Lim Tiong Ghee: Echoing Fragments

Introduction

 

The Private Museum is pleased to present Echoing Fragments by Singaporean abstract collage artist and painter, Lim Tiong Ghee. This exhibition marks the first venture by the museum to send a Singaporean artist to Yogyakarta under its Artist-in-Residence programme. This two-week trip to Yogyakarta was part of an ‘Artist Visit’ supported by Cemeti – Institute for Art and Society.

In the course of Lim’s travels, he visited cultural monuments such as the famous sacred temples, Borobudur and Prambanan, now commemorated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. In addition, his sojourn in Yogyakarta’s thriving artist community yielded many exchanges with the artist studios and art spaces. The batik craft centres and museums in the cities of Solo and Yogyakarta were key locales during his short tarriance in Indonesia.

This exhibition features a body of collage paintings that is part of a decades-long exploration of imprinting his personal experiences into collages. In the brief two weeks of his visit, the collage artworks birthed from the journey emphasises on the batik elements’ interaction with floral motifs, weaving what appears to be the cultural and the physical into a realm of its own through the use of negative space never before seen in his works. The luminous projection of colours present in these works also reflects the envelopment of warmth in the Indonesian atmosphere.

Yogyakarta is known for its significance in Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, with Borobudur and Prambanan standing testament to the rich cultural narratives surrounding the province. Not disregarding the prolific symbolisms present in both beliefs, Lim’s works further expound on various forms, figures and textures commonly depicted as religious motifs in the two beliefs.

The body of works presented here is the culmination of Lim’s interactions with the culture and people of Yogyakarta and Solo as well as his own introspection of the differing essences between his homeland and its neighbour. Immersed in the social landscape of Indonesian culture, Lim melds his feelings in reciprocation to the aura of amiability encountered throughout the trip, expressing it as a continuum in Echoing Fragments.

Artist

Artist Biography

Lim Tiong Ghee (b. 1955, Singapore) began as a watercolourist before moving to acrylic and collage. A self-taught artist, he has exhibited extensively and views painting as a medium to portray the quotidian. He gained critical acclaim when his collage “From the Turtledove” won the top award in the 8th UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1989.

Artistic Career

Lim never had formal art training other than the art lessons he took at GCE A level. He started painting seriously only upon the encouragement of friends when he was enlisted in National Service. His profession as a senior graphic artist at the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation also spurred his interest in art.

Clinching the grand prize in the UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1989 proved to be a major catalyst for Lim. Although he had won various prizes before that, it was this win that launched his career. His work was selected by a team of formidable judges, including the late Ismail Zain of Malaysia, Professor Jose Joya of the Philippines and Singapore artist Thomas Yeo. Along with a S$12,000 cash prize, Lim was accorded a solo exhibition the following year at the Empress Place Museum.

Stylistic Conventions

In the early days, Lim focused mainly on depicting landscapes using watercolour. He was adept with the medium and his brushstrokes were commended for being fluid and spontaneous. He frequently engaged in on-site painting and his subjects were often the familiar streets and scenes of Singapore.

Later, he shifted towards developing his paintings in the studio. He began to give critical attention to elements such as shape, form, space, perspective, colour and composition, and he utilised collage and acrylic paint to translate them into paintings.

Lim values the two-dimensional reality and purposefully flattens his shapes and forms as a way of creating abstractions of his subject matter without completely breaking them down.

His Seabreeze series depict the different nuances of the sea and land. In the series, yellows are contrasted with blues and reds with blacks. The waves are presented in a minimalist manner, as if to evoke an aural response from the audience.

Similarly, he prefers abstraction in his portrayal of landscapes and tropical flowers as he believes it can evoke a stronger reaction than purely figurative forms. The abstract imagery subsequently function as a creative starting point from which abstract rice-paper collages are constructed.

