A Century of Memories

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Foreword by Ode to Art


Recent Works


Looking at Lim Tze Peng’s Artworks Through the Lens of Formalism by Woo Fook Wah (Dr.)


Formalism: A Way of Seeing Artworks


Looking At the Artworks of Lim Tze Peng


Lim Tze Peng: The Singapore Ink Artist








With solo exhibitions held at prestigious museums around the world, including Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and with Ode To Art in Mumbai last year -- while Lim Tze Peng might be renowned for his Chinese Ink creations of post-independence Singapore, it is evident that his masterpieces strike a chord with many all around the globe. It is my pleasure and my honour to celebrate Mr Lim’s 100th birthday with this exhibition, A Century of Memories, his 7th exhibition with Ode to Art, featuring masterpieces of his past that shot him to international recognition, as well as his latest creations celebrating Singapore. This birthday exhibition was a project Mr Lim and I had had for a couple of years, and when I visited him in November of 2019 to select with him the works we would feature, I was astounded by the new paintings he showed me. As he had not painted any landscape in several years, I did not expect to see Singapore scenes, especially not paintings so radically different from the rest of his series. This is what has captivated me in the 12 years I have known Lim Tze Peng: every time you think you understand his work, he completely surprises you with a new direction, a new style that leaves you bewildered in the best way possible. This exhibition had been months in the making when the pandemic hit the world and we had to find a way to bring his stunning new creations to the public. We postponed the exhibition several times, but it soon became clear that a virtual exhibition

was the best way to protect his health while paying tribute to his skill and mastery. Brilliant, innovative and poetic, Lim Tze Peng is an artistic enigma forged through tireless years of dedication and determination to his craft. At 100 years old, the maestro continues to chart new artistic territory with his oeuvre. I am truly grateful for the close connection we share and the humbling experience I’ve had witnessing the evolution of his art. Exemplifying how memories can take on a life of their own and evolve over time, these latest works, depicting scenes that have been gone for over 40 years, stem from distant memories, yet feature a different format of creations, with bolder, brighter and more vibrant colours. They remind me of colorized photos, giving old Singapore a new dimension, touched and magnified by time. A Century of Memories invites you to commemorate the newest works of Lim Tze Peng and revel in the nostalgia of his early pieces, created with the desire to immortalise the landscape of old Singapore before its demolition, and bear witness to the beauty of the evolving memories between the Lim Tze Peng and his beloved country. To celebrate his birthday in vogue, A Century of Memories will be a virtual experience, paralleling the evolution of Lim Tze Peng’s artistry over the years to reflect the changes in our society and its advancement in technology, and to commemorate the vast and various shifts in our world Lim Tze Peng has been a part of in the 100 years of his life.

Jazz Chong Director Ode to Art







1 Coffeeshops at Chinatown

Chinese Ink on Paper 120 x 240 cm






3 2

2 Da Dong Fang Mooncake Shop

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

3 Bustling Business

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm





5 4

4 Taste of the Past

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

5 Down Memory Lane

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm





6 7

6 Time to Connect

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

7 佑记 Yu Ke

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm






“ In this exhibition, I worked from old pencil

and ink sketches and reinterpreted them; with deeper and brighter colours, I tried to give these scenes of old Singapore a more spirited atmosphere, to reflect my memories.

8 Abundant Loads 8

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm




9 10

9 Bumboats By The Old River

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

10 Floating Treasures

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm







11 Back In Time

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

12 A Busy Day at the Quay

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm






13 Vibrancy of Chinatown 13

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm




15 14

14 Hua Ji Roasted Delight

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

15 A Sundry Shop

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm







16 Joyous Festivals

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

17 Por Kee Eating House

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm






“ I feel that brushwork and calligraphy (笔墨) are the most important elements in my art. If I had to rank them, brushwork and calligraphy would come first, followed by composition, and then colour. ”

18 Mooncake Shop 18

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm




19 20

19 Old Streets of Chinatown

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

20 Gathering at Dusk

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm





22 21

21 A Favourite Pastime

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

22 Chinese Traders

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm






Formalism emerged as literary scholars in the late 19th to early 20th century reacted against the literary approaches of that time. Then, Russian literature was extensively influenced by Marxist Theory, focusing on class conflicts in society and the emphasis on class distinctions. The use of contextual methodology in the representation and the interpretation of literary works to explain the Marxist paradigm of the economic production overflowed into literary and cultural production. The Moscow Linguistic Circle, founded in 1915 and the Society for the Study of Poetic Language founded in 1916 represented the rise of Formalist Thinking. The New Criticism Movement that arose after World War I dominated the American literary scene. It was in reaction to the critical practice of bringing contextual history and other external data for the interpretation of literary works. The Movement emphasised close reading of pieces of literary composition or artistic works to discover the selfcontaining and self-referencing phenomenon intrinsic to a single work. Like in Russian Formalism, the New Criticism scholars focused on literary devices like metaphors, ironies and tensions for the appreciation and criticism of literary works. Textual, rather than contextual approaches were favoured by the Formalists and this system of thinking also relates closely to the thoughts of Structuralism and Postmodernism. The one major difference between Russian Formalism and New Criticism is that the Russian Formalists insisted that there is a distinction between form and content and its focus should only

