Impression of Ng Eng Teng

Jean Bullock

This document is part of a joint project of the NUS Museums and the University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore. This image and accompanying text appears here with the kind permission of the NUS Museums. Note: click on any of the pictures in the following text to obtain additional information and larger images, which take longer to download.

We were in Singapore in 1959-63 where my husband, John Bullock was an educator in the Royal Air Force (R.A.F), at Changi. He was also a painter and we were both keen to meet artists in Singapore. As a sculptor I was introduced to Ng Eng Teng. I was well into my thirties and Teng had just begun his twenties. But I had been a late starter and both of us were very enthusiastic, me in spite of the heat and humidity for which my only preparation had been to shut myself in a very hot and steamed up bathroom for as long as I could stand it!

My memories are of steamy afternoons spent with paper and pencil out in the boat yards and places that I might not otherwise have got to. Eng Teng was also tireless in arranging sitters for us both, for drawing and for modelling.

Sleeping Woman I I must say here that I was never conscious of teaching Teng sculpture and I would never have presumed to teach him drawing, as he was already way beyond my talents in that sphere. I only know that for me the portrait or figure had to feel 'alive' and to capture some of the feeling and spirit of the person and, maybe, by working together and talking about things, something was passed on.

The casting was different - we had a tiled shower room in our flat and it was in there that he and I did a lot of our mould separating and cleaning. We had first built up the plaster moulds round the clay in the sitting room on sheets of plastic - to be a sculptor you have to be dedicated to mud and mess! I remember going with Eng Teng to where a gas main was being dug and digging clay from the hole - I still have three figures made from this clay and fired by a friend of Teng's.

Portrait of Jean Bullock For the serious business of making the casts in ciment fondu we worked sometimes in his studio and sometimes in the sitting room of the Crescent Flats where we lived. (I couldn't find them when I came out in 1996 -- perhaps they have been pulled down.)

Teng went off to the U.K. whilst we were still in Singapore and it wasn't until we arrived back in England in the Spring of 1963, where he had endured a freezing winter, that we caught up again. We spent a holiday with him and his sister Eng Kiok over in Ireland and as my husband was working in London there were many opportunities for meeting.

Sunset Eng Teng had already shown in his early paintings the personality which would be impressed on his future works, ceramic, painting and sculpture. Hardly surprisingly, his work when he returned to Singapore was greatly influenced by his working in pottery and ceramics. Since then he has always been restlessly moving towards a further stretching of expression. I find it amazing the sheer quantity and diversity of his work over the years - it seems to me there has always been a sense of urgency in him, to get as much done and expressed as if time were running out for him even thirty years ago.

When I returned to Singapore in 1981 for a long holiday, I saw and was immensely moved by The Hostage. But although Eng Teng has always been greatly affected by the sadness and dilemmas of the human spirit, he also has a great sense of humour - perhaps more particularly in his ceramic pieces. But in everything, painting, sculpture, figurative, organic or abstract there is always a strong sense of design which unerringly takes you to the nub of the piece. Singapore is indeed fortunate in having such an artist in its midst and I am immensely proud to be counted as his friend.

Although I may not have seen all the works exhibited, I look forward to one day returning to seeing them at the University.

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Last updated: 11 January 2001