Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Visual Arts

Tan Khim Ser

A noted artist and art educator.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

As human beings, we have to learn from the essential attributes of the peach blossom: sturdy and strong; not afraid of the the wind and snow. The more the peach blossom engages with the elements, the stronger it becomes.

Tan Khim Ser is a noted artist and art educator. A graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, he went on to become a proponent of Chinese calligraphy and ink paintings whose work has been included in the private and public collections of museums around the world. In 1972, he founded the Life Art Society to promote a love for arts, teaching generations of casual and aspiring artists throughout the decades at various grassroots organisations and clubs.

Born in 1943 in Singapore, Tan Khim Ser possessed a love for art since he was a young boy, regularly using the floor as his canvas. Wanting Tan to obtain a Chinese education, his father enrolled him in Zhang De Primary School and then Chung Cheng High School, where Tan joined the art club and excelled in Art as an academic subject.

Seeing that Tan had a deep interest in art, Tan’s father let him enrol in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts where he received formal art education in Eastern and Western traditions. With his early Chinese education influencing his artistic leanings, he would eventually choose to focus his efforts on Chinese ink painting and calligraphy.

Graduating in 1966, Tan started working as a personnel manager in a department store to support himself financially, spending his evenings and weekends practising and teaching art. Wanting to make a contribution to art in Singapore, he founded the Life Art Society in 1972, serving as its president. Five years later, he resigned from his job to become a full-time artist and to devote his time to the society.

For Tan, founding the Life Art Society would become his most enriching decision, as this allowed him to pursue his passion for art wholeheartedly and share his love and knowledge of art with other people.

With the Society, he organised countless arts events and exhibitions, showcasing work from himself, his students, and from members of the public. The Life Art Society focussed its efforts on young people’s art in its beginning years, and, together with the Ministry of Culture, organised the first ever open-air art exhibition featuring art works from primary and secondary school students. The Society also worked with other organisations, including regularly partnering with SMRT to create Chinese calligraphy keepsakes for its Chinese New Year events. Tan and his students would hold Chinese calligraphy demonstrations at these events, giving away their finished Chinese New Year couplets to thousands of people. Tan would also regularly hold fundraising activities with the Society, benefitting institutions such as his alma mater, the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Besides the activities he organised with the Life Art Society, Tan also taught Chinese ink painting and calligraphy frequently to casual and aspiring artists in the Life Art Society premises, as well as in community clubs including the Tanglin Club, Singapore Swimming Club, Singapore Island Country Club, and in various community centres around Singapore. Over the decades, he taught countless students, including former CEO of National Arts Council Lee Suan Hiang, former Senior Minister S. Jayakumar, and Minister Grace Fu. Tan also wrote columns on art and Chinese ink painting for Chinese daily Sin Chew Jit Poh in the ’70s.

With Tan at the helm, the Life Art Society was instrumental in spreading interest in Chinese ink painting and calligraphy in Singapore and Southeast Asia during the ’70s and ’80s.

At the same time, Tan’s reputation as an artist also continued to grow, with Tan holding participating in many solo and group exhibitions. His bold and quick brush strokes, in addition to his novel way of combining colours, came to appreciated and sought after by galleries and collectors worldwide. His lively and energetic depictions of nature were exhibited in the Louvre Museum in Paris, the National Museum of Seoul and the Guangzhou Art Museum.

Outside of the Life Art Society, Tan also contributed his expertise and knowledge to several organisations, including serving as an advisor to the Miao Hua Chinese Art Society and as a committee member of The Society of Chinese Artists and the Singapore Arts Federation.

Tan has received recognition for championing and promoting art to the Singapore community, receiving the Service Award from The Society of Chinese Artists in 1985 and the Education Award from the Kuo Chuan Art Club in 1990.

Tan continues to be an active painter and teacher, regularly giving classes, workshops and live art demonstrations. A committed philanthropist, he is also known for donating his works to various charities for fundraising ventures.


24 Jul 1943

Born in Singapore


Attended Zhangde Primary School.


Attended Chung Cheng High School.

1963 to 1966

Attended Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore.

1966 to 1976

Personnel manager at a department store.


Solo exhibition, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


Founder and president, Theatre Nadi, Singapore’s first Malay children’s drama group.


Solo exhibition, National Library, Singapore.


Participated in Four Artists Art Exhibition, Singapore.


Solo exhibition, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore.

1970 to 1985

Participated in National Day Art Exhibition, Singapore.