be on the form; while the New Critics held the belief that form and content are inseparable and should be analysed together. The Formal Approach in literary appreciation and criticism has been brought into the visual arts. In visual arts, when a critic uses a formal approach to examine a piece of artwork, he scrutinises the artwork with little or no consideration to its contextual factors such as the time period, sociopolitical setting, religious symbols or even the artist’s background. He would focus on forms, volumes, lines, colours, textures, layouts, and other perceptual aspects. The formalists believe that everything that is necessary to understand and appreciate a painting can be found within the artwork. They saw that form is what makes something artistic and hence, must be the source of art. Therefore, in order to understand a work of art as a work of art one must focus on perceptual aspects of artworks such as forms and colours as a starter. The contextual and conceptual aspects of the artwork is considered secondary or even of non-importance. This is contrary to non-formalist approaches, where an inquiry into “external truths” are regarded as essential for a complete understanding and appreciation of a piece of artwork. "De-familiarization is a term often used by Formalists as a critical method where literary language is used to distinguish itself from the vernacular language, used in daily communication. They held the view that literary devices (like metaphors, comparatives,


poetry, etc.) makes the works appear “artistic” or to “make uncommon” the common language and as a result, the everyday world could be “de-familiarised.” In this way, the observer is able to see things through different mental paradigms, and hence, is encouraged to see more than what he would have with the “usual” assumptions. It presents a hypothesis of how a visual artwork works, as visual arts ought to be able to present the same world in different and new ways, enabling the observer to see the world and things therein from and in different angles and perspectives. The thought-provoking book authored by Heinrich Wölfflin, “Principles of Art History” utilises the formal approach as a way of seeing visual art. He scrutinizes artworks from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, viewing each of them as a respective artistic whole, ignoring the specifics within those eras. In his book, he contrasts five different aspects of art created between the two periods in respective order, using artworks from both periods to make his point. The five aspects arranged in contrasting pairs are: • Linear and Painterly: By linear, Wölfflin means that the subject and solid forms around the subject are clearly and definitely delineated, illuminated and stand out like sculptures. Whereas, by painterly, the figures are welded together using an uneven illumination. The forms are collectively treated as a whole, with no determined lines separating them into discrete units. • Plane and Recession: In planar, refers to the various elements of the works being arranged in planes parallel to the picture plane. But for the artworks created during the Baroque era, he points out that figures were placed at an angle to the picture plane, creating depth by having figures receding into the painting. • Closed and Open Form: In the closed form of Renaissance painting, the figures are balanced within the layout; while in the open form of Baroque painting, figures are allowed to be

partially left out of the composition and balance is not necessarily achieved through symmetry. The balance of the composition is dynamic. • Multiplicity and Unity: By multiplicity, Wölfflin is referring to the distinct forms that appear in Renaissance painting whilst in Baroque painting, the different units (figures) are fused together into an “amalgamated” form. • Clearness and Unclearness: In clearness, Wölfflin is referring to the forms being clearly depicted as they were: whereas unclearness, as in Baroque paintings, refers to the point that the figures are not depicted independently and accurately. Rather, the artist through his discretion, decorates the figures and forms to exude a certain emotion or point that he desires to make. In his writing, he attempts to view art freed from its contextual burden, by examining the works using contrasting pairs, distinguishing the structure and forms that were used by the respective artists in construction of the paintings. He seems to view the different approaches to creating artworks as a progression: a progression from the period of the Renaissance to the Baroque period; and that the latter preferred the creation of emotional volume-form and beauty rather than the accurate reproduction of forms present in the Renaissance period. However, the history of art showed that that was not to be with the arrival of Modernism, where flatness of the picture plane became most widespread. This brings the art connoisseur to the question of whether art should merely imitate reality or create beauty. Is art merely an imitation of what is seen, or is art an inspiration to see what is yet to be seen? The other interesting discussion will be the positioning of Chinese visual art - both classical and contemporary art through Wölfflin’s analytical frame.





While interpreting Lim Tze Peng’s artwork contextually enables us to understand the unique time and place where he created his artworks, and the social environment where he drew inspiration to paint; understanding his work more holistically requires intrinsic understanding of the paintings. Borrowing the vocabulary of the literary world, we need to understand his works textually.

While the theory of lines has been discussed in Western art principles, Chinese Ink Tradition made lines its key focus and emphasis. The Chinese brush lines characterise the foundation of the Chinese Ink Tradition. The quality of line-work in a Chinese Ink Painting is a key factor in determining whether an artwork is of acceptable standard. When the Chinese Ink Tradition underwent the period of Chinese Modernisation in the first half of the 20th century, the distinctiveness of Chinese brush lines that made Chinese Ink Painting Chinese was carefully retained and remained recognisable even through the evolution of Chinese visual art. In Figure 1, Lim Tze Peng portrays a Chinese festive season. The red used on the lanterns and the red or yellow sign boards are traditional Chinese symbols of joy, hope, and festivity. He uses the concept of linework from the Chinese Ink Tradition to outline the intended forms of buildings and structures, possibly situated in Singapore’s Chinatown. We can see that he was not concerned with the precision of the form and dimensional proportions, which a typical Renaissance artwork would have paid attention to. He presents a network of lines that give the appearance of being laid over the colours instead of confining colours within the boundary of lines.

