Artist Matthew Ngui's tribute to his father

Artworks by Jimmy Ngui (above) will be shown at the exhibition curated by his son, Matthew (left).
Artworks by Jimmy Ngui (above) will be shown at the exhibition curated by his son, Matthew. PHOTOS: ALICIA CHAN, ST FILE
Artworks by Jimmy Ngui (above) will be shown at the exhibition curated by his son, Matthew (left).
Artworks by Jimmy Ngui will be shown at the exhibition curated by his son, Matthew (above).

Matthew Ngui showcases 48 works by retired painter and teacher Jimmy Ngui in an exhibition

Although he is better known as an artist, Matthew Ngui has been a curator several times.

Most notably, he was part of the curatorial team for the 2008 Singapore Biennale, Singapore's premier contemporary art showcase, and was artistic director of the 2011 edition.

For an ongoing show at The Arts House, he once again dons his curatorial hat, but for a smaller show featuring a single artist: his father.

Jimmy Ngui, 83, is a painter, retired art teacher and policy-maker. From the 1950s to 1970s, he taught art in primary and secondary schools. In 1982, he was a civil servant at the Ministry of Education's headquarters before retiring in 1987. After that, he was a senior lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts from 1987 to 1996.


  • WHERE: The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: Till Jan 17, 11am to 8.30pm daily


    INFO: Call 6332-6919 or go to]

He was instrumental in setting up visual arts pedagogy in Singapore. As project director at the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, he led his team to produce the first comprehensive set of visual arts textbooks for Singapore's primary and secondary schools. These formed the basis for visual arts education here from 1983 to about 1995.

A self-taught artist, he started learning to paint in oils in 1965 as he felt he needed an understanding of the materials and skills to teach art in school.

Soon, he moved on to watercolours and batik before experimenting with materials such as bark, cement, sand, mesh, cloth, string and tissue paper to create different textures and effects.

The 48 artworks included in the exhibition range from realistic landscapes of Singapore and Australia - where he spent some of his time - to abstractions.

Titled Jimmy Ngui, Teacher And Artist, Selected Paintings: 1966 To 2014, the show runs at The Arts House till Jan 17.

Besides selecting the exhibits, Matthew, 53, who divides his time between Fremantle in Western Australia and Singapore, also designed the exhibition space and worked on the catalogue. His elder brother is a doctor and his mother is a retired nurse.

On the timing of the show, he says over the telephone from Fremantle: "The question was if not now, then when? Pa is 83, and being in education most of his life, had little time to exhibit his work. He approached me two years ago and broached the subject of a solo show. My response was: 'Why not?'"

The selection shows the evolution of his father's artistic style from realism to abstraction and his keen observation of natural and built landscapes.

Jimmy says he enjoys "observing and capturing the nostalgic moments in Singapore's old Chinatown, Singapore River, Pulau Ubin and Changi Ferry Jetty. I also enjoy the unique natural landscape in Western Australia where I spent a considerable amount of time".

His style, he says, "varies between what I have admired in the Nanyang School painters and the movements of realism and post-impressionism".

Above all, painting gives him what he calls a tremendous "sense of satisfaction and achievement".

The painting, Singapore River, Clarke Quay And North Boat Quay, for instance, brings to life the 1980s when one would see tongkangs and other boats moored to the banks, while the warehouses and godowns brimmed with activity.

"It was to me an interesting scape to capture on canvas, especially considering that these type of scenes have since vanished."

While this has elements of realism, you get to see his experimentation with abstraction in a composition titled Australian Outback In The Wild. It portrays bright skies at the top section of the painting, the undulating rocky landscape with yellow wattles in bloom, as well as ocean and land.

Now, what does Jimmy think about his son's work?

"I am a painter and Matthew is an installation artist," he says. "These are two different categories. We appreciate each other's works. I find Matthew's installations interesting, unique and different."

Matthew is one of Singapore's most established contemporary artists.

A retrospective of his work was presented at the National Museum of Singapore in 2008. He was also the first Singaporean to be selected to show in 1997 at Documenta, an important modern and contemporary art showcase that takes place once every five years in Germany, and represented Singapore in the Venice Biennale in 2001.

Matthew recalls that while his father did not formally teach him art, whenever he put crayons to paper as a child, his father would quietly advise him to pick a certain section of the landscape and focus on it.

"This set my track on composing everything that I saw, as if there was a mental rectangle floating between my eyes and what was in front of me," he says.

"He must have planted the seeds on compositional placement, organising and understanding space for what was to happen years later in my own work."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Artist's tribute to his father'. Print Edition | Subscribe