Lim Yew Kuan



Lim Yew Kuan (b. 16 November 1928, Xiamen, China–)1 is a well-known second-generation Nanyang Style painter, printmaker and sculptor. Lim is also an arts educator who has taught art for four decades, including a stint as the second principal of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). Lim has created a prolific number of works in various mediums and has held exhibitions both locally and overseas.2 For his contributions to the visual arts scene, Lim was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts in 2011.3

Early life and career
Lim was born in Xiamen, China. Lim’s late father was well-known Singapore pioneer artist Lim Hak Tai. Lim had one elder brother, two elder sisters and one younger brother.4 In 1936, just before the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), Lim’s father came to Singapore to teach art and mathematics at The Chinese High School. In 1937, the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) was established and Lim’s father became the academy’s founding principal.5


When the Sino-Japanese War broke out, the senior Lim sent for his family in China to join him in Singapore. En route to Singapore, Lim’s mother died while transiting in Hong Kong. Lim arrived in Singapore with his other siblings when he was about 10 years old.6

Initially, Lim stayed with his uncle. Then he moved in with a pastor and his family, who stayed along Koon Seng Road, and attended Jun Yuan School.7 During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–1945), Lim’s schooling was halted. To make ends meet, Lim started renting out Chinese comic books along the corridors of shophouses and also worked in a toy factory.8

In 1948, Lim enrolled in NAFA to pursue art studies and graduated in 1950 with a diploma in Western painting.9 In 1952, he started teaching in NAFA and was also very active in the arts circle.

In 1956, Lim founded the Equator Art Society, which was devoted to social realist art. Made up of idealistic young artists like Chua Mia Tee and Ong Kim Seng, the society advocated an anti-colonial stance while promoting nationalism. The society focused on depicting the masses in their art, especially the poorer classes.10

In 1958, Lim left for the United Kingdom to pursue further studies in art at the Chelsea School of Art in London. During his time in London, Lim intensively studied the works of French artist Gauguin, British artist Turner, and Dutch artist Rembrandt.11 He graduated in 1960 with a diploma in design (painting) and went on to study etching and lithography, graduating in 1961 with a diploma in printmaking.12

Upon his return to Singapore in 1962, Lim taught art at the former Teachers' Training College (now the National Institute of Education, or NIE). Outside of work, Lim continued with his art activities through the Equator Art Society. By this time, the senior Lim’s health was failing and Lim returned to NAFA as its deputy principal.13 In 1963, Lim’s father passed away and Lim took over as principal of NAFA.14

Lim inherited the financial problems that had been plaguing NAFA since its inception.15 He steered NAFA through the trying times during the 1960s and 1970s. However, in 1979, NAFA suffered its worst financial crisis, resulting in a new board of directors and principal. Lim became the school’s vice-principal following the crisis.16

Lim stayed on in NAFA to teach, nurturing generations of young artists some of whom became Cultural Medallion winners. Lim retired in 1994 and became a full-time artist in 1995.17

Artistic career
The only child in the family who pursued a career in art,18 Lim was influenced by his father, who was very interested in the arts. The senior Lim painted, sang Peking opera and played the violin.19 Lim learnt how to paint under the tutelage of his father since he was a boy.20 Other than art, Lim also took music lessons during his early years at NAFA and attended vocal and music theory classes at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama while he was in London.21

As an artist, Lim is well versed in various mediums. He draws and paints in watercolour and oil and is a skilful printmaker and sculptor. His diverse range of works reflect both the influence of the Western art training he had undergone and his Southeast Asian cultural heritage.22

Lim was commissioned to create marble busts of Singapore’s first president, Yusof Ishak (in 1966 and 1997) and second president, Benjamin Sheares (in 1999). He was also commissioned to create an oil portrait of Yusof Ishak (in 1966).23 In 2009, Lim was commissioned to create a full-size bronze sculpture of his father, Lim Hak Tai, for the opening of the Lim Hak Tai gallery located at NAFA.24

Lim’s works can be found in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Singapore Art Gallery, the Istana, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other local and overseas collections.25

In 1980, Lim was awarded the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) for his artistic contributions and excellence. In 2011, Lim received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to the visual arts.26

Despite his advanced years, Lim still creates art passionately. In 2010, he held his first solo exhibition at NAFA. In 2011, he held an exhibition at the Xiamen Museum of Art in China entitled Crossing Visions: Singapore and Xiamen, which showcased the works of Lim and his father alongside each other.27

Stylistic conventions
Lim’s artworks may be categorised into four categories: sketches, prints, sculptures and paintings. Most of his sketches of landscape and human figures were created in the 1950s and 1960s as part of his art studies when he was in his 30s.28


Prints form a significant part of Lim’s works. In the 1950s and 1960s, influenced by the social injustices he witnessed during the Japanese Occupation, the rising social inequalities he observed in society and the social realism movement in China, Lim created many woodblock prints depicting scenes of social reality.29 For example, in his work Searching (1954), Lim depicted a labourer stumbling among a group of staring, well-heeled passersby.30 Later, Lim turned to capturing scenes of the Southeast Asian way of life in his prints, such as people taking a leisurely walk along the beach, trishaw riders and Malay kampongs (villages).31

Although Lim does not create many sculptures, his artistry in this medium is demonstrated by the few sculptures that he has produced. In one of his sculptures entitled The Kiss, Lim portrayed people hugging and kissing in a novel and vivid way by incorporating distinctive elements drawn from Southeast Asian folk sculptures.32

Oil paintings form the bulk of Lim’s works. Most of his paintings were painted after Lim had retired from his job at NAFA. They depict mainly scenery of places in Singapore, London, France and Bali. Lim works are influenced by the Nanyang style.33

Lim continues to paint in his retirement and hopes to create a new series of paintings that experiment with new mediums other than oil.34

Family
35

Father: Lim Hak Tai.
Mother: Lin Qiu An.
Brothers: Lin You Min, Lin You Qu.
Sisters: Lin Shu Duan, Lin Min Duan.