Source: National Library Board Singapore (eResources)

Solo Exhibitions
1981
 : National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1990 : Empress Place Museum, Singapore.
1992 : The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1996 : Art Salon, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
1998 : Goethe-Institut, Munich, Germany.
2000 : Tropical Contemplation, Damasak Asia, The Alchemy Gallery, United Kingdom.
2001 : Sun Rock, Karin Weber Gallery, Hong Kong.
2004 : Vermont Studio Centre, United States.

Group Exhibitions

1986
 : Two Man Show, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1986 : 12 Singapore Artists, Collectors Gallery, Raffles City, Singapore.
1987 : New Direction ’87, Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1987 : Centenary Art Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1989 : International Watercolour Exhibition, Thailand.
1991 : International Watercolour Exhibition, Korea.
1992 : International Watercolour Exhibition, Taiwan.
1996 : Singapore Arts Festival ’96, Atrium Gallery, Singapore.
1996 : Nine Artists in Bali, Art Forum, Fort Canning Hill Gallery, Singapore.
1996 : Taipei Art Fair, Taipei, Taiwan.
1997 : Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1998 : Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1998 : Special exhibition in Essen in China exhibition, Museum für Volkerkunde, Germany.
1999 : Abandoned Thoughts, Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1999 : A Brave New World, Soobin Art Gallery, Singapore.
2001 : The Watch Has No Numbers, Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
2002 : Joint exhibition with Goh Beng Kwan, Wetterling Teo Gallery, Singapore.
2003 : Two Man Show, Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
2003 : Singapore Group Show, Karin Weber Gallery, Hong Kong.
2005 : 6th Face, MICA Building, Singapore.

Awards

1978
 : Special Award, National Day Art Exhibition, Singapore.
1980 : Special prize, Young Art in Asia Now competition, Hong Kong.
1984 : 1st prize in the representational category of the UOB Painting of the Year Competition, Singapore.
1989 : Top award in the UOB Painting of the Year Competition, Singapore.
2004 : VSC Freeman Fellowship 2004/2005, Vermont Studio Centre, United States.

Collections

Asian Business Press Singapore
Boeing International Corporation
Citibank Singapore
Defence Science & Technology Agency
Economic Development Board
International Enterprise Singapore
Janssen-Cilag
Orchard 290 Ltd
Singapore Airlines
Singapore Art Museum
United Overseas Bank

Essay

Curatorial Essay

To and fro: Placing memory within a plane – Lim Tiong Ghee in conversation with Tamares Goh

Between 4-17 December 2017, The Private Museum sent artist Lim Tiong Ghee to Yogyakarta for their Artist-in-Residence programme1. This is the third time The Private Museum has contributed to an artist embarking on a residency programme. Throughout the two weeks, Tiong Ghee visited more than 20 artists’ studios, visited historical monument sites of cultural importance, and stayed at the artistically significant venue, Cemeti Art House2.

The visit itself had immediate implications on his new work demonstrated in this exhibition, ‘Echoing Fragments’. Two distinct sets of work exist within this solo exhibition: one entitled ‘Impressions of Yogyakarta’ and another, the ‘Tropical Plants’ series. ‘Impressions of Yogyakarta’ is a series of fleeting excerpts, deftly constructed. Importantly, for the first time in Lim’s compositional approach, there are spaces left untreated: a deliberate functioning void, and interstitial white spaces that conjure up the transitional stages of memories, the white spaces in the composition functioning both as a respite and transitions between elements. The viewer’s eye traverses the canvas, picking up motifs prompted by visual symbols, perhaps re-enacting Lim’s perception in a foreign land. Collage is an appropriate approach on the canvas, true to how images are collected and collated through visual memory, a loosening of conventional methods to recreate a snapshot of a dominant genius loci. The colours that he uses are deliberately bright and lively as they reinforce the trip’s ambience. Is this how memory work through the process of assembling through collage – retold and overlaid, multi-functioning and multi-tasking, weaving together an account of an event, that could both recount narratives and provoke feelings simultaneously.

