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Visual Arts

Chia Wai Hon

Visual artist, educator and critic.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Whether the "artist" in the person can be released will depend largely on his environment, the encouragement he gets, the support given and the opportunities available for creative activity.

– Teaching and Learning, Institute of Education, 1993.

Chia Wai Hon is a Singapore artist, art educator and art critic. He taught at the Teachers' Training College, LASALLE College of the Arts and the Ministry of Education, and served on the committees of the Shell Discovery Art Exhibition initiative and the Arts Resource Panel by the National Arts Council. Chia champions the importance of art to be included in the Singapore school curriculum and his writings have been collated into the book Bits and Pieces: Writings on Art (2002).

Born on 23 December 1927 in Singapore, Chia Wai Hon received his early education at Gan Eng Seng School and Raffles Institution before attending Teachers' Training College in 1951. After a three-year stint as a teacher, he went on to attain a National Diploma in Design and Painting from the Chelsea School of Art in London, UK and an Art Teacher’s Certificate from the University of London, UK, in 1959 and 1961 respectively before returning to Singapore. He later obtained a Master of Arts at the University of Michigan, US.

For Chia, his pursuit of art began after the end of World War II in 1945. He joined a small group of artists which included pioneer Singapore watercolourist Lim Cheng Hoe, school principal T. Y. Choy, Chew Cheng Toh and occasionally Dr Kwan Sai Kheong. They would head out on Sundays to paint at various locations around Singapore. The group's favourite locations were the Singapore River, the Malay kampongs in Bedok and Pasir Panjang, and Chinatown.

Like a few of his peers who had also received an art education overseas, Chia returned to Singapore with an interest in formal abstraction. In an interview for a series of talks that he gave in 1979, he said: "Art is not just taking nature onto a canvas. It is a search for the inner truth, a spiritual quality…You begin to be interested in shapes, textures, lines, not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. It can be just a feel for colours that triggers the creative urge in you." Whether in painting or drawing—a medium he favoured—his abstract works contained sensitive interactions of shapes, forms, colours and textures.

Chia's artistic practice extended into nude works in the late ’80s. Fellow artists S. Namasivayam and Sim Tong Khern began organising life sessions at the college, on Saturdays. The three artists Namasivayam, Sim and Chia led by Joseph McNally, founded Group 90, an informal arts group dedicated to the study and interpretation of the human nude form. The group went on to hold their first exhibition Figurama at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts gallery in 1991.

Besides his artistic practice, Chia also embarked on a significant career as an arts educator and critic when he returned from the UK. He started working as an art lecturer at the Teachers' Training College in 1961. He held this full-time position for 26 years, of which he served five years as head of the School of Curriculum Studies, and eight years as the head of the Art Education Department. He retired in 1987, but never stopped his involvement in art education completely, continuing to serve as a part-time lecturer and writer at the College, now named Institute of Education. He also went on to become a part-time lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts and the Ministry of Education.

At the same time, Chia also became one of the early art critics in Singapore. He broadcasted art commentaries on Radio Singapore in the ’70s and wrote art reviews for newspapers in the ’80s, offering his views on both the arts and art education in Singapore. His art writings were extensive and covered the developments in the Singapore art scene through the decades, and Chia became one the island’s most notable art writers.

Throughout his career in art criticism and education, Chia's push for the placing of more importance on the subject of Art in Singapore's school curriculum was incessant. He believed that art had a supportive role and link with other subjects in the school curriculum, and that it was essential for the all-round development of a young student. He wrote regularly on the matter, and championed his case through talks and seminars. Chia's selected writings over a 40-year span were collated into a book, edited by art historian T. K. Sabapathy, entitled Bits and Pieces: Writings on Art (2002).

Chia also contributed his time to a number of committees and boards. He joined the Singapore Art Society in 1962, serving as its secretary for four years and exhibiting regularly at the society's annual exhibitions. He went on to become a committee member and judge of Shell Discovery Art Exhibition, an initiative in the ’80s to promote young artists. He also served as a member in the Advisory Committee for Public Sculpture by the Ministry of National Development and as a member of the Arts Resource Panel by the National Arts Council.

Timeline

23 Dec 1927

Born in Kampong Bahru, Singapore.

1934 to 1940

Attended Gan Eng Seng School, Singapore.

1945 to 1948

Attended Raffles Institution, Singapore.

1951 to 1953

Attended Teachers' Training College, Singapore. Graduated with a Normal Certificate.

1953 to 1955

Trained teacher (Primary), Ministry of Education, Singapore.

