Goh Beng Kwan



Goh Beng Kwan (b. 26 December 1937, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia–)1 is a pioneer Singapore modern artist known for his distinctive approach to abstraction and collage, as seen from his artworks.2 For his contributions to the local art scene, Goh was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts in 1989.3

Early life
Goh Beng Kwan was born the fourth in a family of six children. His father was a merchant who had migrated to Indonesia from China; his mother was Peranakan. The family migrated to Singapore after World War II, when Goh was eight years old.4 In Singapore, he studied in The Chinese High School, where he took art lessons under pioneer Singapore artists Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng.5


Artistic career
Early education
The direction of Goh’s stylistic development was moulded from exposure to art and Chinese calligraphy during his student years at The Chinese High School under the tutelage of Chen Wen Hsi, coupled with his exposure to the mainstream international art of the 1960s. Chen remained a mentor to Goh after the latter graduated from the school. Goh studied Chinese ink and oil painting under Chen, and Chen’s stylistic influence can be seen in Goh’s early paintings.6


In 1962, Goh left for New York to study at the Art Students League where he tutored under abstract expressionist painter Sydney Gross.7 At the League, Goh began to experiment with abstract compositions and expressive brushwork. In 1964, he transferred to Provincetown Workshop, Massachusetts, where he was mentored by Leo Manso and Victor Candell. It was under Manso’s encouragement that Goh made his first attempts at collage painting using salvaged materials. Furthermore, Manso urged Goh to form his own artistic identity by incorporating the influences of his own cultural roots.8Goh’s exposure to collages, mixed media works and other artistic techniques from the museums of New York during his stay fired his imagination.9

Development as an artist
Goh returned to Singapore in 1966, and began his association with the Alpha Gallery in the early 1970s. The Alpha Gallery was considered to be at the cutting-edge of modern art in Singapore then as it brought together young Singaporean and Malaysian artists fresh from overseas studies. This was a conducive environment for Goh as he was in the company of many like-minded artists.10 He participated in group exhibitions and had a solo exhibition at the Alpha Gallery between the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.11 However, it took Goh a long while to reconcile the sights and sounds of Asia with the technical skills and perspective from his American experience.12

In searching for an approach to root his artistic identity on, Goh had intuitively turned to personal contexts to express and sustain his cultural-contextual identity. Goh’s work draws from his natural surroundings, both in Singapore and places in the region like Bali, Indonesia, and Chiang Rai, Thailand, as well as his cultural heritage as an ethnic Chinese.13 This paved the way for critics to invest and place his practice within notions of local and Southeast Asian cultural significance. Goh’s visual approaches and techniques would exert a profound influence on successive generations of mixed-media artists in Singapore.14

It was in the late 1970s that Goh began to explore the use of local materials for collage. He introduced into the Singapore art-making circle materials that were previously inconceivable, greatly expanding the possibilities for the local artist’s repertoire.15 Goh’s work received affirmation through his abstract collage Sand Dune (1982), which won the inaugural United Overseas Bank (UOB) Painting of the Year award in 1982. Goh subsequently took on painting full-time and accepted formal representation by the Art Forum gallery.16 He was conferred the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts in 1989, the highest state accolade recognising contributions made to the development of art in Singapore.17

Full-time artist
The first solo exhibition undertaken by Goh after formally becoming a full-time artist was Journeys, held in 1992 at the National Museum Art Gallery. Goh’s works were the only ones displayed at The Elite Painter’s Quantum Leap in 2003. Goh’s display included A Year to Remember, focusing on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak which occurred that same year and the Iraq War, as well as his first exhibition of glass sculptures.18 Journeys Revisited, a UOB-sponsored showcase held in 2005, displayed Goh’s works over the past 50 years and reaffirmed his illustrious reputation in, and contributions to, local art.19

Goh’s exploration of new methods of art-making has been an ongoing process. Top End at Down Under, his joint exhibition with fellow artist Jeremy Ramsey in 1998, underscored their exploration of unconventional techniques, like layered canvases of dyed rice paper strips, and thickly applied paint.20 This was an opportunity to continually develop Goh’s collage work while working with the Art Forum gallery. Goh’s work with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute’s (STPI) Visiting Artists Programme in October 2006 culminated in the Renewal exhibition. This showcased Goh’s water collage works through collaboration with master papermaker Richard Hungerford.21

