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Visual Arts

Sun Yu-li

The second-career artist who found success as a sculptor


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

For a work to be inspiring, to relay a thousand words, a lot depends on the artist’s personal experiences, thoughts and philosophy. To take an analogy of a tree’s crown: how wide the crown is will depend on how extensive its roots are.


Sun Yu-li was born in in 1948 in Nanjing, China, and later migrated to Taiwan and the United States to study architecture. Since moving to Singapore in 1981, he has been pursuing a second successful career in visual arts, most notably in sculpture. Sun’s works, which can be found throughout major public venues in Singapore, are underpinned by architectural logic and conscious interactions with the immediate environment. Sun founded Sculpture Square and was a founding member of Emily Hill.

As a child, Sun spent happy weekends exploring the mountains and seas of the countryside and got his first taste of art from his mother who was a painter. Growing up curious about nature and the laws of space, Sun has since telescoped his questions and thoughts about life into large-scale outdoor sculptures in different media, ranging from bronze to cardboard.

Sun Yu-li integrates the interdisciplinary into his art, having been a keen student and researcher of metaphysics, linguistics, topology, geometry, archaeology and philosophy over the past 30 years. A creative thinker first and sculptor second, he counts his father as providing his first artistic and intellectual inspirations, teaching him the ways of ancient man, archaeology and the I Ching.

Sun is known for his concept of the Universal Language of the Metaphysical, which is a major recurring theme found throughout his artistic career. This was inspired through his wide readings in architecture and linguistics, which included The Image of the City by Kevin Lynch. Through making sense of a city and discovering the fundamentals of a language, Sun discovered a logic that compelled him to develop his Universal Language, and this would inform his endeavours for the rest of his artistic career. Wanting to expound on his concept, Sun left architecture in 1989 to become a full-time artist.

As he practised art in Singapore, Sun became concerned about the lack of display space for three-dimensional work in Singapore. So in 1995, Sun set about to create a space to exhibit three-dimensional work and installations in the area where the Middle Road Church was situated. Seed funding was raised with the help of his friend, Edmund Cheng, the then Deputy Chairman of Wing Tai Holdings Limited, and in May 1999, Sculpture Square was officially opened.

In the same spirit, Sun, together with a group of multi-disciplinary arts practitioners, founded Emily Hill in 2007. Situated at Upper Wilkie Road, Emily Hill is a creative cooperative that is dedicated to developing the artistic and commercial potential of Singapore arts. Sun currently practises his art in his studio and gallery at Emily Hill.

Sun’s important pieces can be found in well-known public squares in Singapore, including Suntec City and Dhoby Ghaut, as well as in the outdoor spaces of major institutions in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In addition, he is also widely collected in corporate and private galleries.


25 May 1948

Born in Nanjing, China.


Bachelor of Architecture, Tung-hai University, Taiwan.


Master of Urban Planning, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.


Master of Architecture, Catholic University of America, Washington DC, USA.


Moved to Singapore.


Began career as artist while working as an architect.

May 1989

Left architecture to focus on art.


Winner, Merit Award, IBM Art Award.


First exhibition at National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.

Received the Modern Sculpture Award, Republic of China


Founder of Sculpture Square, Singapore’s first art space dedicated to three-dimensional art.


Received the China Modern Sculpture Award, Taiwan.


Harmony, a 12-metre high stainless steel installed at the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park.


Harmony featured on Singapore stamps and coins.


Founding member of Emily Hill, a space for arts and business.


Chief Curator, Luminance!, Singapore’s First Youth Light Art Festival.


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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