Changing cityscape features in Ong Kim Seng’s new exhibition

Watercolourist Ong Kim Seng was barely 17 when he started his Sunday plein air (open air) painting sessions with some of Singapore’s pioneer artists in 1962. They included the late Lim Cheng Hoe, Chen Chong Swee and Ong Chye Cho.

They usually spent the day painting in the city area, including on the banks of the old Singapore River, where landmarks such as Raffles City, Marina Bay Sands and Shenton Way’s business district had yet to exist.

More than 50 years on, Ong, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in June, still keeps his Sunday outings, but with his contemporaries such as Seah Kang Chui, president of the Singapore Watercolour Society, and the society’s other older members.

“I have witnessed the changing Singapore cityscape as the country develops and prospers by painting the scenes in the city continually for the past few decades and am amazed at how they have been transformed,” says the 1990 Cultural Medallion winner, who is staging his latest solo exhibition, Nostalgia In Transformation, at Ode To Art in Raffles City.

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A moment with … watercolour master, Ong Kim Seng

The only Asian artist outside the United States admitted into the American Watercolour Society

A mere kampong boy in an atap house, Ong Kim Seng had no idea he would one day become one of Singapore’s most prominent artistic icons and watercolour masters. Staying true to his subject matter and medium of choice, his paintings have already gained recognition both locally and internationally.

A former advertising apprentice, policeman, industrial welder and audio-visual technician, Ong Kim Seng’s journey is no less remarkable, especially without any formal training.

As part of Ode to Art’s new series of intimate tea sessions that allow the public to get closer to artists and their stories, we spoke with Ong Kim Seng about his artistic style, influences and perspectives on the development of our tiny red dot:

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