Fig 1. Down Memory Lane

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

Through the same network of lines, he produces a visual appearance that the building structures are receding into the background. He uses a perspective that is typical of a traditional Western painting; in


contrast to Classical Chinese Landscape Painting, where perspectives are typically presented by dividing the painting into planes parallel to the surface of the painting, and on the top of each other with the nearest elements at the bottom-most plane in the painting, which creates a kind of atmospheric perspective. (Please see illustration on the right: Painting of Ni Zan: Rongxi Studio.) In contrast to Wölfflin’s description of a typical Baroque Painting, we notice that artist Lim Tze Peng has successfully amalgamated Linearity into Recession, which in the case of the Renaissance and Baroque periods were exclusive from one another. However, the uniqueness is furthered by the fact that Lim Tze Peng does not use the effect of light and shadow in his artwork to achieve the effect of the recession of the building structures. He instead incorporates elements of the Modern Post-Impressionist painting concept, which we shall discuss later in the essay. We will also notice that Lim Tze Peng utilises an Open-Form for the layout of the subject in his painting. The subject recedes into the painting without an obvious termination, which creates a mystery regarding the length of the building. Furthermore, he paints figures walking towards the back, into the mystery. The curious observer might inquire as to what was going on “in the background beyond the building.” An intriguing way to enhance the mysterious and/or infinite impression. That is unlike the classical piece created by Ni Zan, where part of the discrete forms in the artwork are truncated abruptly. While the inclination during the Baroque period was described by Wölfflin to lean towards an United Form, here is where Lim Tze Peng chooses to create Multiplicity to express the leisure and uncrowded ambience on the street. For those who celebrate Chinese New Year (as this artwork seems to depict) in Singapore, Chinatown is typically throbbing with activities during the festive season. So, why does the artist choose to depict the festive season

Ni Zan: Rongxi Studio Yuan Dynasty Hanging scroll

Ink on paper

74.7 x 35.5 cm National Palace Museum, Taipei




with an appearance of quietness? This is interesting as it allows the observers to sit around the coffee table to discuss and to speculate. This artwork offers generous opportunities for imagination and discourse.

of art. They were not concerned with the faithful depiction of the colour of the actual subject. Therefore, to complement the colour of a green tree, the sky might be painted red. The resulting colour scheme of the painting was independent of the reality. It was merely an expression of the artist’s perception. It was the same with the depiction of forms. The proportion and shape of the forms of an element in the painting were not precisely replicated. They were mere representations rather than reproduction of what was seen. All the representations they made on their canvas were supposed to help the observers to see beyond the reality of the subject matter, that is: not only to see but to have insight. The ways they expressed their art were also attempts to help the observer to look at the often-neglected aspects of a subject matter, the inner emotion of the observer, and the creative insights of the artists.

There is an obvious clearness in this piece of artwork amidst the mystery that is created. The various elements (the human figures, lanterns, signboards, etc.) appear indifferent to one another but yet they are all part of the drama that we see in the artwork, without which the story of the artwork would have been different. The artist uses an earth-tone colour to tie the story in the picture together. There seems to be a separation of the movables and the immovables with the use of colours, where those in earth-tone are the fixed assets, so to speak. In this painting, we see that Lim Tze Peng’s artwork has transcended the traditional classifications of painting whether it is Chinese Ink Classic, Western Painting Tradition or Western Modernism. He uses a cacophony of techniques, blending them together into a harmonious cooperation, producing a balanced and interesting artwork that is both Chinese and Western in appearance and narrative. A very typical idea of what Singapore represents, a melting pot of ideas from all over the world to bring about a harmonious and balanced community. Figure 2 shows an aerial view of the Singapore River. The Singapore River has been the subject of paintings for many local artists, but few have painted it from this perspective. The interesting aspect of this painting is the timing of the painting. The colour rendition in this piece of artwork seems to indicate that the artist is depicting a view either at dawn or during the twilight hours, with the deep blue sky and a hint of sunlight clinging to the buildings. However, looking at the trucks parked alongside the wharf, ready for the day’s work, it seems to indicate that it is the start of the day. While many bumboats are seen on the river, no boat alongside the wharf is being loaded/unloaded. Perhaps, they are waiting for the day to begin.


Fig 2. Back in Time

Chinese Ink on Paper 118 x 118 cm

Well, could it be at the end of a day’s work, instead? The trucks might be parked there, waiting for a new day of work. The analysis and discourse go on, and that is part of the joy of reading and appreciating an artwork. As long as we do not ask the artist what time it was when he painted the work, the speculation continues and the exercise to see with our mind sharpens the power of our observation and reasoning takes place for our own benefit. During the beginning of the 20th Century, PostImpressionist artists experimented with colours, forms and the alternative ideas of subject treatment. The term “Fauvism” was coined to identify artists that were involved in that effort. They included artists like Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Kees Van Dongen, Andre Derain and others. They were preoccupied with colour theories, and in particular with complementary colours in their expression

The dominant earth-tone and blue in the painting are familiar colours that we see in other paintings in Lim Tze Peng’s landscape oeuvre. The earth tone that he used is from an orange base and it’s complementary to the blue colour, like how some Fauvist would use them. First, he spreads the dominant colours over the paper and then superimposes networks of lines on them to give form to the various elements in his painting. Replicating the exact forms, shapes and proportions are not his primary concern. We can see that he draws from Fauvist’s concepts for this artwork but still preserves the use of Chinese brush lines to express his concept of the Singapore River seen from above. In this painting, again, we see that the artist recedes the row of buildings into the painting using an imprecise perspective as well as with the absence of light and shadow to depict his impression of the landscape, typical of Western Modern Paintings. When we thought that we could finally see what is at the end from an aerial view, and solve the mystery that has, thus far, intrigued us, the way

the artist recedes the row of buildings into oblivion maintains that mysterious impression and keeps the observers still guessing as to what goes on behind. Philosophically, it begs if the adage that “the higher we stand, the clearer we will see” (欲穷千里目,更上 一层楼), is really a gnomic principle? Lim Tze Peng is an innovative artist, who does not allow himself to be bound by traditional concepts. He paints as he sees with his mind. His artworks can be just literal, telling a story like a story-teller; or philosophical, where the observers have the full liberty to experience the inner sense of the artwork via contextual referencing or by understanding the literal-ness of the form (textual reading) as we saw in the artwork in Figure 2.