The ‘readymade’ object is a constitution in itself with embedded connotations of culture, language and history. The ‘readymade’ is highly charged and artists are readily seduced as they inform their surrounds and histories. A consistent use of the ready-mades is evident in this series, whether in the form of rice paper or Batik. Lim is attracted to the found qualities of rice papers and Batik, and has amassed a collection of both over the years. However, this occasion calls for a stronger contextual approach. Batik is widely used as a clothing material and appears in everyday life, the symbolism of its motifs historically considered by the wearer for its relevance to tradition and ritual.  These materials form the foundation for his canvas, a first compositional layer of a series of subsequent superimpositions that culminate with hand-painted images of figures such as Ramayana dancers, faces of people he has encountered or the lily pods.

This is the tenth solo exhibition of Lim Tiong Ghee. A recurrent theme of looking towards nature is apparent in Lim’s practice, with works that attempt to capture atmospheric qualities of the sun, clouds, rain or stone. Leaves were largely featured in his last solo exhibition in 20103. The Bodhi leaf motif, subtle but ever-present in another series, is featured in this exhibition. It is not about relaying an approach to the Buddhist faith, but the embodiment of good deeds, essential but humbling, that lays the groundwork and his focus. The Bodhi leaves are featured as abstract shapes, as they are superimposed on one another. Yet they are fluid, as if fluttering in the wind; Lim suggests movement through the use of frayed edges and strands of rice paper as a language for continuum.

With the Chinese title of this exhibition “碎片的迴响 sui pian de hui xiang”, Lim expresses his particular fondness for the Chinese character “迴hui” (4) which suggests “rotation” or “curving”. As a pictogram, one side of the word appears as a beginning that has no end – a visual loop, an appropriate metaphor present in his approach. It is the continual reappraisal of experiences revisited through a non-linear memory, where a sense of place dominates the sequence of associated fragments collated. Within this process he re-evaluates, through memory, his previous journey and weaves together the components. It is perhaps in his studio, that the journey happens again and therefore “Echoing Fragments” offers the viewer the possibility to retrace, via the artist’s document, an experience of travelling within the canvas.


 

Lim Tiong Ghee (LTG) in conversation with Tamares Goh (TG)

 

TG: Many think of the Bodhi leaf as a symbol of Buddhism or a symbol of spirituality. Would you say that you use the symbol as a descriptor of your faith in the way you use Bodhi leaf as a staple in one of your series?

LTG: I use it because it is a common plant there in Yogyakarta. Once, the tour guide showed us a whole stretch of road with Bodhi trees. I am a believer of the virtues of Buddhism, although I am not indicating that I am a spiritual person here, so it is not my intention to be an advocator of the religion through my art. I used the Bodhi leaf in this series as a reflection because Java has its roots in Buddhism, followed by Hinduism. It is the richness of various cultural aspects that I am impressed by. So, as a form, I use the Bodhi leaf as a cultural symbol of Java being the melting pot of a few dominant religions, Buddhism and Hinduism being the two important ones from the past. So, in other words, the Bodhi leaf as a symbol acts as the constant backdrop of the whole experience. As well, visually, I like to use Bodhi leaf because as objects in nature, they introduce movement and fluidity in my work.

TG: I can see that there is movement suggested here.

LTG: I wanted to depict the fluttering of the leaf in the wind, in motion with the wind and air around it. The strands using rice paper are pieced together, composed to create a flow.

TG: You have a particular interest in Batik. You use it throughout the series “Impressions of Yogyakarta” by using cloths as the key collages. What particular aspect of Batik material are you drawn to and have you used any new findings from this trip in your work here?

LTG: They have beautiful motifs5 and I have always collected them, as with other kinds of fabrics and paper, using them as materials for collage from time to time. On this occasion I considered the choice of Batik more – there is a closer link as Batik is commonly worn as clothings in Yogyakarta. I visited a Batik studio, the Brahma Tirta Sari Studio6. The co-founder Ismoyo and myself conversed for a long time. This time, I was interested to learn about the dyes that the Batik craftsmen use. I realised that Batik dyes are not so easily used in paintings, mostly they need to be colour-fastened. Although it was on the last day of my stay, I managed to find some dyes. I have used them in this series.  One must understand and study pigments well in order to use them. Some colours will fade in the sun, but some colours will turn brighter. For instance, murky yellows can last longer while reds and indigos are sensitive to the sunlight.

