Exotic Sunlight: Paintings by Ong Kim Seng features over 30 watercolour scenes by the Singapore watercolour maestro, with the biggest piece measuring 1.8 x 1.3m in size.
A self-taught artist who turned full-time in 1985, Ong Kim Seng is an avid traveller who has sojourned across different states and continents in his attempt to encounter and capture in his paintings, the awe-inspiring beauty of Mother Nature and the diverse cultures that exist in various environments. With this exhibition, the artist walks us through a series of masterfully-rendered landscapes that include Singapore’s Old Chinatown, Nepal’s Kathmandu, Italy’s Portofino, China’s Xin Yuan and Bali’s Ubud. Exhibiting fluid brushwork and efficiency of detail, Kim Seng’s watercolour landscapes are remarkable for their lyrical expressiveness and poetic balance between light and shade.
Falling in love with your job is easy, but staying in love with it is no easy feat. Hat tip to Ong Kim Seng for managing to do so for the past 30 years.
His artistic journey was far from smooth. Having lost his father at a young age, his mother was a pillar of support, but they did not see eye-to-eye with regard to his passion for art. Many a time, Ong had to paint on the sly, either at his friends’ homes or on newspapers. Despite the odds that were stacked against him, the self-taught artist stayed true to his unyielding passion and vision. To him, “Art is a continuous journey. There may be pitfalls and times where you get stuck. It is up to one to choose a path and go along with it.”
Today, he is undeniably one of Singapore’s most prolific watercolourists. Accolades aside, he placed Singapore on the world map by being the only Asian artist residing outside of US to be admitted to the American Waterlour Society (‘AWS’).
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.
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:
Ong Kim Seng was born on 10 June 1945 in Singapore, and his name is synonymous with watercolour in Singapore. A self-taught artist who has exhibited around the world, his collectors include Queen Elizabeth II and Kofi Annan. Ong made history for Singapore in 1990 when he became the first Asian member to be named on the register of the American Watercolour Society, following the winning of important prizes administered by the organisation in the last two years.
Today, Ong continues to paint, exhibit and teach.
Veteran Singaporean artist Ong Kim Seng takes viewers around some of his favourite South-East Asian places in his latest exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.
One aspect of art is capturing moments, preserving the essence of a time forever, according to veteran Singaporean watercolour artist Ong Kim Seng.
Taking me around the gallery in Kuala Lumpur where he’s holding an exhibition, Ong pauses momentarily before a work from 2012, a row of shophouses in Singapore’s Little India, recalling how he had to sit on the opposite side of the road to capture the right angle.
“Many of these type of houses in Singapore now have been renovated in full. They’ve lost their feel of the past. These, however, still maintain their ambiance. You can still see them today,” Ong says.
“Some of the areas around us are slowly changing. So before they actually change, why not capture them?”