Participated in Five Artists Art Exhibition, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore.

1972 to Present

Founder and President, Life Art Society.

1972 to 2001

Participated in Life Art Society Annual Exhibition, Singapore.


Participated in Eight Artists Art Exhibition, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore.


Solo exhibition, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore.


Participated in Two Artists Art Exhibition, Singapore Conference Hall, Singapore.

1976 to 1977

Art columnist, Sin Chew Jit Poh.


Became a full-time artist and art teacher.


Solo exhibition, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


Solo exhibition, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


Life Art Society awarded Commonwealth Community Service Award.

Solo exhibition, Singapore Conference Hall.

1982 to Present

Advisor, Children Art Club, Life Art Society.

Advisor, Youth Group, Life Art Society.


Received Outstanding Gold Medal, Life Art Society.


Received Service Award, The Society of Chinese Artists, Singapore.

Solo exhibition, Dutch Club, Singapore.


Received Leadership Award, Life Art Society.

Solo exhibition, Hilton Hotel, Singapore.


Participated in Charity Art Exhibition to raise funds for Ayer Rajah Day Care Centre, Singapore.

1988 to 1998

Honorary Chairman, Toa Payoh West Community Centre Art Club.


Received Education Award, Kuo Chuan Art Club.

1990 to 1993

Committee Member, The Society of Chinese Artists, Singapore.

1991 to 1993

Executive Committee Member, Singapore Arts Federation.


Solo exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.


Received Certificate of World Artists, China Central Television, China.

Received Outstanding Service Award, Life Art Society.


Participated in group exhibition, Federation of Art Societies, Singapore.

Member, editing panel, Modern History of Chinese Painting.


Received Certificate of Appreciation, People’s Assocation, Singapore.

Received 10 Year Long Service Award, Kuo Chuan Community Club, Singapore.

Named Life Member, The Society of Chinese Arts.

Named Life Member, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Alumni Association.

Named Life Member, Singapore Art Society.

Named Honorary Member, The Culture Society, Singapore.

1995 to 2005

Executive Committee Member, Singapore Lam Ann Association.

1995 to 1998

Youth Group Advisor, Singapore Lam Ann Association.


Solo exhibition, Marco Polo Hotel, Singapore.

1997 to 2001

Advisor, Singapore Miao Hua Chinese Art Society.


Received Certificate of Honor, Chinese Figures Dictionary, China.

Solo exhibition, Tampines Regional Library, Singapore.

Presenter, television programme Introduction to Chinese Painting. On invitation by MediaCorp.


Solo exhibition, Tampines Regional Library, Singapore.

1999 to 2001

Treasurer, Singapore Arts Federation.


Participated in Culture of Peace (art, calligraphy, sculpture and poetry exhibition) Suntec City, Singapore.

Participated in Tan Khim Ser and Students Art Exhibition, American Club, Singapore.

Participated in live Chinese calligraphy demonstration, CONSAL 200 Gala Dinner, National Library Board, Singapore.

Participated in Tan Khim Ser and Students Art Exhibition, Tampines Regional Library, Singapore.

Donated painting (auctioned for $20 000) for the Children’s Cancer Foundation, organised by the Pinetree Town and Country Club, Singapore.


Received Premium Service Award, Life Art Society.

Art work selected for Exhibition of Calligraphy and Painting from Chinese Worldwide, Beijing Art Gallery, China.


Life Art Society awarded Arts Supporter Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.


Life Art Society awarded Arts Supporter Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.

2004 to Present

Advisor and Visiting Professor, Teng Wang Ge Calligraphy & Painting Institute, China.

2005 to Present

Permanent Honorary President, Public Free Clinic Society.

2006 to Present

Art Advisor, Shan Wu Shaolin Culture and Martial Art Society, Singapore.

Honorary President, Singapore Lam Ann Association.

Advisor Youth Group and Kangyi Art Club, Life Art Society.

Honorable Advisor, Care and Support Association, Singapore.


Art work Family selected by French National Art Association for exhibition in Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

29 Mar 2009

Cultivated new orchid species Cattlianthe Tan Khim Ser.


Wrote and contributed Chinese calligraphic poems to Land Transport Authority’s Make it Right for a Better Ride campaign.


Led live Chinese calligraphy performance《正气》Song of Righteousness, Chingay 2013, Singapore.


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.

You have 3 out of 3 articles left this month. Create a free Esplanade&Me account or sign in to continue. SIGN UP / LOG IN