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Visual Arts

Chng Seok Tin

One of Singapore's most versatile and engaging multidisciplinary artists.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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As an artist, you cannot just hide in your own tower. You should be concerned about society, about human beings, about the environment. Nowadays we talk a lot about how to save the world. We should be talking about how to save the human being.

Chng Seok Tin is one of Singapore’s most versatile and engaging multidisciplinary artists. Born in 1946 and educated in Singapore, UK, France and USA, the artist and published writer has held 26 solo exhibitions and participated in more than 100 group exhibitions since the ’70s. Featuring printmaking, drawing, painting, collage, photography, installation, and largely mixed media and sculpture following her visual impairment in 1988, Chng's art practice is distinguished by her unflagging spirit and social engagement, her works speaking powerfully of the human condition. She was named Woman of the Year 2001 by Her World magazine. In 2005, she received the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to visual arts in Singapore.

Chng Seok Tin was born in 1946 in Singapore. Her interest in art began in Chung Cheng High School, first as a theatrical make-up artist for the school’s Drama Society and then as a member of the Art Society. This was for her a “wonderful time” because she was able to take part in exhibitions at the Victoria Memorial Hall. When she graduated, she studied Western art under a distinguished art master Yeo Hwee Bin, learning still life, watercolour, oil painting, sculpture, and going on excursions to practise landscape painting and learn from nature.

With a Certificate in Education from the Teachers’ Training College, Chng began her working life teaching Chinese as a second language at Tanjong Katong Girls School. Ten years later, in 1975, Chng decided to embrace a formal art education.

She studied art first at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), then at the St. Martin’s School of Art in London. When she received a Lee Foundation Study Award immediately after, she enrolled in the Hull College of Higher Education where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours) in Fine Art. A year later in 1980, she received the first Cultural Foundation Award and embarked on another series of further studies in art, with postgraduate studies at the Hornsey College of Art at the Middlesex Polytechnic in the UK. She then studied Intaglio and Engraving at Atelier 17 in Paris, and moved onto New Mexico State University and the University of Iowa, obtaining two master's degrees majoring in printmaking.

Upon graduation from University of Iowa in 1985, Chng worked in Hong Kong for half a year as an art editor, then returned to Singapore to teach printmaking at NAFA, LASALLE College of the Arts and later at National Institute of Education, a role she enjoyed until her retirement from teaching in 1997.

All this while, she delved into art-making, going beyond printmaking to explore drawing, painting, collage, mixed media, textiles, photography, ceramic, sculpture in various materials including clay, wood and bronze, and installation. She created many works sparked by the boundless inspiration she found in the natural world. Her earlier works in particular reveal a deep and abiding love for nature, her early prints featuring the picturesque landscapes of Hull where she was a student in the ’70s. She also increasingly found sources of inspiration in the human condition. As her art-making progressed, her artworks began to express her strong concerns with human, social and environmental issues, revealing a dichotomy between the idyllic fragility of nature and the tensions and drama of human nature.

In 1988 after tragically losing most of her eyesight after a surgical operation to remove a brain abscess, Chng plunged into a state of despair. A year later, she emerged from it with a new sense of self, a new approach to art, and a solo exhibition of a staggering 175 works that showed an instinctive feel for colour unimpeded by imperfect sight. Her works, post 1988, also focused more on sculpture and mixed media, sometimes using unexpected natural materials such as dried lily buds or kim chiam (“golden needles” in Hokkien), a traditional Chinese food item, made into tiny human figurines in Wonders of Golden Needles in 2007.

A less known fact about Chng is that she is also an established Chinese writer. An avid reader, she began writing recreationally early in life as a student, and over the decades, while practicing art, has remained committed to her love of the written word. In 1977, she won the second prize in the WorldWide Chinese Essay Competition organised by the Wide Angle Press, Hong Kong, and has since published 13 collections of short stories, social commentaries, travel writings, essays on art and other prose. For her literary contributions, she received the Singapore Chinese Literary Award by the Singapore Literature Society in 2007.

From her first solo exhibition in 1977, Chng has since held over 26 solo exhibitions and participated in more than 100 group exhibitions in Singapore and overseas. Today, Chng is the President of the Printmaking Society (Singapore), and many of her works may be found in private and public collections around the world.

For her courage and contribution to the arts, she was named the Woman of the Year 2001 by Her World magazine, and she received the Cultural Medallion in 2005.

On 6 Sep 2019, Chng Seok Tin passed away in Singapore at the age of 73.

Timeline

6 Oct 1946

Born in Singapore.

1959 to 1964

Attended Chung Cheng High School.

1966 to 1975

Taught Chinese language at Tanjong Katong Girls’ School.

1966 to 1968

Graduated with Certificate in Education, Teachers’ Training College, Singapore .

1971 to 1972

Graduated with a Diploma in Western Painting Course, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore.

1975 to 1976

Foundation Studies in Fine Art, St. Martin’s School of Art, London, UK.

1976 to 1979

Received the Lee Foundation Study Award, Singapore.

1976 to 1979

Graduated with Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours), Hull College of Higher Education, Hull, UK.

1977

Held over 26 solo and over 100 group exhibitions.

1977

Won Second Prize in the WorldWide Chinese Essay Competition organised by Wide Angle Press, Hong Kong.

1980

Received the Singapore Cultural Foundation Award by the Ministry of Culture for postgraduate studies at Hornsey College of Art, Middlesex Polytechnic, UK.

1980 to 1981

Studied Intaglio and Engraving, Atelier 17, Paris, France.

1981 to 1983

Teaching Assistantship at the Art Department, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA.

Obtained Master of Arts (Major in Printmaking), New Mexico State University, Las Cruses, USA.

1983 to 1985

Obtained Master of Fine Arts (Honours) (Major in Printmaking), University of Iowa, Iowa, USA.

1984

Finalist at the Photographers’ Forum 1984 Student Photo Contest, California, USA.

1985

Tuition scholarship from the School of Art, The University of Iowa, Iowa, USA.

Honourable Mention in YBOR National Print Show, Tampa, Florida, USA.

1986

Returned to Singapore. Became a teacher of printmaking at NAFA and LASALLE College of the Arts and later at National Institute of Education.

1995

Singapore Representative (Best Lyrics Composition), 3rd Asia Wataboshi Music.

1997

Retired from teaching.

2002

Received Woman of the Year Award 2001 by Her World Magazine, Singapore.

2005

Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to visual art.

2007

Received Singapore Chinese Literary Award 2007 by the Singapore Literature Society.

2 Apr 2014 to 19 Apr 2014

Solo exhibition Gather & Disperse, featuring over 30 bronze works from the 1990s till present, Art-2 Gallery, Singapore.

6 Sep 2019

Passed away in Singapore at the age of 73.


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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