Wölfflin understood that art development did not arise merely from efforts of a few individuals who attempted to be different. Art development arose as a result of the advancement of civilization. It is the accumulation of knowledge that affected the way each era of civilization viewed the era prior. Though Wölfflin’s thesis regarding the way to see art might remain debatable, he nevertheless pointed out that there was much to gain when we look at artworks for what they are worth. That is, to look at an artwork for what it is without the need to always cling to its context and to enjoy art as an autonomous work of beauty, rather than an imitation of real-life. In fact, just as Wölfflin viewed art as an autonomous work of beauty rather than an imitation of beauty; the very idea of Modernism was about the autonomy of art. The Modernisation of China from 1920 had a great impact on the Chinese art world both within and outside China. The modernisation of Chinese art arrived in Singapore just before World War II. That impact had obviously shaped the Singapore art scene as documented by Yeo Mang Thong1 and Zhong Yu2. The art scene, then, was vibrant and that continued even after World War II, with many Chinese migrant artists having chosen to remain in Singapore to advance their art practice. With Singapore moving toward independence, its unique mix of population made Singapore a melting pot of cultures and ideas. Although the different races retained much of their distinctive heritages, ideas were nevertheless exchanged and syncretised.

This thus gave the civilisation here a unique environment for the development, viewing and creation of art, which greatly influenced Singapore artist Lim Tze Peng. Lim Born in 1921, Lim Tze Peng became the principal of Xin Ming Primary School and has been an educationist for 32 years. He is a self-taught artist, starting his artistic journey with watercolour and oil paint. He painted in the company of Chen Chong Swee, Yeh Chi Wei, Cheong Soo Pieng, and others. In fact, he was part of the well-known 10-men group that was headed by Yeh Chi Wei, that went on painting trips in South East Asia in the mid 1960’s. In the early 1970’s, Lim Tze Peng was fascinated with Chinese Ink Paintings and began painting with Chinese Ink. From then on, he worked mainly with that medium in his art creations. He reads widely. Besides Chinese Art literature, he also examines Western Art books. He continues researching and innovating his art practice, but never forgets his Chinese Calligraphy training. With a firm foundation in Chinese Calligraphy, and exposure to Western Art Approaches, he experimented both the different techniques of painting and various ideas of seeing and creating art and art narratives: blending Western and Chinese art ideas with Singaporean characteristics. It is not just about experimenting in the blending of different art techniques but also the idea of looking at Singapore landscapes from mix approaches, like we saw him do in his artworks discussed in this essay.


Lim Tze Peng loves painting in Ink with Chinese brushes. The expressive lines that he produces with ease due to his many years of calligraphy practice gave him the benefit of being able to concentrate on the content of his artwork without any hindrance from his polished skill in the Chinese Ink Tradition. In an essay written in 1948, Chen Chong Swee, an accomplished artist, art teacher, and art historian, gave his opinion about Western Painting: "As for the loveliness of lines and forcefulness of brushwork, I believe a paint brush of hog bristles dab in paint can never ever come close to the restraint achievable with a goat-hair brushed dabbed in ink. Only in the aspect of colours is Western painting somewhat richer than its Chinese counterpart. Even so, Chinese painting possesses a certain refined elegance not easily attainable in Western painting.” 3 Since the end of the Qing Dynasty, China had been searching for a Modernity that could be adopted and made relevant to the Chinese Society so as to catalyse its progress among the nations of the world. Many Chinese artists went abroad to Western cities to be educated in Western Modernism in hopes of contributing to the search for a Modernity that China could appropriate. Among them were Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian, Qiu Daiming, Su Mei and many others. A number of those artists also came to Singapore while in transit and contributed to the art scene in Singapore. Chen Chong Swee arrived in Singapore from China in 1931. He co-founded the Singapore Society of Chinese Artists and even experimented with Modernism while the conventional principles of Chinese ink painting were then still looking for new ideas to reform the Chinese painting genre, especially concerning the harmony that he thought existed from the syncretism of Western and Chinese Art practices. However, in 1974, in the 34th Graduation Magazine of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, he wrote: "Recently, I had the opportunity to observe works of art in China's major cities… Yet I do not think that the problem




of featuring new things in paintings has been solved because I feel that all sorts of disharmony in the images I saw. It is very difficult for me to articulate precisely what it was. Metaphorically speaking, the images were like a piece of Chinese classical writings peppered with grammatical particles such as "de', "ne", "ma' and "ya" to the point that the text could not be read smoothly. It was as if the painting had conformed to a Western style of painting and been compromised, or Chinese painting of a high level of artistic refinement had been forced to take the form of a piece of folk art or street poster’.4 Time moved on and through the last 50 years, there is now an oeuvre of Chinese Ink artworks in Singapore, where Singapore artists painting in Chinese Ink have attempted to free themselves from the bounds of traditional Chinese ways of expression and subjects. They have experimented and produced an oeuvre of artworks that seemed to have overcome the boundary of the Chinese Ink Tradition. Nevertheless, the artworks still maintain strong Chinese characteristics especially in the use of brush-lines in ink. These artists are mostly born and

educated in Singapore. They are not only taught the Chinese Ink Tradition but also are well-exposed to Western worldviews. Lim Tze Peng, also born and educated in Singapore, is an early member of this group, arguably the earliest in the group. With a multi-racial population and British dominance on the island for many years, the ubiquitous intersection of ideas influencing the everyday thoughts of the residents eventually shaped the island-state to have a unique approach in viewing the world around them. From the above discussion, we can see that artist Lim Tze Peng too has managed to incorporate Western Ideas from the Renaissance and Baroque that Wölfflin wrote about in his Principles of Art History. Lim Tze Peng also applied Post-Impressionist colours into his Chinese-Ink paintings, producing artworks that have successfully syncretised the West and East (Chinese) styles of painting, which Chen Chong Swee had been critical of in many of his essays. Lim Tze Peng even introduces the idea of the Post-Modern in his calligraphy, which has been discussed in other essays. These achievements are important to enable Singapore to stake a claim of uniqueness in the international art scene.

