Singapore’s urban landscape has undergone tremendous changes in the last half a century - from massive land reclamation, urban redevelopment and even the demolition of beloved buildings. However, even as we mourn the loss of Singapore’s ever-changing landscape, or celebrate the birth of new structures, artists such as Lim Tze Peng, Ong Kim Seng and Hong Sek Chern pay homage to Singapore through their diverse perspectives. We invite you to explore the artworks of these Singaporean artists who have dedicated their craft to preserving the unique and everchanging spirit of Singapore.
“In life, there is a lot of beauty to be discovered and they can all be painted. In streets where olden houses still exist, the imperfections on the walls can be quite beautiful and impressionable” - Lim Tze Peng
Born in Singapore in 1921, Lim Tze Peng is one of Singapore’s most significant artists and a living legend. Renowned for his Chinese ink creations and calligraphy, Old Streets of Chinatown is just one many works that honour the memory of old Singapore. His monochromatic palette and detailed strokes document the bustling activity of Chinatown of the past. Despite the rapid change in the landscape of Chinatown, Lim Tze Peng’s work still manages to capture the dynamic and colourful spirit of Chinatown that transcends the past and the present.
“Some of the areas around us are slowly changing. So before they actually change, why not capture them?” - Ong Kim Seng, 2014
Born in 1945 in Singapore, Ong Kim Seng is an internationally renowned watercolorist and one of Singapore’s most prominent artistic icons. Ong Kim Seng’s Cavenagh Bridge depicts the iconic features of the bride, as well as the idyllic area surrounding it with his vibrant watercolour. Built in 1868, Cavenagh Bridge is steeped in heritage, from its colonial beginnings as a means for rickshaws to cross the waterway to its current status as a pedestrian walkway. Despite the changes in the area surrounding Cavenagh Bridge, Ong Kim Seng’s watercolour is another effort to memorialise and honour the ever-changing landscape of Singapore. “Whether you are tearing down, or building a building, you will have to use a scaffold to protect the public from harm. So to me, scaffolding, it’s a visual motif of something in progress” - Hong Sek Chern, 2020 Hong Sek Chern, Landscape at Rochor (Before Demolition), Ink on Paper
Rochor Centre as it is being demolished, The Straits Times
Hong Sek Chern is well known for her Chinese ink works and her various interpretations of the Singapore urban landscape. Depicted in Landscape at Rochor (Before Demolition), the iconic Rochor Centre was one of Singapore’s most memorable landscapes, with its vibrant hues of yellow, blue, green and pink. Hong Sek Chern’s interpretation of the Rochor Centre not only honours the unique architecture of Rochor Centre through her widely-angled snapshots of the building, but her use of muted colours commemorates the building’s gradually fading form as it is doomed for demolition.
Thus, the ever changing urban landscape of Singapore is a fact that we have to contend with as a young and ever-transforming nation. However, these artists have utilized their unique artistic practices to each capture fleeting, yet powerful moments of Singapore’s urban landscape, seamlessly blending art practice and history. With these paintings, we can experience a slice of history.
Contact us for more information on any of the four paintings featured in this article and be sure to follow Ode to Art on Facebook and Instagram!