A Personal View of Eng Teng

Chia Wai Hon

The proverbial ' Jack of all trade, master of none' label falls flat when applied to the many-faceted talents of young Singapore artist, Ng Eng Teng. A ceramist by training, Eng Teng is equally facile in sculpture and painting. He does well in whatever he sets his mind on, and his interest ranges the many forms of the visual art. Self-expression, more than anything else, drives him to search for inner satisfaction in clay, terra cotta, ciment fondu, oil, water-colour, pencil and charcoal. He is no dabbler who tries his hand at various media just for the sake of doing something different. He works exhaustively in one medium getting the most out of it before he moves on to another. Thus at one stage clay would serve him as a vehicle of expression for an idea that he wishes to work out. He does variations and experiments on the theme using the one medium until he is satisfied that he has exploited it to the utmost. Then, and only then, will he switch over to something else. Sometimes it is the material itself that suggests the idea to him, at others, the idea dictates the medium that he has to use. Always there is understanding and sympathy between artist and material. This constant dialogue has resulted in some very interesting pieces of sculpture and ceramics by the artist.

Ng Eng Teng brings to his work a sincerity and a dedication that many of our young artists could do well to emulate. When he feels strongly about what he has to do, nothing can deviate him from carrying out his task the way he wants it to go. He related instances when he was in art school in England making pots which were non-functional and using shapes that did not meet with the approval of his instructors. Despite adverse comments from them he stuck to his shapes because he felt strongly that they should be so and not otherwise. His devotion to an idea which he feels strongly about and which he is not afraid to carry out, is an excellent quality for any artist to cultivate. Cezanne and Van Gogh would not have occupied their present eminent positions as leaders of modern art had they deferred to critics of their day. It is Eng Teng's belief that an artist should not be contented with echoing somebody's ideas all the time. Hence it is that in Eng Teng's work one finds it difficult to point to the influence that is at work. He professed to an admiration for Epstein, and yet traces of this sculptor's influence are hardly noticeable if any do exist. Eng Teng enjoys just being himself in his work.

Artists often have distinctive features which identify their works just as clearly as the signatures on them. Thus one associates Michelangelo with power-packed torsos, Raphael with sweet-faced madonnas, Degas with ballet dancers, or Picasso with twisted anatomies. The notable feature in Eng Teng's work is his 'pregnant' women. The pregnancy is not the child-bearing capacity that one normally associates with physical condition of this nature. The shape is the shape of the pot. Eng Teng's figures are the direct influence of his involvement in pottery. The pot-bellied shape appeared time and again in a variety of figurines and I arge sculpture pieces. Another theme to note is his chained prisoners. Here Eng Teng uses the series to symbolise a universal ailment that is the lot of every creative artist. The chained figure is the captive artist bursting with ideas but held back and restrained for lack of opportunities and facilities to express himself. It can be taken as a personal indictment of a society plagued with materialism and caring little for its spiritual life. Eng Teng has sounded a warning note and it is well that we should take notice of it.


Sculpture, ceramic, painting, ng eng teng Singapore, 1970, unpaginated.

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Last updated: 11 January 2001