Woo Fook Wah (Dr.) Art Historian

1 Yeo, Mang Thong; “Essays on the History of Pre-War Chinese Painting in Singapore,” (Singapore Asia Research Institution (新加坡亚州研究学 会), 1992). 2 Zhong, Yu (钟瑜), “Malaysian Chinese Art History 1900-1965 (马来 西亚华⼈美术史 1900-1965),” (Zheng Shan International Art Group (正⼭国际设计艺术集团); Malaysia Art Academy, Eastern Art Research Centre (马来西亚艺术学院东⽅艺术研究中⼼), Malaysia 1999).

3 Chen Chong Swee, "A Diverse Discussion on Chinese and Western Painting," in "Unfettered Ink" ed. By Low Tze Wee and Grace Tng and translated by Chow Teck Seng, Goh Ngee Hui and Ng Kum Hoon, (National Gallery, Singapore 2017), p.16. 4 Chen Chong Swee, "A Casual Discussion on Innovation in Painting," in "Unfettered Ink" ed. By Low Tze Wee and Grace Tng and translated by Chow Teck Seng, Goh Ngee Hui and Ng Kum Hoon, (National Gallery, Singapore 2017), p.190."




1819 Sir Stamford Raffles, along with the British East India Company, lands on Singapore.

1822 Sir Stamford Raffles establishes his master Town Plan, allocating the west of Singapore River to the Chinese which eventually formed Chinatown.

28 September 1921


Born on September 28, in a kampong (village) in Pasir Ris, Lim Tze Peng is the eldest of seven children. His parents were farmers who reared pigs and chickens while also tapping rubber trees. Some records state Lim’s year of birth as 1923, but this was a false declaration made by the artist to appear younger, with the hope that he would be able to work longer in a job. This is how Singapore then was described by founding father and ex-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. “The population was less than a million and most of Singapore was covered by mangrove swamps, rubber plantations, and secondary forest because rubber had failed, and forests around Mandai/Bukit Timah took its place.”

c.1930 Beginning of what would later come to be known as the Nanyang Style, a style of painting pioneered by Singapore’s first generation artists, characterized by an experimental and syncretic approach to pictorial representation.

1 September 1939 Beginning of World War II.

8 February 1942 A young Lim Tze Peng.

The Japanese invade Singapore. (Lim Tze Peng is 20 years old.)




8–15 February 1942




The Battle of Singapore.

Lim Tze Peng and his students out for a drawing class.

15 February 1942 The Fall of Singapore. British surrender Singapore to the Japanese and the Japanese Occupation begins. 2 September 1945

Lim Tze Peng is appointed principal of Sin Ming Primary School, where he remained until 1981.

The Japanese officially surrender, ending World War II. c. 1950s 12 September 1945

Lim Tze Peng begins establishing his art practice. The Japanese Surrender Ceremony taking place in front of the Municipal Building on 12 Sep 1945. The Allied soldiers are parading in this ceremony.

3 June 1959 Singapore becomes self-governing city state under the British Crown. This was regarded as a great triumph and a step towards Independence. At the first general elections for a Legislative Assembly, the People’s Action Party’s Lee Kuan Yew becomes Prime Minister. (Lim Tze Peng is 37 years old.) 1960

The Japanese complete signing all the surrender documents and Singapore is returned to British Colonial rule. 1945

Lim Tze Peng makes a road trip to Malaya with Choo Keng Kwang, Chen Cheng Mei and Tan Teo Kwang, which would eventually lead to the informal gathering of what would be called the Ten Men Art Group. The group, led by Yeh Chi Wei, would also include Cheah Phee Chye, Lai Foong Moi, Lee Sik Khoon, Tan Miow Kheng, and Yeo Tiong Wah. 1961

Marriage of Lim Tze Peng to Soh Siew Lay. The couple would eventually have a total of six children. (Lim Tze Peng is 24 years old at the time.)

Lim Tze Peng with Yeh Chi Wei during one of their road trips


Lim Tze Peng travels once more to the east coast of Peninsula Malaya with the Ten Men Art Group, where the artists collected photographs, sketches and artifacts.

Lim Tze Peng graduates from Chung Cheng High School, where he had nurtured his talent for calligraphy. As a Chinese-medium school modelled after those in China, Chung Cheng High placed a heavy emphasis on the aesthetic education.

Yeh Chi Wei with Lim Tze Peng in Kelantan.

Tan Choh Tee, Lim Tze Peng and Hou Hsi-ching in Bali

31 August 1963

1949 Xin Min School after renovation

Lim sitting in a room with Balinese women, Bali, Indonesia

Lim Tze Peng begins his teaching career at Sin Ming Primary School.

Lim painting with curious onlookers around him.

Singapore gains de facto independence for the island state and joins the Federation of Malaya along with Borneo (as the State of Sabah) and Sarawak to form Malaysia. (Lim Tze Peng is 41 years old.)






Lim Tze Peng is awarded with the Public Administration Medal, Singapore.

Lim Tze Peng turns his focus from oil painting to ink painting.


1977 The once bustling Singapore River may soon turn into a graveyard for derelict lighters because of the downturn in the cargo handling business. Already, the historic waterway through which Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in singapore is cluttered with rotting, partially submerged and totally sunken lighters. Lighter owners and operators interviewed along Boat Quay said that unless business picked up soon, the river might be filled with derelicts in two years.

