Typical of a graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Ng Eng Teng experimented in various art media. I had been watching his progress even before he completed his course there in 1961.
Perhaps our chats and his visit to my home where he saw some ceramics I did was a turning point for him. There were hardly any sculptors then and no ceramic art. Ng Eng Teng's natural touch for fashioning clay plus his fluency in the English language led me to encourage him to take up the plastic arts in England's famous Potteries, rather than furthering the study of painting in the schools of Europe and America like most of his schoolmates. For a short time in Paris, 1, myself, had entered that fascinating world of ceramics and had read the book by Bernard Leach and admired his work. I had heard too that Mr. Leach had a ceramic studio at St. Ives and suggested a visit there as well. Eagerly, Ng Eng Teng received all these ideas. We touched on other aspects of an art career not least the problem of livelihood. Though I do believe that an artist is a necessary member of society and his work a small token of the soul of his soil, his eternal difficulty to survive in that society is only too real to ignore and I always stress this reality to the aspiring artists.
And so Ng Eng Teng went on to The Potteries, Stoke-on-Trent in 1962 and returned in 1966. The art scene then had considerably improved with more and more people going to exhibitions and showing an interest, yet not sufficiently to absorb our newly-returned artists. During a period of two years which seemed an eternity to Ng Eng so impatient when facing unrelenting TIME yet so patient when at work, he had set up a workshop and had built his own kiln but gradually found himself vegetating and languishing without a satisfying working program. Finally, he accepted a job unrelated to his training in the International Planned Parenthood Federation South East Asia and Oceania Region Headquarters. There, he remained for two and a half years until July last.
Since then, with renewed hope, he lost no time to plunge back wholeheartedly into his art "to give myself a chance to see if I can survive". In this, his first one-man show, we will see paintings and ceramics, sculptures and portraits in terra cotta, stoneware, and ciment fondu. Ng Eng Teng is completely honest and completely himself. His forms are usually full, solid, unadorned and often have heart-rending expressions. This is due to his compassion for human suffering in our midst such as poverty, over-population, strife, which be feels deeply and which be portrays. His constant feeling is that man is bound hand and foot and is prevented from a full blossoming of what Bergson called our elan vital ... hence his "Captives" and "Bondage". He gets so steeped in them that his figures look agonized and tortured. Some of his work has the flavour of gargoyles on many an ancient building in Europe with their characteristic exaggerations and grotesque quality. How very different is his latest new work and little wonder too, for his inspiration this time is: WOMAN. There, his heart speaks a language sweeter, softer, and kinder though nonetheless true, and even humorous as in "Maxi".
In this our distinctly rising artistic effervescence, may the Muses be induced to visit us. Let me hope too that our artists need no longer go into cold storage to become stunted if not entirely frozen. It is only in the constant practice of his art that the artist can be expected to improve, develop, and give of his best.
Sculpture, ceramic, painting, ng eng teng Singapore, 1970, unpaginated.
Last updated: 11 January 2001