Lim Tze Peng (b. 1923, Singapore)
Lim Tze Peng is a Singapore-based self-taught artist. He had participated actively in artist field trips around the Southeast Asian region in the 1960s. Lim was the winner of the Cultural Medallion Award in 2003 and two times winner of the National Day Award in 1963 and 1981. In 2009, he held a solo exhibition abroad – Inroads: The Ink Journey of Lim Tze Peng, National Museum of China, Beijing; Liu Haisu Art Museum, Shanghai, China. He is in the collection of Housing Development Board, Lee Kong Chian Art Museum (National University of Singapore), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore Airlines, Singapore Art Museum, Swiss Bank, and United Overseas Bank.
|SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS|
|2012||Tze Peng in Bali, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore|
|2010||My Kampong, My Home, Singapore Management University Gallery, Singapore
|2009||Inroads: The Ink Journey of Lim Tze Peng, National Art Museum of China,Beijing; Liu Haisu Art Museum, Shanghai, China|
|2008||Inroads: Lim Tze Peng’s New Ink Work, Art Retreat Museum, Singapore
Inaugural exhibition NTU Art and Heritage Gallery, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
|2007||Lim Tze Peng: Singapore River Memory, Cape of Good Hope Gallery, Singapore|
|2006||Tze Peng in Paris, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore
Infinite Gestures – Recent Paintings by Lim Tze Peng, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore
|2003||Tze Peng, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore|
|1998||Fascinating Landscapes, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore|
|1995||Moments by Lim Tze Peng, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore (Jointly organized by Shenn’s Fine Art and Takashimaya Singapore Ltd)|
|1991||Solo Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore|
|1990||1st Solo Exhibition, Singapore|
|SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS|
|2006||5th International Ink Painting Biennial of Shenzhen, Shenzhen, China
Highlights of Southeast Asian Collection, NUS Museum, Singapore
|2005||The Society of Chinese Artists 70th Commemorative Exhibition, Singapore
Style & Imagination: Art in the Nanyang Academy, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore
|2004||Crossroads: Collective Works of Second-Generation Artists, NUS Museum, Singapore|
|2000||65th Anniversary Exhibition of the Society of Chinese Artists, Singapore|
|1999||Singapore Art Society 50th Anniversary Exhibition, Singapore|
|1993||Art in Asia, Singapore Arts Fair 1993, Shenn’s Fine Art, Singapore
CAP III – Inkscape, Shenn’s Fine Art, Singapore
Singapore Artist Directory Exhibition, Empress Place Museum, Singapore
|1991||International Chinese Calligraphy Exhibition, Beijing, China|
|1990||International Chinese Calligraphy Exhibition, Seoul, South Korea|
|1989||New York Art Expo ’89, New York, United States of America
First BruSin Art Exhibition, Brunei
Contemporary Art in Singapore: Where East Meets West, Tropen Museum, Amsterdam; Deutsch Bank AG, Dusseldorf,Hamburg, Nuremburg; Mannheimer Kunstverein, Mannheim, Federal Republic of Germany
|1988||France Salon Exhibition, Paris, France
NAFA Lecturers Art Exhibition 88, Singapore
|1987||Three-Man Art Exhibition, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan|
|1986||Eighth International Artists Art Exhibition, Taiwan|
|1982||Seventh International Artists Art Exhibition, Taiwan|
|1981||Singapore Calligraphy Exhibition, Singapore|
|1980||Fifth Festival of Asian Art, Hong Kong|
|1978||Singapore Historical Monuments Exhibition, Singapore
Singapore Artists Group Exhibition, Moscow, Russia
|1977||Commonwealth Art Exhibition, England|
by Low Sze Wee
This exhibition at the Private Museum showcases the Daniel Teo collection of Lim Tze Peng works. Mr Teo has long been an admirer and friend of the artist. Through the years, he has put together a body of works ranging from Chinese ink painting and calligraphy to oil painting that, to some extent,reflects the diversity of Lim’s artistic interests, prowess and achievements.
Lim Tze Peng is considered by many to be one of Singapore’s most respected and accomplished senior artists today. More than 90 years old, he is still actively pursuing his twin passions – Chinese calligraphy and painting. Although Lim has been exhibiting his works since the 1960s, he started to gain a higher public profile only in the last two decades. In the 1990s, he held four solo exhibitions. And in the 2000s, there were at least 12 such shows, with two held in Beijing and Shanghai. These accolades culminated in 2003, when he was awarded the Cultural Medallion– the nation’s highest honour for an artist – by the Singapore government for his outstanding contributions to the local arts scene.
