YOUNG ARTIST AWARD WINNERS

Painting Singapore of yore

Hilmi Johandi is known for his paintings that respond to scenes from Singapore society in the 1950s and 1960s.
Hilmi Johandi is known for his paintings that respond to scenes from Singapore society in the 1950s and 1960s.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks.
Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks.PHOTO: SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM
Artworks by artist Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks.
Artworks by artist Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks.PHOTO: SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM
Artworks by artist Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks.
Artworks by artist Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks.PHOTO: SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM
The Waltz (2014), oil on linen, by Hilmi Johandi.
The Waltz (2014), oil on linen, by Hilmi Johandi.PHOTO: HILMI JOHANDI
Hilmi Johandi's Framing Camellia (2014) features a video installation.
Hilmi Johandi's Framing Camellia (2014) features a video installation.PHOTO: HILMI JOHANDI
Hilmi Johandi's Framing Camellia (2014) features a video installation.
Hilmi Johandi's Framing Camellia (2014) features a video installation.PHOTO: HILMI JOHANDI

HILMI JOHANDI, 31, artist

Dreamy visions of Singapore's old amusement parks loom large in Hilmi Johandi's latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum.

An Exposition, now on display at the museum's President's Young Talents exhibition, reflects his fascination with the now-defunct New World, Great World and Happy World and the "utopian vision" their names suggest.

The 31-year-old is one of five people who will receive the Young Artist Award from Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the Istana tonight.

The award, which recognises and encourages the development of young artistic talents, is given to artists aged 35 and younger.

Hilmi is known for his paintings that respond to scenes from Singapore society in the 1950s and 1960s. He started to delve into archival material after his interest in old Singapore was piqued by the films of Malay entertainment icon P. Ramlee.

Since 2014, he has been an adjunct lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts, where he did his bachelor and master's degrees in fine arts.

He also received the NAC Arts Scholarship (postgraduate), Lasalle Scholarship and Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award and was selected for the annual Dena Foundation Artist Residency in Paris.

Aside from solo shows in OCBC Art Space and IONArt, he has had his work exhibited at Art Stage Singapore, Saatchi Gallery's Strarta Art Fair in London, Fred Torres Gallery in New York and Galerie Frederic Lacroix in Paris.

Hilmi, son of a housewife and a hawker, is married to a hair stylist. They met when he was asked to produce artworks for the salon she worked for.

When did you realise that you wanted to do art?


Artworks by artist Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks. PHOTO: SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM

It was a gradual process. Gradually, I became active in showing my works in public.

For instance, when I was doing national service, I had a project commissioned by an art agent for a collector whom I'm still in touch with. But that's just one bit.

Most of the realisation happened in the studio.

Who has the biggest influence on your art?

What a difficult question.

There are different artists, a rojak: William Kentridge, Ian Woo, who was my lecturer when I was doing my diploma and in my Master of Fine Arts as well.

And, oh yeah, P. Ramlee. I grew up watching his films, which were constantly aired on TV last time.

He had really limited resources, not like Hollywood, but (his films are) still so engaging and popular now.

What was the most difficult challenge in your artistic career?


Artworks by artist Hilmi Johandi, whose latest installation at the Singapore Art Museum reflects his fascination with Singapore's old amusement parks. PHOTO: SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM

There are conceptual, technical challenges you have to confront, which I really enjoy.

But there are also the financial challenges, which I don't really enjoy. I teach to sustain (myself) and if I manage to sell my works, that's a bonus.

You need money to rent space. Some have the privilege to work at home, but I have been changing spaces for quite some time already. I've been in Ubi, Tai Seng, after that I pursued my master's and moved to the (Lasalle) campus studio, then I moved back here (Goodman Arts Centre).

Who is your favourite artist?

One of the many I can think of is P. Ramlee - a multidisciplinary artist who played and wrote music, and acted and produced films.

One of the things I admire about him was his ability to work within the given limitations. That reflects how an artist like me can also respond to circumstances.

If you were not an artist, what would you have become?

I answered the same question not long ago and said I would be a film-maker. But that would still be art-making.

I don't know. My life needs to have some form of creativity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2018, with the headline 'Painting Singapore of yore'. Print Edition | Subscribe