More than just an oil painter

More than just an oil painter
Artist Koeh Sia Yong with his paintings of wild sunflowers.

SINGAPORE - Artist Koeh Sia Yong's retrospective includes wood-block prints and political cartoons

It is a show that sums up more than 50 years of his life as an artist. That is why artist Koeh Sia Yong, 75, named his current one-man exhibition Fifty: A Dedication To Art By Koeh Sia Yong.

The 40 works on display range from his early wood-block prints depicting the plight of the working class in the 1950s to wild sunflowers on canvases which he painted recently, spanning a period of 56 years.

A graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1958, Koeh works mainly in oil. The pieces have been exhibited since 1960 at group exhibitions here and overseas. He has also staged a total of 11 solo shows.

He said it was his friend, gallery owner Seah Shin Wong, who proposed the retrospective show after visiting Koeh's studio in Eunos in June.

Mr Seah, 71, who founded Heng Artland, said he saw many of Koeh's works there, from his sketches and watercolours to oils and political cartoons, many of which had never been shown before.

"I immediately felt that an exhibition showcasing his life's works from different periods and in different forms was long overdue," he recalled.

"Many people think he is only an oil painter, but actually, he is more than that," added Mr Seah, who also produced a book with reproductions of Koeh's selected works over the past 50 years, together with essays, in conjunction with the exhibition.

According to Mr Seah, "his works also helped to reflect reality and preserve history".

This can be seen in Koeh's 1950s' wood-block prints inspired by artists in Russia and China who championed the working class; and in his oils and portraits in the 1960s and 1970s depicting rural Singapore, when he was a member of Equator Art Society, a now-defunct leftist art group that was active in the 1950s and 1960s.

There are also his series of Singapore River and Chinatown scenes in watercolour painted in the 1980s and his oil paintings of landmarks including The Louvre and Notre Dame which he did during a visit to Paris in the early 1990s.

Another highlight are his Balinese oil paintings from the early 1970s to 2000s. His Balinese wife, 35, was a waitress he met in Bali about 10 years ago.

Before he went on to paint full-time about 22 years ago, Koeh had taken up several art-related jobs including a stint as a cinema billboard painter for Shaw Brothers, as graphic designer and book illustrator. He was a freelance political cartoonist for a local Chinese newspaper between 1979 and 1980.

"I like to paint in oil because it is the medium I can express myself best. The paintings are also more longlasting," he said.

wengkam@sph.com.sg

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FIFTY: A DEDICATION TO ART BY KOEH SIA YONG
Where: Heng Artland, 290 Orchard Road, 04-08 Paragon
When: Till Nov 3, daily from 10.30am to 8.30pm
Admission: Free
Info: Call 6738-4380


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