In the exhibition, there are a number of calligraphic works from the 1980s and 1990s. This reflects the artist’s longstanding interest in Chinese calligraphy. In fact, Lim would rate his calligraphy more highly than his paintings. As a student in Chung Cheng High School, Lim was able to develop his talents in a conducive environment. Trained by nurturing teachers such as Wang Jai Ling 黄载灵,his works often won school prizes.After graduation, even though Lim did not have the opportunity to further his studies in a formal art academy, he always maintained his interest in Chinese ink painting and calligraphy,and continued to study the works and ideas of past masters such as painters Huang Binhong黄宾虹and Li Keran李可染, and calligraphers Kang Youwei 康有为and Yu Youren于右任.Compared to his earlier calligraphic works, his recent pieces have become much more freely-rendered, where personal expressivity comes to the fore, whilst the emphasis on the textual content recedes into the background. Despite his advanced years, Lim continues to practise calligraphy daily. Unlike his earlier period, Lim now prefers to work on larger formats, which afford him the space and freedom to embark on more ambitious compositions.
Within the Daniel Teo collection, there is one oil painting completed in 2007, which depicts a colonial-era house along Upper East Coast Road. Although more well-known today for his Chinese ink painting and calligraphic works, it is useful to highlight that Lim’s interest and exposure to Western art started at an early age. As a young boy before the Second World War, Lim recalled often peeking into the studio of oil painter Tchang Ju Chi 张汝器to observe the senior artist at work. The young Lim was fascinated by how Tchang was able to portray the likeness of his models such as an Indian kacang puteh man or a Malay hawker.In Chung Cheng High School, besides lessons in Chinese calligraphy, there were classes in Western art where Lim picked up techniques in painting and drawing from teachers such as Yeh Chi Wei 叶之威. Due to his artistic abilities, Lim was also often asked to paint publicity posters and banners for school theatrical productions. Together with like-minded schoolmates, he enjoyed painting by the Singapore River, and their works were often selected for display in the school hall where they even garnered praise from Lim Hak Tai林学大, the founding principal of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
After graduating from high school in 1948, Lim embarked on a teaching career which spanned some three decades. During that period, hecontinued to maintain an active interest in art. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a key member in the many painting trips to Southeast Asia and Asia organised by the Ten Men Group,which was then spearheaded by Yeh Chi Wei. Such trips afforded many opportunities for Lim and his peers like Choo Keng Kwang朱庆光, Chen Cheng Mei陈城梅and Seah Kim Joo 佘金裕to travel and paint together, where ideas and techniques about art were shared and discussed. During that period, Lim mostly painted in oil. Those works were usually based on local subject matter rendered in a semi-abstract style, characterised by flat planes of strong colours, expressive brushwork and simplified forms. As an admirer of European artists such as Matisse, Cezanne, Dufy, Constable and Turner, Lim’s recent oil and acrylic paintings are rendered with bold expressionistic brushwork and thinly-applied colour layers, leaving sections of the bare canvas unpainted– features oftenassociated with Chinese ink painting.
Chinese Ink Painting
The majority of works in the exhibition comprises Chinese ink paintings completed in the 1970s, with a few examples from recent years. Although he tended to show oil paintings in the Ten Men Group exhibitions in the 1960s and 1970s, Lim was concurrently working in Chinese ink, producing lively vignettes of life in the Malay villagesof Singapore (known locally as kampongs).After retiring as a school principal in 1981, Lim then devoted much of his energies to capture the rapidly changing urban landscape of Singapore in the early 1980s. Over a few years, close to 500 Chinese ink paintings were completed on-site, documenting the disappearing sights and sounds of the city’s old quarters, particularly around Chinatown and the Singapore River.
Neither Western nor Chinese
A special incident in the 1970s deserves mention. In 1977, upon the urging of his close friend and senior artist Cheong Soo Pieng钟四滨, Lim submitted one of his Chinese ink paintings of Bali for the Commonwealth Art Exhibition in London. The local selection committee initially rejected this work as it was deemed to be neither Western nor Chinese – neither a watercolour nor a Chinese ink painting. Cheong then appealed successfully on Lim’s behalf for the work to be reconsidered. Eventually, much to Lim’s surprise, the painting won a special commendation prize in London, the only local work to win a prize in that exhibition.
However, it should be noted that Lim was not the first to paint local subjects in Chinese ink in Singapore. In the pre-war years, there were already early artists like Chen Chong Swee 陈宗瑞who painted tropical subjects using Chinese ink. And in the 1950s, artists like Chen Wen Hsi 陈文希also produced Chinese ink works after their trip to Bali in 1952.
