National Gallery Singapore launches an all new exhibition this week, featuring an ode to seminal plein-air (the art of painting outdoors) artist Lim Cheng Hoe. Entitled Painting Singapore, the exhibition features over 60 artworks, sketches and archival materials highlighting the his career over four decades and mastery over outdoor watercolour landscape painting. Although largely self taught, Lim also studied painting under the then-art inspector of schools, Richard Walker, and honed his skills in the 1950s and 1970s by practicing and interacting with fellow artists during outdoor painting sessions.
The exhibition brings visitors into Lim’s mind through the lens of his diaries, as it seeks to unpick the mind of one of the finest watercolour artists of his generation in Singapore. Lim was so renowned for his ability to portray his subjects naturally, with many of his works effectively capturing the transient effects of light and weather on landscapes of Singapore. In addition, his works captured a strong sense of place and local identity for Singapore as it changed over the years, with rampant urbanisation and industrialisation. Through his work, one sees the Singapore of the past, with common motifs ranging from kampongs to the Singapore river, to urbanised elements such as construction sites, a story of decolonisation, self-governance and independence perfect for the nation’s birthday in August. Other highlights of the exhibition include artefacts, and works from both public and private collections, even lesser-known aspects of his practice such as his experiments with oil to still life.
The exhibition also casts a light on self taught artists in Singapore, with Lim having cultivated his own art education and his early mastery honed from his own self-directed learning and interactions with other watercolour artists, allowing him to be a part of the ‘Sunday painters’ in the 1950s, as well as a group of artists at the Wesley Church on weekends for indoor studio sessions with live models. These would eventually lead to improved construction of his paintings and their rich and enduring legacy in providing mentorship to the next generation of artists.
This exhibition is co-curated by Qinyi Lim, Goh Sze Ying, Teo Hui Min and Zulfadhli Hilmi, together with guest curator Low Sze Wee, Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and former Director of Curatorial, Collections & Education, National Gallery Singapore. Says Qinyi Lim: “This exhibition is a celebration of the life, dedication and practice of Lim Cheng Hoe as a largely self-taught artist. In the exhibition, we draw deeply from his diaries as a way of providing an entry point for visitors to engage with the artistic language that he learnt and experimented through his time under Richard Walker and subsequent informal education.”
Says Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore: “We are committed to continue expanding upon the current available scholarship and documentation of our Singapore artists and their practice. Special exhibitions such as Lim Cheng Hoe: Painting Singapore complement our permanent gallery displays to build greater understanding towards our art history and the local artistic figures we have such as Lim Cheng Hoe. Through the exhibition, we hope to inspire visitors with both his artistic talent and the influential role he played towards the subsequent development of watercolour in Singapore.”
Due to the nature and fragility of some these paintings, wherein they could face permanent damage if exposed in the light for too long, Painting Singapore is a rare chance for visitors to get a chance to see some of these paintings up close and in person. In particular, the paintings Singapore River and Boats by the Waterfront will be sent back into storage for another 12 years after this exhibition (and even then, who knows when they’ll next be exhibited?). Visit the National Gallery Singapore now, and see the Singapore of the past grow into the future through the eyes of one of our very own watercolour masters.
Lim Cheng Hoe: Painting Singapore runs at the National Gallery Singapore’s City Hall Wing from 2nd August 2018 to 9th June 2019. For tickets and more information, visit their website here