This document is part of a joint project of the Singapore Art Museum and the Honours Core Curriculum, National University of Singapore. This image and accompanying text appears here with the kind permission of the Singapore Art Museum.
While the Ten Men Art Group continued the legacy of the Nanyang School in capturing Southeast Asia on canvas, a new aesthetic orientation had begun. In the 1960s, a group of artists, including Teo Eng Seng, Thomas Yee, Ng Eng Teng, Gen Beng Kwan and Anthony Poon, went to study art in Europe and North America. These "Second Generation" artists imbibed aesthetics in their formative training - as the pioneer artists did -- and created a significant impact upon their return in the late-1960s and 1970s. However, the term "Second Generation" when used in this sense, should be viewed in context as it tends to accentuate the value of an overseas education and bypasses the very innovative work done by those artists who did not go abroad, notably the artists associated with the Modem Art Society.
Teo Eng Seng's formal art education began with evening classes at the British Council in the mid-1950s and continued at the Birmingham College of Art and Design, "Paperdyesculp" was a term coined by Teo for his medium of paper pulp and dye. A Boy From the Temple is an abstract collage work of paperdyesculp. The strong textural feeling of the collage, together with the loose but balanced arrangement of elements evoke moods and feelings in the viewer. The red, gold, orange, and the dull tan of joss sticks speaks of Chinese religious beliefs and traditions, conjuring the auspicious mood of festivity.
OTOSOS, the acronym for "On the Other Side of Silence" was a series created by Teo in the late 1980s. The OTOSOS works, with their haptic quality, straddle the boundary of sculpture and collage. In OTOSOS No. 13, depressions in the shape of Chinese clogs form deep reliefs on the highly-textured paper pulp surface. Colourful Chinese folk prints -traditional good luck charms - have been incorporated in the work for ornamental effect. In the centre, abbreviated drawings of figures on horseback represent the Chinese idiom guiren luma: an honourable and compassionate gentleman riding a lucky horse. They symbolise justice and uprightness, and are important to the meaning of the work.
In 1979, Teo made a public declaration to abandon painting in order to seek an identity closer to the place, region and continent he lives in. Teo later explained that this was to breakdown the binary between two- and three-dimensionality in art work (Sculpture in Singapore p. 58). Teo has been one of the most inquiring and critical artists, always questioning the visual language through both his art and words. In Five Nails, an installation of 1991, Teo used translucent fibreglass to create a religious aura and a sense of power.
But for Ng Eng Teng, a leading ceramic sculptor and potter in Singapore, the division between painting and sculpture would have become less clearly demarcated for the "Second Generation" artists. Ng sees the importance of highlighting the development of sculpture as an art form in Singapore. Ng remembered that he was the only artist making sculpture in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. In the Singapore Art Society exhibition of 1960, he was the only one exhibiting sculptural work. In 1967, Ng, Lim Nang Seng, Aw Eng Kwang and Yeo Hwee Bin organised Sculpture 67 at the National Library. Following the event, Lim Yew Kuan and Wee Beng Chong also became associated with sculpture. The next high point of the history of sculpture was in 1976 when the National Museum Art Gallery, in its inaugural year, organised the First National Sculpture Show which featured 117 works by seven artists (Sculpture in Singapore p. 43).
A graduate of NAFA who studied in England in the early 1960s, Ng Eng Teng is inspired by the human condition and its many nuances, Sitting Pretty, a figurative sculpture in bronze, has a lyrical quality that gives the work its irresistible charm. The figure of a woman seated upright with her legs raised from the hips and crossed to the side of the body is modelled with such ease of form that it seems to defy gravity despite its mass. The figure's effortless pose, with the wind in its flowing hair, exude an idyllic youthfulness, a lyrical joie de vivre. Part of this sculpture's beauty lies in its haptic quality, the fullness of the figure's proportions and the graceful undulations of its curvilinear contours. The planar surface of the left arm which follow the generous curve of the torso; the planes of the outstretched legs which find sympathy in the flowing hair, have a rhythmic quality which brings unity and balance to the sculptural form.
Hot Lips No. 18, on the other, hand, reveals a playful side to Ng's work- Purse- lipped and bug-eyed, the bumpy humanoid head is a leap of the imagination into the realm of alien life forms of fantasy.
Ng's Chip of the Old Block, Oh, My Head and Mother and Child are works which manifest relationships and psychological states through the exploration of physiological relationships and imaginative forms.
Thomas Yeo graduated from NAFA in 1960. He then studied art in London, first at the Chelsea School of Art and later at the Hammersmith College of Art and Architecture in the early 1960s. Yeo's works are inspired by nature and include both landscapes as well as abstract compositions in collage and mixed media. In City Vista, a work of the 1980s, there appears to be a mellowing of style when compared with his brash and boldly-coloured compositions of the 1960s. The work is of an ambiguous cityscape, suggestive of earth, sky and buildings. Warm, golden earth tones are used throughout and a sense of timelessness and tranquillity prevails, an effect achieved through the use of complex interlayering and the play of surface and depth of the collage medium. It appears to be a direct evolution of his earlier landscapes such as Autumn Warmth which feature naturalistic elements.
In Red Earth and Beach Scene of the late 1980s and early-1990s, Yeo's landscapes have arrived at greater simplicity with large areas of single vivid colours in bold and effective compositions. Red Earth is nevertheless distinctively a landscape with the domains of earth and sky clearly delineated and here richly coloured.
Another artist who studied overseas in the 1960s was Goh Beng Kwan. Goh studied under Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng before his tutelage under Sydney Gross in New York. Goh's works are drawn from nature and his surroundings, especially his roots as an ethnic Chinese. His works are collages, mixed media pieces which use a wide range of material such as rice paper, Chinese oracle papers, newspapers, rubber sheets, cloth scraps and even wood and metal. They are impressions of his environment rather than actual representations. Green Acres of Land is a characteristic landscape by the artist. It is an assemblage of layers and layers of coloured rice paper, each tinted and treated in a slightly different fashion to build up a composition representing the landform, Dotting the Eye depicts the act of drawing in the eyes of the lion in the lion dance ritual. As the ceremony evokes the spirit of the lion, Goh vitalises the colours and sensuality of the paraphernalia of Chinese festivity in this work.
Anthony Poon, like Ng Eng Teng and Thomas Yeo, is a graduate of NAFA and he furthered his studies in England from 1967 to 1971. Poon's work centres on his interest in the spatial relationship between line and colour. From the Shaped Canvas series and the Waves series of the 1970s, where the basic square was mutiplied and rearranged, to the works of the 1980s, when he began to explore chromatic ranges in the Colour Theory series, Poon's works deal with the innermost relationship of form and colour. In CR on Black Square, which represents the beginning of Colour Theory and the accumulation of his Waves series, brushwork and texture have been completely eliminated in favour of a carefully modulated shade of deep cadmium red contained within repetitive linear elements and his characteristic "waves". The hard-edged precision of the work emphasises the surface plane and its two-dimensional quality.
T.K. Sabapathy. Sculpture in Singapore. Singapore: National Museum, 1991.
Last updated: May 2000