From Left to Right: Tan Choh Tee, Lim Tze Peng, Hou Hsi-ching, Phua Cheng Phue

The Ten Men Art Exhibition is held at the Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore. This exhibition featured paintings by Yeh Chi Wei, Lin Chiu Suang, Yeo Hwee Bin, Choo Keng Kwang, Shui Tit Sing, Tan Choo Kuan, Chee Pek Hoe, Tan Hock Beng, Tan Seah Boey and Keng Lih Juin. It was opened by Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam.

A panoramic view of the Singapore River (late 1970s)

9 August 1965 First Independence Day Celebration. National Day Parade 1966 at the Padang – President Yusof Ishak taking the salute at City Hall

Singapore breaks off from Malaysia to become fully independent. (Lim Tze Peng is 46 years old.)

Founding father of Singapore and then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew calls for a clean up of the Singapore River, which was heavily polluted due to constant traffic from trade and by the squatters who lived by the river and called it home. He proclaimed that “In 10 years let us have fishing in the Singapore River and Kallang River.” 1977 The Untitled Bali scene that won Lim the Special Prize, Commonwealth Art Exhibition, England (1977).

1967 Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 1968 Singapore holds its first general elections and the People’s Action Party wins all 58 seats. They remain the central governing party till today. c. 1970

Lim Tze Peng is awarded the Special Prize from Commonwealth Art Exhibition in England. 1978 Lim Tze Peng is a participant of the Singapore Artists Group Exhibition in Moscow, Russia.

Painting in Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia on a trip with the Ten Men Art Group.

Lim Tze Peng on the steps of a long house, Medan, Sumatra, 1962

Lim Tze Peng’s first solo exhibition, Singapore. Evolution of the Ten Men Art Group to the Southeast Asian Art Association, a formal entity with Yeh Chi Wei as the president. (Lim Tze Peng is 46 years old.)




1961 – c.1980


1989 Chinatown is marked as a conservation area, parts of which have their iconic buildings and shophouses preserved.

1990 Lee Kuan Yew steps down as prime minister after 31 years of service and hands over the reins to Goh Chok Tong.

1991 Lim Tze Peng and guests at the opening of the exhibition

Lim Tze Peng makes a total of six trips with the Ten Men Art Group to the Malaysian peninsula, Java, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Sarawak, Sabah, Brunei and Sumatra, as well as individual trips with Yeh Chi Wei, Liu Kang, Cheong Soo Pieng and Cheng Chong Swee. Lim continued the practice of painting en plein air in his later years, undaunted by the task of carrying his daily sketching supplies with him. c.1980s The old and the new lie side by side in Chinatown. But soon the old two-storey shophouses will give way to modern highrise buildings. This area, bounded by smith street, sago street, sago lane and new bridge road is being changed by urban redevelopment. Death houses lining sago lane, old hawker stalls in sago street, markets in smith street and other alleyways will soon be history as the area, along with the rest of Chinatown, goes modern.

Lim Tze Peng holds his 2nd Solo Exhibition: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, in the National Museum of Singapore.

For hawkers in Chinatown, the year of the tiger will end with a roar. With ‘roaring’ business, that is – as last minute shoppers throng the streets every night as if anxious to uphold the tradition of welcoming the new year in a big way despite inflation.


Significant publicity in Singapore about the impending ‘cleaning-up’ of Chinatown and the resettling of street hawkers, who would be redirected to the Kreta Ayer Complex. Existing shophouses had been demolished, and there was speculation that the remaining buildings in the area would be completely destroyed to make way for modernity.

1993 Ong Teng Cheong is Singapore’s first elected president.

Lim Tze Peng holds an exhibition entitled “Moments” at the Takashimaya Gallery in Singapore.

1998 1981 Lim Tze Peng is awarded Public Service Medal by Singapore. He retires as principal at Sin Ming Primary School and dedicates himself to painting the changing city-scape of Singapore. (He is 60 at the time.) 1987 The Singapore River Clean-up is completed within the deadline. Professor Tommy Koh giving an address at Meeting Places in Fleeting Spaces

Left to right: Guests with Lim Tze Peng, Soh Siew Lay, and Professor Tommy Koh

Lim Tze Peng partakes in “Meeting Places in Fleeting Spaces”, an exhibition held by the Singapore Art Museum.






c. Mid-2000s to the early 2010s S R Nathan at the inauguration ceremony held at Istana State Room, where he was sworn in as the sixth President of Singapore. Also present are Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (left) and Chief Justice Yong Pung How (right).

S.R. Nathan is elected as Singapore’s first Indian president.

Lim Tze Peng posing with a painting of a tree, c. 1990s, Bali, Indonesia

Lim Tze Peng begins work on a tree and roots inspired series, drawing from his love of nature.

2000 Lim Tze Peng spends a two-month residency in Paris, France, staying in the Cité Internationale des Arts (International City of Arts). Lim lived in one of the two apartments belonging to the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, leased in the late 1990s for use by artists of the Academy. During his stay, Lim documented the Parisian landscape en plein air. As a self-taught artist who learned from the works of Matisse and Picasso, and who names Cézanne as his favourite painter, Lim’s residency in the French capital inspired and renewed him. In his own words, it was a visit to the ‘mecca’ for artists of generations, past and future. (He is 79 years old.) c. 2000 Lim Tze Peng begins developing a new series of abstract calligraphic expression: 糊涂字 hu tu zi, which emphasized the expressiveness and elegance of strokes in calligraphy.

2004 Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, becomes Singapore’s third prime minister.

