Profile: Chng Seok Tin

Published on 17 February 2015

Regardless of medium — or personal setbacks — visual artist Chng Seok Tin creates from a space of possibility.

BY pamela ho

She had never worked with porcelain before, but that was no obstacle to her well-honed creative instincts. When visual artist Chng Seok Tin, 68, was invited to be part of the Esplanade’s These Sacred Things exhibition, she chose porcelain simply because she’d been gifted a bagful.

“Porcelain is like clay, but the texture is finer so it’s more fragile to handle. I’ve worked with clay before, so I applied that technique,” she says with a chuckle.

This 2005 Cultural Medallion recipient is unfazed by the unfamiliar. In 1970, she left her full-time teaching job to embark on a 15-year journey to study art. After training in Western painting at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, she left for London’s St Martin’s School of Art.

In 1979, she graduated from the United Kingdom’s Hull College of Higher Education with first-class honours in fine art before heading to the United States where she earned Masters degrees from New Mexico State University (1983) and the University of Iowa (1985), majoring in printmaking.

Today, Chng remains one of the most versatile visual artists in Singapore. Her works range from sculpture to ceramics, as well as from printmaking and painting to photography. She has also worked with an assortment of materials, including clay, bronze and wood.

But 1988 marked a turning point in her life. An operation to remove a brain abscess led to her losing 90 per cent of her sight. For a year, she lived in despair.

“Brother Joseph McNally came to my home and asked me to return to LASALLE to teach,” she discloses. “I’m very grateful to him. Because of him, I went back to art.” The late Brother McNally was a sculptor, artist as well as the founder of LASALLE College of the Arts.

Chng re-emerged with a renewed sense of purpose and a new approach to art. “When I relied on my vision, I was very critical of composition, lines and colour. When I lost my sight, I was forced to depend on my other senses, on feeling.

“I can’t see details but I can still see shapes,” she explains, adding that a three-month American road trip last year inspired her to create a new series of sculptures. “I had some coloured wire, so I started making wire-sculptures of horses. So far, I’ve made 30!”

Her resourcefulness and tenacity to keep creating art and to communicate social issues through it is inspiring. Since 1977, she has held 29 solo exhibitions and more than 100 group exhibitions locally and overseas.

“It’s not easy being a full-time artist in Singapore, but I have no regrets,” Chng declares. “I got to see the world and experience so much!”

Chng’s works are currently showcased in These Sacred Things, an exhibition held at the Esplanade Jendela (Visual Arts space) till 1 Mar.

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