is back for its 35th year and, this time around, judges are looking for art that can evoke feelings and meaning from the audience.

Art at its most fundamental level, says UOB chief executive officer Wee Ee Cheong, touches the senses.

He says: "UOB hopes to raise awareness of how art can be experienced more fully by highlighting the importance of sensibility or how the audience can be moved and inspired by it."

It can also create a deeper appreciation of art in a modern world battered by an onslaught of imagery.

Dr Bridget Tracy Tan, one of the judges, says: "When we look at things, what do we see? How do those things that we see stimulate certain feelings or memories or ideas?


  • WHERE: UOB Plaza 1, 80 Raffles Place, UOB Art Gallery

    WHEN: Till Aug 26, 9am to 6.30pm (Monday to Friday), 9am to 2pm (Saturday). Closed on Sunday


"Trying to make that connection is important. It may not necessarily work with the immediacy and urgency that we are used to in contemporary life, but this is what the idea is now: to try to slow us down, so we can make those connections."

Giving the works an emotional dimension can also help make art more accessible to audiences who may not be as well-acquainted with art in a cerebral sense.

"We don't just make art for an elite group or special clients. We make art because we're trying to communicate something," says Dr Tan, who is the director for the Institute of Southeast Asian Arts and Galleries at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

She adds: "Highlighting sensibility is about trying to break down preconceptions and barriers, to make us more self-aware.

"Hopefully, we can access some of these messages in the works and distil those that are more compelling and sensitive to how we communicate."

The annual competition was started in Singapore in 1982 and has since been extended to other countries in the region - to Thailand in 2010 and Malaysia and Indonesia a year later.

"The UOB Painting of the Year award winners from each of the four countries will receive US$25,000 (S$34,000) each. One of the four will walk away with the UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year award, worth an additional US$10,000.

The number of submissions from all countries has been on the rise over the years, although UOB declines to reveal numbers.

This year, UOB is also presenting an exhibition, Sensibility In Art: Southeast Asia And The Local Paradigm, in conjunction with the competition's launch this year.

The exhibition, which will run at the UOB Art Gallery at UOB Plaza 1 until Aug 26, features 15 paintings by emerging and established Singapore artists, including Cultural Medallion recipients such as Anthony Poon and previous UOB Painting of the Year winners.

Dr Tan selected these pieces from the UOB Art Collection, which has more than 2,300 artworks.

More than half of these are being shown to the public for the first time, with some having been drawn from "the deep, dark vaults" of the collection, she says.

It is a diverse showcase that taps on moods, memories and nostalgia, so viewers can spend time mulling over each work instead of drifting quickly from one piece to another.

It also encourages viewers to appreciate how different elements - from textures to familiar icons to landscapes - can evoke emotion, says Dr Tan. "Understanding visual qualities such as line, colour and shape, together with the stories behind an artwork, stimulate our feelings and thoughts about the art piece as we look at it."

•Visit for more information on the competition. Artworks can be submitted from Sept 16 to 18 at Artspace@ Helutrans, 39 Keppel Road.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Art to touch the senses'. Print Edition | Subscribe