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Khor Ean Ghee

Second-generation watercolourist.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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I started from primary school to train myself.

Khor Ean Ghee is an established second-generation watercolourist. Trained in Taiwan and London, he has contributed tremendously to the development of local watercolour painting not only as an artist but as a former President of the Singapore Art Society, a founding member of the Singapore Watercolour Society, and an advisor to the Federation of Art Societies in Singapore.

Khor also founded the World Watercolour Painting Federation and lectured at both LASALLE College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. His paintings masterfully depict streetscapes from heritage areas in Penang and Singapore and were exhibited throughout Southeast and East Asia as well as London. Khor is also highly esteemed in Singapore for another reason: He is the designer behind Singapore’s iconic ’70s Housing & Development Board playgrounds, including the celebrated "Dragon playground".

Khor Ean Ghee was born on 1 December 1934 in Penang, Malaysia. He had a talent for art making from an early age. While in primary school, he received first prize in an art competition for his painting of a cat.

Khor attended Chung Ling High School from 1948 to 1957, and was Malaysia's first Queen Scout in 1952. He studied art under late pioneer artist Khaw Sia. Under Khaw's mentorship and driven by a budding passion, a young Khor became particularly adept at watercolour painting.

In 1954, his watercolour paintings were accepted and showcased at The Summer Salon, England. The following year, they were displayed at London’s Royal Institute of Watercolour. Encouraged by this early success, Khor held his first solo exhibition the subsequent year at the age of 22. Paintings by Khor Ean Ghee, held in Penang, was a success. That same year, he also took part in Penang's Flower Competition and won the 1st prize.

In the next year (1957), Khor enrolled in the Taiwan Normal University in Taipei to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts. There, he studied various forms including Chinese painting, but discovered that he was passionate about his first love – watercolour. While in Taiwan, he joined the 1960 Watercolour Painting Competition (Overseas Student category) and won the second prize. In 1961, he graduated and returned to Malaysia.

Back in his hometown in Penang, Khor promptly returned to his alma mater, Chung Ling High School, where he took on the roles of Scoutmaster (11th Georgetown, Penang), art teacher and disciplinarian. However, his salary at the time was low as his degree from the Taiwanese university was not recognised by the Malaysian government.

To supplement his income, Khor found additional work as a lower and upper form senior art master teaching Saturday evening classes at M.B.S., Penang. He taught at both schools for almost three years before he resigned in August 1964 to pursue further studies. Before he commenced his studies, however, few weeks after his resignation, he held his second solo exhibition, Pameran Lukisan oleh Khor Ean Ghee (Art Exhibition by Khor Ean Ghee), at Selangor Club Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Shortly after, Khor left for London, UK. From 1964 to 1968, he studied for a Diploma in Interior Design at the School of Architecture, North London University.

After graduating, Khor came to Singapore to seek employment. Here, he met other young watercolour enthusiasts like himself. On 18 August 1969, 13 of them—including Chen Chong Swee and Ho Yee Ping—founded the Singapore Watercolour Society, a group that he eventually led as President for a number of years (1972-1973, 1977-1978, 1989-1990).

The Society met regularly to paint en plein air at various locations around Singapore. Between them, they produced many of Singapore's best watercolour landscape paintings, ones that captured vividly the scenes and sentiments of a historic era in which an old Singapore was gradually giving way to the new.

In 1969, Khor landed a position as an interior designer with Singapore's Housing & Development Board. However, instead of working on interiors, he was tasked with designing the landscapes of public housing estates and in the ’70s, he was assigned to design the estates' playgrounds as well. There were very few playgrounds in Singapore then, except for a few random swings, see-saws and slides made of metal and timber.

With more high-rise HDB estates being planned and built to accommodate a growing population, these new spaces needed playgrounds. With no prior experience in playground design, Khor turned to his imagination and, in the early till mid ’70s, designed playgrounds where swings, slides and merry-go-rounds were incorporated into large mosaic sculptures of animals such as the pelican, giraffe, tortoise and rabbit.

In 1979, Khor was tasked to create more playgrounds, new designs with a strong Singapore identity. Khor looked to local culture and history for inspiration and came up with playgrounds with play structures that resembled old-time icons such as the bumboat, rickshaw, phoenix and the now famous terrazzo and mosaic-tiled dragon.

