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Loh Khee Yew

An artist and a pioneer of design education in Singapore

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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To become a professional artist, you need time to learn skills. You also need to know the environment in which we live so that you are equipped to be in a position to improve yourself to the extent where you can paint and draw in whatever form you like at different levels.

Loh Khee Yew is an artist and a pioneer of design education in Singapore. After studying art, design and advertising at the Alberta College of Art in Canada on a Colombo Plan scholarship in the late ’60s, he returned to Singapore to work in advertising and subsequently pioneered the design curriculum at LASALLE College of the Arts as the dean of the design faculty from 1992 to 1995. Concurrently a practising artist with Joseph McNally’s Group 90 artists’ alliance, he retired from teaching in 1996 to focus on art-making. Since then, he has become an established Singapore contemporary artist, known for his exploration of different techniques and media and for his skill at using calligraphic strokes to illustrate the human body.

Born on 15 Oct 1933 in Singapore, Loh Khee Yew’s primary school studies were halted temporarily for three years during the Japanese Occupation. During this period, he worked as a grass-cutter with other children for a year, then as a young apprentice at an engineering firm at Pulau Brani for a year, and finally as a shoemaker for a few months. After the Japanese surrendered, Loh resumed his studies at Rangoon Primary School, where he was an avid boy scout and poster contest participant. He moved on to Victoria School for his secondary school education, followed by Raffles Institution.

After graduation, Loh, who had always loved art since he was a young boy, flirted very briefly with thoughts of being an artist, but became a teacher instead. His education career would be a long and fruitful one, lasting from 1958 to 1982. At the same time, he never left his passion for art behind, taking portraiture lessons from pioneer Singapore artist Liu Kang. A creative thinker with an eye for design, he also offered his design services to advertising agencies for free during school breaks.

In 1966, Loh was awarded the Colombo Plan Scholarship and went to Canada where he embarked on a four-year programme at Alberta College of Art studying art, advertising and design. Although the experience was challenging for him because he had to leave his wife and young children at home in Singapore while he stayed in Canada, it opened a world of opportunities for him, none of which could be found then in Singapore which at the time had no design school.

When Loh returned to Singapore in 1970, he was determined to bring design into his teaching, becoming a pioneer of design education in Singapore. He refocused his teaching subjects to design and he continued in this vein until 1982 when he left the teaching profession. During this time, he had little time to practise his art, but painted when he could.

In 1982, Loh embarked on his second career as a designer. He started out in corporate design for blue chip companies, holding positions of creative head, director and design consultant with three different agencies, before eventually starting his own design agency, LO-DESIGN.

In 1990, he retired from the design industry and joined Group 90, a pioneering artists group encouraged by Joseph McNally. Loh and the other members would gather at the old LASALLE College of the Arts campus at Telok Kurau on Saturdays to practise drawing the human form using live models. The same year, he held his first solo exhibition Homage to the Line at the Empress Place gallery. The following year, he participated in Group 90’s first exhibition, the groundbreaking Figurama, held at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts gallery.

Two years later, he re-entered the teaching profession after he was approached to revamp the school of design at LASALLE College of the Arts. From 1992 to 1995, he served as dean of the design faculty at LASALLE College of the Arts, establishing the design department and reconceptualising the faculty’s design curriculum. At the same time, he continued to create art and exhibit at Group 90’s group exhibitions, but was too busy to dedicate much time to art-making. By the end of 1995, after he felt that he had done what he could at LASALLE College of the arts, he retired from his post and accepted a position as consulting lecturer at LASALLE Design International so that he could finally embark on the career he first had designs on—Loh became a full-time artist.

Loh was aged 62 when he could devote time to focus on art. He had realised while in design school that he had a natural talent and love for design and art, and he now plunged into creating art. With Group 90, he did many figurative works and participated in several group exhibitions. In 1996, six years after his first solo showing, he held his second solo exhibition The Lines are My Eyes at Gallery 21, Riverwalk Galleria.