Awards36
1980: Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal).
2011: Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts.

Exhibitions37
1959: First exhibition of Equator Art Society, Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
1966: 1966 Woodcut Exhibition, National Library.
1967: Singapore’s first sculpture show, National Library.
1979: Pameran Retrospektif Pelukis-Pelukis Nanyang, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
1994: Six Artists Exhibition, Paragon, Singapore.
1996: A Century of Art in Singapore, Singapore Art Museum.
1996: Nine Artists in Bali, Agung Rai Museum of Art, Bali, Indonesia.
1997: The Birth of Modern Art in Southeast Asia, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan.
1998: History Through Prints: Woodblock Prints in Singapore, National Museum of Singapore.
2002: Singapore in Prints: 1950s to 1960s, A Historical Narrative through Woodblock Prints, National University of Singapore.
20022003: Nanyang 1950–1965: Passage to Singaporean Art, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan.
2002: Exposition des oeuvres de M. Lim Yew Kuan “Hommage a Paris”, Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris, France.
2004: Soaring to the New Frontier, NAFA, Singapore.
2005: A Heroic Decade: Singapore Art 1955–1965, Singapore Art Museum.
2005: Time Phase Print–25th Anniversary of the Printmaking Society, the Esplanade, Singapore.
2006: Imprints of the Past: Remembering the 1996 Woodcut Exhibition, National Library Board.
2007: ARTSingapore, Suntec City, Singapore.
2009: Art Revolution Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan.
2010: Lim Yew Kuan Retrospective Exhibition.
2011: Crossing Visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan Art Exhibition, Xiamen Art Museum, China.



Author
Chor Poh Chin



References
1. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15). 口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/1, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
2.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
3. National Arts Council Singapore. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Visual Arts. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/visual-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-visual-arts
4. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15).  口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/1, p. 1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Hak Tai. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Hak+Tai
6. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15). 口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/1, p. 2]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15).  口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/1, p. 3]; 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15). 口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/2, p. 14]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
8. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15). 口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/2, p. 12]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
9. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15). 口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/2, p. 16]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
10.
National Library Board. (2016). Equator Art Society written by Yeo, Alicia Kay Ling. Retrieved from Singapore Infopedia.
11. 吴启基 [Wu, Q. J., et al.]. (2011, November 19). 艺术四杰夺文化奖 [Yi shu si jie duo Wen Hua Jiang]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. 吴启基 [Wu, Q. J.]. (2003, November 21). 可亲可感的抽象 [Ke qin ke gan de chou xiang]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan; 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, pp. 175–177. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)
13. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
14. Leong, W. K. (2005, March 4). A lesson in the art of survival for Nafa. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Leong, W. K. (2005, March 4). A lesson in the art of survival for Nafa. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
17. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan; 吴启基 [Wu, Q. J.]. (2004, November 22). 旧貌新颜历历在目 [Jiu mao xin yan li li zai mu]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 17. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)
19. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15). 口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/2, pp. 17-18]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
20.
National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan: Visual Arts. Retrieved from http://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/awards-recognition-files/lim-yew-kuan
21. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, pp. 172, 176. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)
22. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
23. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 178. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)
24. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
25. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
26. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
27. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, pp. 189–190. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO); Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
28. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 18. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)
29. 吴启基 [Wu, Q. J., et al.]. (2011, November 19). 艺术四杰夺文化奖 [Yi shu si jie duo Wen Hua Jiang]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
31. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 19. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)
32. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 19. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)
33. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, pp. 18–20. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO); 吴启基 [Wu, Q. J.]. (2004, November 22). 旧貌新颜历历在目 [Jiu mao xin yan li li zai mu]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. 吴启基 [Wu, Q. J., et al.]. (2011, November 19). 艺术四杰夺文化奖 [Yi shu si jie duo Wen Hua Jiang]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. 叶伟征 (访员 [Ye, W. Z.]. (Interviewer). (1998, April 15).  口述历史访谈林友  [Oral History Interview with Lim Yew Kuan]. [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002011/24/1, pp. 3, 8, 9, 11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
36. Tribute.sg. (2012). Lim Yew Kuan. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Lim+Yew+Kuan
37. 传承与开拓: 新, 中两国艺术交流展: 林学大及林友权美术作品展 [Crossing visions: Singapore and Xiamen: Lim Hak Tai and Lim Yew Kuan art exhibition]. (2011). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, pp. 179–190. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 759.95957 CRO)



Further resource
Lim, Y. K. (2010). Lim Yew Kuan = Lin You Quan. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
(Call no.: RSING 709.5957 LIM)



The information in this article is valid as at 5 March 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
Arts