Artist Fan Shaohua's retrospective includes portraits of Lee Kuan Yew

China-born Singapore artist Fan Shaohua's retrospective show reflects more of his life here, since he moved over 23 years ago, than his native home in Guangzhou, the capital of southern Guangdong province, where he grew up and was educated.

Most of the 61 works at the galleries of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), to mark 40 years of his art journey, were done after he arrived here in 1992.

They include his recent Singapore River series in oil on four large canvases to show its transformation over the years, pieces depicting festivals and city life, and portraits of multi-racial Singaporeans he did in various media, including several on the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, whom he admired.

There are also his signature works of lotuses, both in oil and Chinese ink, created in his unique style which combines traditional Chinese ink elements with Western art painting techniques.

Fan, 52, who graduated from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and won Singapore's UOB Painting of the Year prize in 2000, says living in multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore has been an eye opener for him.

He explains: "In Singapore, I have opportunities to draw or paint Malays, Indians, Chinese as well as Caucasians. From my interactions with them, I have learnt about their cultures and religions too."

Though he had never met Mr Lee, who died on Monday, aged 91, after being hospitalised since Feb 5 with severe pneumonia, Fan says the leader was a central theme of his works after several "creative encounters" with him through paint and canvas, the first in 1994 when a Singapore collector commissioned him to do a portrait of Mr Lee.

After the assignment, he was so inspired by what he had learnt about Mr Lee that he embarked on a larger work in oil in 2003.

That painting showed Mr Lee, his wife Kwa Geok Choo and four of their grandchildren playing on the Istana grounds. It is titled Happy Life and is among four paintings of Mr Lee showing at the exhibition.

More commissioned portraits of Mr Lee followed, including one from an Indonesian art collector who asked him to do four abstract portraits of the leader in four colours - red, blue, green and white - in 2010. The colours represent the different races here.

Fan, who became a Singapore citizen in 2004, says of Mr Lee: "I consider him the father of modern Singapore and his death early this week is a great loss to all of us."

Of the four paintings of Mr Lee at the show, one large work done in Chinese ink and colours on rice paper is perhaps the most prominent. Titled A Great Man From A Small Country (2002), it measures 137cm by 68cm.

"I intend to present this piece to the country when there is an opportunity," the prolific painter says. Since 1992, he has staged no fewer than 15 solo exhibitions here as well as in China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, and taught briefly at Nafa in 2001.

Not to be forgotten are his early works from the early 1980s. Done when he was a student in China, they kicked off the first half of his artistic journey.

"The second part of my journey is about to begin and I promise it will be even more interesting," he wrote in the commemorative book on his life and works published in conjunction with the exhibition.

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