Goh’s art pieces continue to grace international exhibitions and art fairs, such as the Singapore Pavilion at the 2009 Singapore International Art Fair, attesting to the increased profile of local artists like Goh and wide appreciation for his work.22 Locally, his works continue to be exhibited both as a testament to his artistic achievements, as well as an exemplar of local artistic value. Goh is an alumnus of Telok Kurau Studios, and has participated in the studio’s exhibitions such as Modern Hermit (2009) and Forgetting the Roses (2010).23 Goh’s work was featured in iPreciation gallery’s Cascadence: Singapore Redux, and is intended to raise the profile and bring recognition to the value of local artists.24

Stylistic significance
The arrangements of form, colour and texture are formal concerns that Goh is most preoccupied with in achieving pictorial harmony and balance.25 Goh works intuitively, and much of the materials in his collages – for example rice paper, product packaging, pieces of fabric, string and bamboo – are mundane objects found in everyday life, yet which are personally intimate and meaningful. The use of these materials suggests a continued impulse to experiment with unorthodox materials in the Singapore contemporary art scene.26 That these materials and objects are also signifiers of “localness” and reminders of fading lifestyles suggest that Goh’s self-professed “oriental approach” is tinged by the nostalgia of one dealing with the progress of urban hyper-development.27


Career milestones
1961: Goh’s first group exhibition, Five Man Exhibition, at the National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1962: Left for New York to study at the Art Students League under Sydney Gross.
1964: Transferred to Provincetown Workshop, Massachusetts, and was mentored by Leo Manso and Victor Candell. Goh made his first attempts at collage painting using salvaged materials.
1965: First solo exhibition at Ruth Sherman Gallery, New York.
1966: Returned to Singapore and began his association with the Alpha Gallery in the early 1970s.
1970s: Between the mid-1970s to early 1980s, participated in group exhibitions and had a solo exhibition at the Alpha Gallery.
1982: Won the first prize at the inaugural UOB Painting of the Year Competition with the abstract collage painting Sand Dune (1982). Goh became a full-time paint artist, and agreed to be represented by the Art Forum gallery.
1984: First overseas award, the Australia Business Council and Australia High Commission Art Award, 1st prize, Singapore.
1989: Awarded the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts.
1992: Solo exhibition, Journeys, at the National Museum Art Gallery.
1998: Joint exhibition Top End at Down Under with Jeremy Ramsey.
2003: Launch of commissioned artwork Water, Land and Future at Punggol MRT Station. Goh was the solo artist exhibiting at The Elite Painter’s Quantum Leap 2003.
2005: Solo exhibition Journeys Revisited at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, sponsored by UOB.
2006: Residency with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) followed by a solo exhibition, Renewal.
2007: Goh was featured along with Chen Wen Hsi and Wong Keen, in Encounters and Journeys, an exhibition in the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, organised for Singapore Season in China.
2009: Goh’s works put up for display and sale at Singapore Pavilion at the 2009 Singapore International Art Fair. His work is displayed at the Telok Kurau Studios exhibition, Modern Hermit.
2010: Goh’s work showcased at the Telok Kurau Studios exhibition, Forgetting the Roses.
2013: Participated in iPreciation gallery’s Cascadence: Singapore Redux.