Since then, he has held eight solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group exhibitions. His diverse body of work is marked by an exploration of different media and different techniques. It comprises both figurative and abstract works in various media including watercolour, oils, charcoal, ink, pastels, acrylics and collage. His latest exhibitions include 2008's Yin Yang Poetry: The Unfinished Finish, 2009’s Yin Yang Poetry: The Realm of Psychedelia and 2010’s Naked Trees. Exhibited at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Naked Trees featured a series of inked line drawings that celebrate the natural beauty of bare, stripped trees with intimacy, and a thematic poem.

Timeline

15 Oct 1933

Born in Singapore.

1956

Studied portraiture from Singapore artist Liu Kang.

1966 to 1970

Awarded Colombo Plan Scholarship.

Studied art and design at the Alberta College of Art and Design, Canada on a Colombo Plan Scholarship. Graduated with a major in advertising.

Studied photography and printmaking at the Vancouver School of Art, Canada

1974

Exhibition organiser, Singapore Art Society.

1974 to Present

Life Member, Singapore Art Society.

1975

Chairman, uni-art exhibition, National Library, Singapore.

1979 to 1982

Head of Applied Arts, Baharuddin Vocational Institute.

1982 to 1984

Head of Creative Services, Asian Ad Group of Advertising Agencies.

1984 to 1986

Director, Design Synergy Pte Ltd.

1984 to Present

Life Member, Designers’ Association Singapore.

1986 to 1990

Design Consultant, Tropical Alliance Pte Ltd.

1990

First solo exhibition Homage to the Line at Empress Place Gallery, Singapore.

Participated in Group 90 exhibition Figurama, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Singapore.

Founded LO-DESIGN, a design consultancy firm

1991

Participated in Multi-media Masters of LASALLE group exhibition at Oriental Hotel, Singapore.

Participated in Invigorating Works of 8 Masters at Paragon, Singapore

1992

Participated in Group 90 exhibition and forum The Figure in Art at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Singapore.

1992 to 1995

Dean, Design Faculty, LASALLE College of the Arts. Established a new design department for the LASALLE Design School.

1993

Participated in Art in Asia exhibition at World Trade Centre, Singapore.

1995

Participated in Art in Asia exhibition at World Trade Centre, Singapore.

1996

Solo exhibition The Lines are My Eyes at gallery 21, Riverwalk Galleria, Singapore.

1996 to 2003

Consulting Lecturer, LASALLE Design International.

1997

Participated in Singapore Art ’97 exhibition at Suntec City, Singapore.

1998

Participated in Group 90 exhibition The Image Nude at Orchard Point, Singapore.

2000

Solo exhibition Of Line, Poetry and Colours at Paragon Art Gallery, Singapore.

Participated in Singapore Nokia art exhibition at Singapore Art Museum

2002

Participated in Different Strokes exhibiton at Ministry of Information and the Arts Atrium.

Participated in Group 90 exhibition Nusense at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Singapore

2003

Participated in Uncovering Pink and Blue at Chateau d’arts Gallery, Singapore.

Established Jo Studio at Bishan Park 2, Singapore, with daughter, Jo-an, catering to heartlanders on art, pottery, jewellery and design

2004

Solo exhibition Concerto of Colours at Chateau d’arts Gallery, Singapore.

Participated in Magnificent Seven exhibition

2005

Participated in Maiden Inspirations, an exhibition with his students at Chateau d’arts Gallery, Singapore.

2007 to Present

Advisor, Art Sauce Studio.

2007

Solo exhibition Yin-Yang Poetry: The Unfinished Finish at The Coffee Connoisseur Gallery, Singapore.

2008

Solo exhibition Yin Yang Poetry: The Unfinished Finish at The Coffee Connoisseur Gallery, Singapore.

Participated in Nuspiration exhibition at Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, Singapore.

2009 to 2013

Art consultant, Pearson/Longman Publishing. Consulted on writing and publication of seven art textbooks and guides on the teaching of art for Singapore schools.

2009

Solo exhibition Yin Yang Poetry: The Realm of Psychedelia at The Coffee Connoisseur Gallery, Singapore.

2010

Solo exhibition The Naked Trees at Library of Botany and Horticulture, Botany Centre, organised by Singapore Botanic Gardens and Temasek Polytechnic.

2012

Participated in Pantonemyart 2012 at The Coffee Connoisseur Gallery, Singapore.

Participated in 100 Friends, 100 Artists, 100 Dreams at The Coffee Connoisseur 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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