At the same time, Khor kept practising his art. In addition to painting landscapes of Singapore, he also painted scenes of rural life, nature and heritage areas in dother Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia and Thailand. He participated in many group exhibitions such as the Singapore Art Society's and Singapore Watercolour Society's annual art exhibitions. In April 1977, he held his third solo exhibition, Art Exhibition by Khor Ean Ghee, at Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

After 15 years with the HDB, Khor left the public service in 1984. However, he did not retire to a life of leisure. He continued being involved with several boards, committees and societies including being a Board Member of the School of Ornamental Horticulture (1977-1984), Member of the Applied Arts Trade Advisory Committee (1977-1987), a Fellow of the British Institute of Interior Design (1979-present), a President and subsequently Vice President of the Singapore Watercolour Society (1989-1990; 1994-1996), a Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designer, England (1989-present), a Vice President and subsequently Honorary Treasurer, and afterwards, the President of the Federation of Art Societies (1990-1993; 1994-1995; 1996-2005), and the President of the Singapore Art Society (1996-2010).

Two years after receiving the Long Service Award from Singapore’s Vocational and Industrial Training Board of the Applied Arts Trade Advisory Committee in 1987, Khor started working again, this time as a Senior Lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. He taught for a year, and in 1991, he made a switch and became a Property Manager at the institution, a job he retained for six years until 1997.

But most importantly, he remained dedicated to his art-making, participating in many group art exhibitions in Singapore as well as overseas in Thailand, Korea, China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Japan and Malaysia.

In 1994, almost two decades after his previous solo exhibition, Khor held his fourth solo exhibition. Watercolours of Penang by Khor Ean Ghee was held at The Art Gallery in Khor's Penang hometown. Six years later in 2001, he held his fifth solo exhibition, Watercolour Paintings by Khor Ean Ghee 2001, at the Exhibition Hall, Orchard Point, Singapore. A sixth quickly followed. Watercolour Paintings by Khor Ean Ghee 2002 was held at the Penang State Museum & Art Gallery in Penang the following year.

But it would be another five years before his next solo exhibition emerged. After winning the top prize (外务大臣赏) at the Japan Modern Fine Arts Exhibition in Osaka, Japan, in 2005 and receiving the Gold Medal of Excellence from Jiangsu Watercolour Research Institute in China in 2007, Khor put together his seventh solo exhibition, Watercolour Art Exhibition by Khor Ean Ghee 2008, at Penang State Museum & Art Gallery, Malaysia

Today, Khor remains an important member of several societies including the Japan Modern Fine Arts Association of Osaka, Japan (2002-present), Singapore's Federation of Art Societies and the Asia Watercolour Painting Alliance (2006-present), and China's Jiangsu Watercolour Research Institute (2007-present). He is the Honorary President of the Singapore Art Society. He remains involved in the World Watercolour Painting Federation which he founded in 2005, and he is a lifelong member of the Penang Watercolour Society and Penang Arts Society.

Currently, his watercolour paintings grace the premises of various government and corporate offices in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand including the offices of HDB, the National Kidney Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore; the Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur; the Penang State Art Gallery; the Bangkok National Art Gallery; IBM offices, Silkair, and various banks including OCBC, ICB and Maybank.

They may also be found in many private collections in Singapore and overseas. Many of them depict streetscapes in heritage parts of Malaysia (mainly Penang) and Singapore, masterfully rendered, tranquil and sympathetic.

Khor's playgrounds, on the other hand, have dwindled in number over the years as many were replaced by newer equipment. Today, very few playgrounds designed by Khor remain, but several including the "Dragon playground", Khor's personal favourite, are still fondly remembered by many Singaporeans who were born in the ’70s and ’80s. Together with Khor's watercolours, they represent an era of quiet charm and spirit from old Singapore.

Timeline

1 Dec 1934

Born in Penang, Malaysia.

1948 to 1949

Attained later primary school education at Chung Ling High School in Penang, Malaysia.

1950 to 1953

Underwent Junior I – III at Chung Ling High School in Penang, Malaysia.

1952 to Present

Became Malaya's first Queen's Scout.

1954

Watercolour paintings accepted in Summer Salon, England.