1955 to 1959

Attended Chelsea School of Art, London, UK. Graduated with National Diploma in Design and Painting.

1960 to 1961

Attended University of London Institute of Education, UK. Graduated with Art Teacher's Certificate.

1961 to 1971

Art lecturer, Teachers' Training College, Singapore.

1962

On a number of judging/ selection committees including National Exhibition, Singapore; Pictures for India Exhibition; and the Malaysia Art Exhibition.

1962 to 1965

Secretary, Singapore Art Society.

1962 to 1967

Participated in Singapore Art Society annual exhibition, Singapore.

1963

On the selection committee for the South East Asia Cultural Festival Art Exhibition.

1971 to 1973

Head, Art Department, Teachers’ Training College, Singapore.

1972

Participated in Singapore Teachers' Art exhibition, Singapore.

1973 to 1974

Head, Department of Art Education, Teachers' Training College, Singapore.

1974

Participated in 25th Anniversary Artists' exhibition, Singapore.

1974 to 1975

Attended University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, US. Graduated with Master of Arts.

1975 to 1979

Head, School of Curriculum Studies, Institute of Education, Singapore.

1975 to 2002

Committee member, Singapore Post Stamp Design (now Stamp Advisory Committee).

1976

Participated in United World College 5th Festival of the Arts exhibition, Singapore.

Participated in National Museum Art Gallery inaugural exhibition, Singapore.

1979

Participated in Art 79 exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.

Presented paper Whither the Fine Arts, Singapore Towards the Year 2000 seminar, Singapore Science Centre.

Speaker, talks on art appreciation, People's Association, Singapore.

1980

Singapore representative, 5th Festival of Asian Arts, Hong Kong.

1980 to 1987

Head, Art Education Department, National Institute of Education, Singapore.

1980 to 1991

Singapore Coin Advisory Committee.

1982

Editor, Singapore Artists, co-published by Singapore Cultural Foundation and Federal Publications.

1988

Exhibition – Resurgence: Art Exhibition by 4 Singapore Artists, Goethe Institut Singapore

Selection committee member and judge, Shell Discovery Art Exhibition, Singapore.

Participated in Singapore Teachers' Art exhibition.

Member, Advisory Committee for Public Sculpture, Ministry of National Development, Singapore.

1988 to 1989

Part-time lecturer, Institute of Education, Singapore.

1988 to 1990

Part-time writer, Curriculum Development, Institute of Education, Singapore. He wrote Art for Upper Secondary Part B and Teachers' Guide.

1988 to 2000

Member, Shell Discovery Art Exhibition Committee.

1988 to 2001

Singapore Art Museum Acquisition Committee.

1990

Founding member, Group 90.

Participated in Singapore Art Fair exhibition.

1990 to 1991

On the board for Artists! Task force for creative services of the Economic Development Curatorial Committee. They organised Art in Asia – Singapore Art Fair ’93.

1991

Participated in Figurama exhibition, Group 90, Singapore.

Participated in Singapore Art Society annual exhibition.

1991 to 1996

External examiner for graduating students of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

1992 to 1993

External examiner, LaSalle – SIA College of the Arts.

1992

Participated in The Figure In Art exhibition, Group 90, Singapore.

Participated in Singapore Teachers' Art exhibition.

1992 to 1994

Part-time lecturer, LASALLE College of the Arts.

Part-time lecturer on Art Education, Ministry of Education, Singapore.

1993

On the board for Artists! Task force for creative services of the Economic Development Curatorial Committee. They organised Art in Asia – Singapore Art Fair ’93.

1994

Participated in Art of the Nude exhibition, Group 90, Singapore.

1995

Judge, Asian Art Biennale, Bangladesh.

1995 to 1996

Judge, Philip Morris Group of Companies, Singapore Art Awards.

1996

Monograph on Singapore watercolourist Gog Sing Hooi (1933 – 1994), which was published by the President's Office and Singapore Watercolour Society.

1996 to 2000

Member, Arts Resource Panel, National Arts Council, Singapore.

1997

Curator, Liu Kang at 87 art exhibition.

1999 to 2001

Involved in the National University of Singapore Acquisitions Committee for the South and Southeast Asian Art Collection.

2001

Published See Cheen Tee: Artist Extraordinaire: Master Draughtsman, Printmaker, Painter, and Cartoonist.

2002

Selected writings published as Bits and Pieces: Writings on Art, edited by T. K. Sabapathy.

2010

Donated 17 of his art works to The National Art Gallery, Singapore.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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