Author

Joanna Lee



References
1.Lee, J. (Interviewer). (2005, March 23). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/1, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/ 
2. Tribute.sg. (2012). Goh Beng Kwan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Goh+Beng+Kwan
3.
National Arts Council. (2013). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Visual Arts. Retrieved from https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/visual-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-visual-arts
4.
Lee, J. (Interviewer). (2005, March 23). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/1, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5.
Lee, J. (Interviewer). (2005, March 23). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/1, p. 6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Fan, D., & Kwok, K. C. (2006). Encounters: Southeast Asian art in Singapore Art Museum collection. Naning Shi: Guangxi Meishu Chuban, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 759.9590904 ENC)
6.
Goh, B. K. (2007).  Renewal = Wan xiang geng xin: 10 February-10 March 2007. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 3. (Call no.: RCLOS 709.5957 GOH); Suhaimi, Sukiyar, et al. (2004). Crossroads, the making of new identities. Singapore: NUS Museums. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 CRO)
7.
Lee, J. (Interviewer). (2005, March 23). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/2, p. 28]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website:  http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Goh, B. K. (1991). Journeys. Singapore: Deutsche Bank. (Call no: RSING q759.95957 GOH)
8.
Lee, J. (Interviewer). (2005, March 25). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/3, p. 36];  Lee, J. (Interviewer). (2005, March 23). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/4, pp. 46–47]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Goh, B. K. (2007).  Renewal = Wan xiang geng xin: 10 February-10 March 2007. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 709.5957 GOH); Goh, B. K. (1991). Journeys. Singapore: Deutsche Bank. (Call no: RSING q759.95957 GOH)
9.
Goh, B. K. (2007).  Renewal = Wan xiang geng xin: 10 February-10 March 2007. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 709.5957 GOH)
10.
Goh, B. K. (2005). Journeys revisited. Singapore: United Overseas Bank, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 GOH)
11.
Lee, J.(Interviewer). (2005, March 25). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/5, pp. 61–62]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/ 
12.
Chu, M. (2003). Understanding contemporary Southeast Asian art. Singapore: Art Forum, p. 123. (Call no.: RSING 709.59 CHU)
13.
Kwok, K. C. (1996). Channels and confluences: A history of Singapore art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 112. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 KWO)
14.
Goh, B. K. (2007).  Renewal = Wan xiang geng xin: 10 February-10 March 2007. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 709.5957 GOH)
15.
Goh, B. K. (2007).  Renewal = Wan xiang geng xin: 10 February-10 March 2007. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 709.5957 GOH)
16.
Goh, B. K. (2005). Journeys revisited. Singapore: United Overseas Bank, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 GOH)
17.
National Arts Council. (2013). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Visual Arts. Retrieved from https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/visual-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-visual-arts
18.
Chow, C. (2003, April 18). Beng Kwan solo. The Straits Times, p. 5;
Ho, A. L. (2003, May 24). Touch of glass. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19.
Goh, B. K. (2005). Journeys revisited. Singapore: United Overseas Bank, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 GOH)
20.
Oon, C. (1998, December 3). Landscapes of paper and paint. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.
Goh, B. K. (2007).  Renewal = Wan xiang geng xin: 10 February-10 March 2007. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 709.5957 GOH); Singapore Tyler Print Institute. (2012). Goh Beng Kwan. Retrieved from http://www.stpi.com.sg/artist_gohbengkwan.php
22.
Fair attractions. (2009, November 26). The Straits Times, p. 81. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23.
Backstage pass. (2009, December 17). The Straits Times, p. 65; Martin, M. (2010, December 28). Arts guide. Today, p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24.
Yusof, H. (2013, March 8). Sizeable showcase of local art. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
25. Chu, M. (2003). Understanding contemporary Southeast Asian art. Singapore: Art Forum, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 709.59 CHU);
Goh, B. K. (2005). Journeys revisited. Singapore: United Overseas Bank, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 GOH)
26.
Lee, J.(Interviewer). (2005, March 25). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/7, pp. 92–93]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Goh, B. K. (2007). Renewal = Wan xiang geng xin: 10 February-10 March 2007. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 709.5957 GOH)
27.
Lee, J.(Interviewer). (2005, March 25). Oral history interview with Goh Beng Kwan [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002926/15/6, pp. 72–73]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/



Further resources

Hsu, M. (1999). Brief history of Malayan art. Singapore: Millennium Books.
(Call no.: RSING 709.595 HSU)

Many in one: 25 years of art from Singapore. (1991). Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 759.95957 MAN)

South East Asian art – A new spirit. (1997). Singapore: Art & Artist Speak.
(Call no.: RSING 709.59 SOU)



The information in this article is valid as at 21 January 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Artists-Singapore
Personalities
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Art)
Goh, Beng Kwan, 1937-
Award winners
Arts