2006 Lim Tze Peng holds another eponymous exhibition, “Tze Peng in Paris” with the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, with a donation of 45 pieces to the academy. He also holds another exhibition the same year with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, entitled “Infinite Gestures- Recent Paintings by Lim Tze Peng”.



Lim Tze Peng with guests at the opening of his exhibition at the NTU Art and Heritage Gallery.

The landmark Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay opens. It is widely regarded as Singapore’s centre for the Arts. 2003

Lim Tze Peng holds an inaugural exhibition at NTU Art and Heritage Gallery in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He also holds another exhibition the same year with Art Retreat Museum, Singapore, entitled “Inroads: Lim Tze Pengs New Ink Work.”

Lim Tze Peng is awarded the Cultural Medallion Award for Art in Singapore. (He is 82 years old.)



Lim Tze Peng, Soh Siew Lay, and Jazz Chong at the opening of Inroads Lim Tze Peng giving an address at the opening of his eponymous exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum

Lim Tze Peng presenting a piece of art to Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lee Boon Yang

Lim Tze Peng holds his eponymous exhibition, “Tze Peng”, in the Singapore Art Museum, with a donation of 81 pieces.

Lim Tze Peng is the first Singaporean artist to be exhibited at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, with an exhibition entitled “Inroads: The Ink Journey of Lim Tze Peng”. With Inroads, Lim sought to break free from the shackles of on-site painting, seeking instead to look inward and paint by reflecting rather than observing. At the age of 88, Lim put years of internalized artistic material to paper once more, this time seeking out new ways of seeing.






13 October 2015

Lim Tze Peng holds “My Kampong, My Home” with Singapore Management University gallery. 2012

Jazz Chong presenting Lim Tze Peng with a bouquet at the opening of Impressions.

Guests at the opening of Impressions

Lim Tze Peng holds “Impressions”, an art exhibition with Ode To Art, Singapore. Guests at the opening of Black and White

Lim Tze Peng (centre) signing a copy of the Black and White exhibition catalogue

2016 Lim Tze Peng, President Tony Tan, Mary Tan, and family members

Lim Tze Peng holds two exhibitions, “Tze Peng in Bali” with Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore and “Black and White” with Ode to Art, Singapore. May 2012 Lim’s Singapore River Scene (1978) broke records by fetching HK$620,000 (S$101,800) at a Christie’s auction, a hitherto-unsurpassed price for a work by a living Singaporean artist.

Lim Tze Peng is awarded the Meritorious Service Medal at the National Day Awards. He also holds an exhibition with the National University of Singapore Museum entitled “Evening Climb: The Later Style of Lim Tze Peng”.


22 August 2016

Lim Tze Peng holds a solo exhibition entitled “ 攀登 The Journey” with Esplanade, Singapore.

S. R. Nathan passes away and Singapore enters a one-week mourning period. 14 September 2017


Halimah Yacob is elected as the first female president. 2018

Lim Tze Peng, Lee Hsien Loong, Wee Cho Yaw and students during the opening of Lim Tze Peng Art Gallery

Lim Tze Peng painting a Larger Than Life piece in his studio

Ode to Art presented Larger Than Life, a solo exhibition by Lim Tze Peng at Art Stage 2014

The Lim Tze Peng Art Gallery in Chung Cheng High School is opened, with over 100 pieces donated by the artist. Lim Tze Peng also exhibits his paintings at Art Stage: Larger Than Life, with Ode to Art, Singapore. Lim’s Larger Than Life paintings mark a significant change in the artist’s oeuvre, considering his advanced age at the time. They combine Lim’s calligraphic strokes with his desire to preserve elements of old Singaporean landscapes, resulting in monumental works with familiar themes.

Lim Tze Peng holds a solo exhibition titled “Portrait of the Heart” and a book launch in National Museum Singapore with Ode To Art, Singapore.

23rd March 2015

3 August – 15 September, 2019

Founding father Lee Kuan Yew passes away and Singapore enters a one-week mourning period.

Lim Tze Peng holds The Spirit of Ink ( 墨緣 ), a solo art exhibition in Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum with Ode To Art, Singapore in collaboration with IDF Singapore.

9 August 2015

28th September, 2020

Singapore celebrates its 50th National Day. (Lim Tze Peng is 94 years old.)

Lim Tze Peng turns 100 years old and opens its 7th solo exhibition with Ode to Art "A Century of Memories"

2019 Singapore’s Bicentennial, Singapore turns 200 since the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles.





Born in Singapore on 28 September 1921, Lim Tze Peng is one of Singapore’s most significant artists and a living legend. Renowned for his Chinese ink drawings and paintings of post-independence Singapore, he also practices Chinese calligraphy. Alongside numerous solo and group exhibitions, both local and international, his masterpieces are exhibited in the Singapore Art Museum and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and are part of many prestigious collections. Lim has been bestowed several awards including the Special Prize at the Commonwealth Art Exhibition in England in 1977 and the prestigious Cultural Medallion in Singapore in 2003. In May 2012, he broke records with the sale of his works at a Christies auction in Hong Kong.

Lim is famously known for his Chinese ink drawings and paintings of Chinatown and the Singapore River produced in the early 1980s after having embarked on his artistic journey in the 1950s. His paintings of these landmarks signified and reflected the change these prime locations were undergoing during urban development in Singapore. These paintings are a memory of what Lim saw as a Singaporean watching his kampong transform into an urbanized capital, and documented the cultural diversity and transformation of the city. Lim shows that Singapore’s multi-cultural environment may provide a context in which artists can respond to a variety of influences without being trapped in a defensive form of traditionalism or a superficial form of cosmopolitanism.