TG: The exchange and learning from like-minded artists must be rewarding. What other interesting discoveries did you find about materials? Did you recount any other interesting artist exchanges?

LTG: I visited more than 30 artists and seen more than 20 artists’ studios during my stay. There seems to be an abundance of materials because artists there tend to be quite resourceful, using old furniture and objects as their immediate materials. For instance, a found old exercise book from an antique shop can be used with an overlap of painted images on it and a new work suddenly exists! I was impressed with Heri Dono’s studio (house) where he was surrounded by many old furniture and objects while his artwork, mostly sculptures and installation, co-existing with one another. The furniture and objects become the “canvas” of his artwork as he works on them.

TG: Is there a stark difference there in comparison with the artists practising in Singapore?

LTG: Yes definitely. Artists in Singapore tend to start anew on a blank canvas, or tend to purchase materials fresh from the shops. In comparison, artists in Yogyakarta tend to look around and use their immediate surroundings, whether through objects or culture, as their absolute starting points – these starting points have already a rich layer existing. I would say it is the construct of the place as well, one can feel the expanse of spaces. Generally, there are no issues of working spaces for artists in Yogyakarta. The impression is that people are still closer to nature, there’s a sense of community, despite Yogyakarta being a city with a dense population.

TG: What would a lasting impression of Yogyakarta be for you from this trip?

LTG: People are very open and friendly, and I remember the wide openness of the paddy fields while travelling for instance. This is a place with a lot of history, and an old sultanate. Importantly, it is the cultural aspect of the place that would linger.

-July 2018


 

End notes

1The Private Museum Artist-in-Residence programme started in 2015 with artist Hong Zhu An. Subsequently, Han Sai Por was appointed as the second artist in residence in 2016. Hong and Han went to Bali for their residencies. This is the first time an artist was sent to Yogyakarta on the programme.

2Cemeti Art House (Cemeti) was a key instrumentalist for many art activities and exhibitions in the late 1980s, right through the 1990s, with seminal artists, themes and artwork. The works were usually heavily charged with commentaries, especially during politically and socially unrest periods. Cemeti was co-founded by Nindityo Adipurnomo and Mella Jaarsma, and the space, till today, promotes communicating the works mostly Indonesian contemporary artists as well as forging ties with other contemporary artists, curators and researchers worldwide. The space is a multi-disciplinary space with intermediary purposes.

3Lim Tiong Ghee’s last solo exhibition “Sense At Play” was in 2010 at Art-2 Gallery.

4When the manager of The Private Museum Aaron Teo proposed for some key words leading to the exhibition’s title, Lim Tiong Ghee expressed that he liked the word “迴 hui” especially. Lim expressed his fondness and demonstrated in a calligraphy that Teo witnessed on-site. In a phone interview with Lim on 13 July 2018 by myself, Lim further expressed that he liked the pictorial form of the word, alluding to a kind of constant revolving.

5Batik motifs are divided into different families of designs, such as the Parang, Kawung, Semen or Lereng, each with meanings, the design in motifs amounting to hundreds of variations evolving through time. Once upon a time, only the royals or courtly ranks could wear some motifs. Now it has been adapted to more common and utilitarian functions. There are signature styles that sets Yogyakarta Batik motifs distinct from other places in Indonesia.

6Brahma Tirta Sari Studio is the leading Batik and fibre contemporary art studio in Yogyakarta, co-founded by Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam. They combine traditional craftsmanship with innovative contemporary approaches, resulting in genius workmanship in their products.

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Tamares Goh heads the Curatorial Programmes team at the National Gallery Singapore. In 2013, she was the co-curator of the Singapore Biennale and in 2017, appointed as the producer for the Singapore Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.

 

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