1954 to 1957

Underwent Senior I – III at Chung Ling High School in Penang, Malaysia.

1955

Watercolour paintings accepted in the Royal Institute of Watercolour, London.

1956

First Prize at the Flower Competition, Penang, Malaysia.

1957

Solo exhibition, Paintings by Khor Ean Ghee, in Penang, Malaysia.

1957 to 1961

Pursued a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts at Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan.

1960

Second Prize Watercolour Painting Competition (Overseas Student category), Taiwan.

1961 to 1964

Scoutmaster (11th Georgetown, Penang) of Chung Ling High School, Penang, Malaysia.

Jan 1962 to Aug 1964

Art teacher and disciplinarian at Chung Ling (Afternoon)High School, Penang, Malaysia.
Lower and Upper Form Senior Art Master of Saturday evening classes at M.B.S., Penang, Malaysia.

17 Sep 1964 to 21 Sep 1964

Second solo exhibition, Pameran Lukisan oleh Khor Ean Ghee (Art Exhibition by Khor Ean Ghee), at Selangor Club Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1964 to 1968

Pursued a Diploma in Interior Design at the School of Architecture, North London University, London.

1969

One of the founding members of the Singapore Watercolour Society.

1969 to 1984

Interior Designer with the Housing & Development Board, Singapore.

1972 to 1973

President of the Singapore Watercolour Society.

1977 to 1978

President of the Singapore Watercolour Society.

1977 to 1984

Board Member of the School of Ornamental Horticulture, Singapore.

1977 to 1987

President of the Singapore Watercolour Society.

1977 to 1978

Member of the Applied Arts Trade Advisory Committee, Singapore.

1 Apr 1977 to 3 Apr 1977

Third solo exhibition, Art Exhibition by Khor Ean Ghee, at Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

1979 to Present

Fellow, British Institute of Interior Design (FIBD).

26 Nov 1987

Received the Long Service Award from the Vocational and Industrial Training Board of the Applied Arts Trade Advisory Committee, Singapore.

1989 to 1990

Senior Lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore.
President of the Singapore Watercolour Society.

1989 to Present

Fellow, Chartered Society of Designer, England (FCSD).

1990 to 1993

Vice President of the Federation of Art Societies, Singapore.

1991 to 1997

Property Manager at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore.

1994

Fourth solo exhibition, Watercolours of Penang by Khor Ean Ghee, at The Art Gallery in Penang, Malaysia.

1994 to 1995

Honorary Treasurer of the Federation of Art Societies, Singapore.

1994 to 1996

Vice President of the Singapore Watercolour Society.

1996 to 2005

President of the Federation of Art Societies, Singapore.

1996 to 2010

President of the Singapore Art Society.

1996 to Present

Representative of the People's Association Corporate member.

1998 to 2005

Vice President of the Federation of Art Societies, Singapore.

26 Oct 2001 to 31 Oct 2001

Fifth solo exhibition, Watercolour Paintings by Khor Ean Ghee 2001, at the Exhibition Hall, Orchard Point, Singapore.

1 Apr 2002 to 14 Apr 2002

Sixth solo exhibition, Watercolour Paintings by Khor Ean Ghee 2002, in Penang State Museum & Art Gallery, Penang, Malaysia.

2002 to Present

Council Member with the Japan Modern Fine Arts Association, Osaka, Japan.

2003 to Present

One of the trustees of the Dr Tan Tsze Chor-Singapore ArtSociety Trust, Singapore.

2005

Top Winner Prize (外务大臣赏) of the Japan Modern Fine Arts Exhibition, Osaka, Japan.

2005 to Present

Founder of World Watercolour Painting Federation.

2006 to Present

Advisor with the Federation of Art Societies, Singapore.
Advisor with the Asia Watercolour Painting Alliance.

2007

Received the Gold Medal of Excellence from Jiangsu Watercolour Research Institute, China.

2007 to Present

Honorary member with the Jiangsu Watercolour Research Institute, China.

Jan 2008 to Feb 2008

Seventh solo exhibition, Watercolour Art Exhibition by Khor Ean Ghee 2008, in Penang State Museum & Art Gallery, Malaysia.

2011 to Present

Honorary President of the Singapore Art Society.


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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