Even though Lim was born and educated in Singapore, his diligent studies and daily dedication to practicing his craft enabled him to excel in the Chinese ink tradition. His new ink works are deeply rooted in tradition, yet, they have a palpably contemporary feel and can be enjoyed by those who are schooled in other traditions.

Having a solid foundation in Chinese philosophy, art and culture, Lim also practiced Chinese calligraphy, especially in the 1990s. Lim’s creative impulses for his new works is clear, where previously it was “I see and I paint, now it’s I reflect and I paint.” His latest series of calligraphic works reveal a new level of artistic maturity – their raw energy reflect an aggressive swiftness and decisive ferocity, injecting the calligraphy with invigorating tension.



National Gallery Singapore




Lim Tze Peng: Black and White, Ode to Art Gallery, Singapore

Lim Tze Peng Art Gallery, Chung Cheng High School Tze Peng in Bali, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore Housing Development Board Singapore Nostalgic Memories of Chinatown – Paintings and Calligraphy by Lim Tze Peng, Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, Singapore

Prime Minister’s Office Singapore Singapore Airline 2010

My Kampong, My Home, Singapore Management University Gallery, Singapore


The Calligraphic Impulses of Lim Tze Peng, Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, Singapore

Singapore Art Museum Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation United Overseas Bank

Inroads: The Ink Journey of Lim Tze Peng, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China

Swiss Bank

Lim Tze Peng Solo Exhibition, Ode to Art Gallery, Singapore

Four Seasons Hotel, Singapore Shenn’s Fine Art, Singapore

Inroads: The Ink Journey of Lim Tze Peng, Liu Haisu Art Museum, Shanghai, China

IBM Singapore Pte Ltd Lee Kong Chian Art Museum, National University of Singapore


Inroads: Lim Tze Peng’s New Ink Work, Art Retreat Museum, Singapore

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), Singapore





2018 2016


Solo Exhibition, Impressions, Ode to Art, Singapore


Tze Peng: Songs from the Heart, de Suantio Gallery, Singapore Management University, Singapore



Solo Exhibition, The Journey ( 攀登) , Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay Lim Tze Peng: A Private Collection, The Private Museum, Singapore

Tze Peng in Paris, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore Infinite Gestures-Recent Paintings by Lim Tze Peng, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore

Portrait of the Heart ( 心象) , Ode to Art, Singapore Evening Climb: The Later Style of Lim Tze Peng, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore

Lim Tze Peng: Singapore River Memory, Cape of Good Hope Gallery, Singapore Springtime Echo – Lim Tze Peng Recent Paintings, Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, Singapore

"A Century of Memories", a virtual exhibition with Ode to Art, Singapore The Spirit of Ink ( 墨緣) , Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, India

Inaugural Exhibition, NTU Art and Heritage Gallery, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Tze Peng, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore


Meeting Places in Fleeting Spaces, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore


Moments by Lim Tze Peng, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore


2nd Solo Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore


1st Solo Exhibition, Singapore






Nanyang Visionaries: Ten Second Generation Singaporean Artists & Their Innovations in Nanyang Style, ION Art Gallery, Singapore


The Singapore Showcase: Growing Roots and Venturing Beyond, Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, Singapore


Celebrating at ION – Living with Art: An Exhibition of Modern and Classic Paintings, ION Art Gallery, Singapore


The Society of Chinese Artists 70th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition, Singapore


Crossroads: Collected Works of Second-Generation Artists, NUS Museum, Singapore


65th Anniversary Exhibition of The Society of Chinese Artists, Singapore


Singapore Art Society 50th Anniversary Exhibition, Singapore


The Reflection of Europe, The Society of the Artists, Singapore


CAP III Inkscape, Singapore Artists Directory Exhibition, Empress Place Museum, Singapore, Art in Asia, Singapore Art Fair 1993, Shenn’s Fine Art, Tze Peng by Himself


International Chinese Calligraphy Exhibition, Beijing, China


International Chinese Calligraphy Exhibition, Seoul, South Korea


Contemporary Art in Singapore: Where East Meets West, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam; Deutsche Bank AG, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Nuremburg; Mannheimer Kunstverein, Mannheim; Federal Republic of Germany New York Art Expo 89, New York, USA 1st Bru-Sin Art Exhibition 89, National Museum Art Gallery, Brunei Salon des Artists Francais, Grand Palais, Paris, France NAFA Lecturers Art Exhibition 88, Singapore


Three-man Art Exhibition, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan


ASEAN Art Exhibition, various ASEAN countries Eighth International Artists Art Exhibition, Taiwan

Highlights of Southeast Asian Collection, NUS Museum, Singapore.





Seventh International Artists Art Exhibition, Taiwan


Singapore Calligraphy Exhibition, Singapore


Fifth Festival of Asian Art, Hong Kong


Singapore Artists Group Exhibition, Moscow, Russia Singapore Historical Monuments Exhibition, Singapore



Royal Overseas League Exhibition, England


Meritorious Service Award, Singapore


Cultural Medallion Award, Singapore


National Day Award (PBM), Singapore


Special Prize, Commonwealth Art Exhibition, England


National Day Award (PPA), Singapore


A Century of Memories Lim Tze Peng First published 2020

Ode To Art Raff les City 252 North Bridge Road, Raff les City Shopping Centre, #01-36E/F, Singapore 179103 Tel: +65 6250 1901 Fax: +65 6250 5354 info@odetoart.com odetoart.com © Ode To Art 2019 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed and bound in Singapore

“ The meaning no longer matters; all that

matters is how brush and ink have been applied. What is important is how you express yourself artistically, what artistic effect you can achieve from the different tones of ink when you are applying wash or dry brush, whether your composition is loose or compact. ”

Lim Tze Peng

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