However, Lim departed from convention in some respects.Firstly, he seldom painted in the traditional compositional formats of hanging scrolls or handscrolls. Hence, his works did not adopt the moving aerial perspective usually associated with conventional Chinese landscape painting. Rather, Lim preferred to work in front of his subject and complete each painting on-site. Hence, his painting paper was usually square in format, measuring 68 x 68 cm, which was easier to work on using a portable easel. Secondly, Lim’s keen interest in documenting the architectural heritage of Singapore meant that he usually adopted a single fixed-point perspective, more commonly found in Western art. Lastly, Lim eschewed the convention of using primarily texture strokes (cunfa皴法) to represent the subject matter. In traditional Chinese landscape painting, artists usually use a variety of different texture strokes to slowly build up the painting surface, in order to suggest mountains, hills, vegetation, lakes and rivers within the composition. However, since Lim needed to work rapidly to capture the ever-changing street life or rural activity in front of him, he usually used linework to quickly record down his visual impressions, supplemented by secondary ink or colour washes.
Hence, the sense of linearity becomes pronounced in Lim’s paintings, much more so than in the works of other artists like Chen Chong Swee. In the latter, linework is also present but used in almost equal measures with various texture strokes and washes. In Lim’s paintings, linework comes to the fore and takes on a life of its own. The lines are never uniform, monotonous or static, but always lively, and constantly varying in thickness, weight, density and length. In that respect, linework allows Lim to not only capture architectural details but more importantly, the dynamic living elementswithin the landscape in all their infinite variations. Be it a city street or rural village, people or trees are usually present. They form a natural focus, and infuse a sense of liveliness into each painting.Just as the Yuan dynasty artist Zhao Mengfu赵孟頫had advocated the use of different calligraphic scripts to depict nature, Lim clearly also saw calligraphic parallels in nature. He once commented, “I love old trees for their formal beauty in twisted and irregular shapes that can stimulate boundless imagination in the artist… Trees have character, personality and beauty whether crooked or straight. Even if they are thin and craggy, they exude a special charm, especially in the way they bend, curve and meander back and forth.”How Lim described the natural beauty of trees could apply equally to the formal beauty found in Chinese calligraphy. In recent years, due to his advanced age, Lim no longer paints on-site, but in his studio. Within an indoor space, Lim has been able to work on increasingly larger formats for his Chinese ink paintings, where the subject is based more on memory and imagination, rather than physical external reality.
In conclusion,a quote by the Ming dynasty artist and theorist Dong Qichang董其昌is apt. He once observed, “If one considers the wondrous variety of nature, then a landscape painting is not the equal of real landscape. But if one considers the wonders of brush and ink, then real landscape can never match painting.” This quote highlights the complex relationship that artists have with their physical environment. Throughout history, artists have debated on the tensions between objective representation and subjective expression. Is it possible or even worthwhile to capture reality in a work of art? To what extent is a painting a representation of reality or an expression of artistic personality and temperament? The trajectory of Lim’s artistic practice offers valuable insights into these important questions.
Low Sze Wee is Director (Curatorial and Collections) at the National Art Gallery, Singapore. The essay was written in his personal capacity.
Tchang, a French-trained artist, was a highly regarded arts community leader who was,unfortunately, killed by the Japanese during the Second World War, due to his anti-Japanese activities.
 Interview of Lim Tze Peng in Zhongzhen ren中正人. Singapore: Zhongzhen zhongxue xiaoyou xiehui中正中学校友协会, 2009, pp.10-14
 The recent publication My Kampong My Home highlighted that Lim’s earliest Chinese ink painting of local villages date to 1968. Many of the works completed from the 1960s to the 1980s had never been exhibited before. (Woon, Tai Ho. My Kampong My Home. Singapore: Friends of Lim Tze Peng, 2010, p.61)
Lim recalled that he worked almost daily, producing one work in the morning and another in the afternoon. He estimated that he completed close to 500 such works in those years.(Lim Tze Peng Interview, video recording, 2007-08-08, National Library Board, http://nora.nl.sg/web/Contents/ArticleDetails.aspx?Id=455ef05c-5adb-40d1-aeaf-e2399269b2da)
For instance, Zhao advocated the use of the “flying-white” method of the cursive script to draw rocks and the seal script to outline trees. (Hearn, Maxwell. How to Read Chinese Paintings. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008, p.80)
Teo, Han Wue. Inroads: Lim Tze Peng’s New Works. Singapore: Art Retreat Ltd, 2008, p.9
Tuesday 22 January 2013, 6.30pm
To be updated!
Lim Tze Peng – A Private Collection Front Page – The Straits Times – 2013
Lim Tze Peng – A Private Collection Article – The Straits Time – 2013
有透视的水墨画 – 联合早报 – 2013