Ong Kim Seng
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Eminent watercolourist Ong Kim Seng (b. 10 June 1945, Singapore - ), President of the Singapore Watercolour Society from 1991 to 2001, Cultural Medallion winner (Visual Art) in 1990 and winner of six awards by the prestigious American Watercolour Society, has held numerous solo and group exhibitions since his first solo exhibition, Himalayan Trek Art Exhibition, at the Asia Art Gallery in 1979. His works have been exhibited internationally in Europe, USA, Japan and ASEAN countries.
An only child, Ong grew up in a kampung in Tiong Bahru under the care of his mother, Goh Choon Hoon. His father had passed away in 1952 when he was still young. To support the family, his mother worked as a washerwoman and grass cutter. Ong enrolled at Radin Mas Primary School in 1959 and later on at Pasir Panjang Secondary School.
Ong left school in 1962 and after that joined an advertising agency where he worked as a bill collector. He left the agency after four years and found his next job as a policeman at the British Naval Base in Sembawang. He lost his job in 1971 when the British withdrew their troops from Singapore. He subsequently worked as a welder at Pulau Bukom, a line technician at an electronics firm, National Semiconductor, and an audio-visual/graphic technician at Colombo Plan Staff College for Technician Education. He became a full-time painter in 1985.
Ong is a self-taught artist, who never had any formal art training. Ong's mother had envisioned him becoming either a clerk or teacher with his education. Ong, however, had shown an interest in art since he was young. He began experimenting with painting, beginning with pastels and oil and moving onto watercolour painting in earnest since 1960. He then became a regular participant in a painting group at the Singapore River led by Chia Wai Hoon, an artist, writer and lecturer.
As a realist painter, his works focus on inanimate objects, architectural form, masonry, foliage and landscape. His style is "naturalist cum impressionistic", which is " a combination of post-impressionist colour and the outlook of the American realist masters". He has held numerous solo and group exhibitions in the past three decades, had his works published by local and international publishers, and appeared on local arts television programmes.
Ong's interests include traveling, trekking, jogging, swimming and cycling. He enjoys meeting people and discovering their way of life. He has gone on traveling-cum-painting expeditions in the past, while "recording vanishing ways of life of exotic places" in his paintings.. For instance, he has trekked the Himalayas seven times. This resulted in award-winning paintings, such as Gysante Market (a scene in central Tibet flea market) and Thimi, Nepal.
Ong is the first and only Singaporean to have won six awards by the prestigious 138-year-old American Watercolour Society (AWS), of which he was conferred membership in 1992. He received the AWS' Dolphin Fellowship in 2000 for having won more than five AWS awards. He has been the only Asian artist outside the USA to be admitted into AWS. In addition, Ong was elected president of the Singapore Watercolour Society from 1991 to 2001 after which he continued as its honorary president.
Ong's works have graced the collections of a number of museums and art galleries as well as the residences of foreign dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II of England and Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. His works are also exhibited in foreign missions and embassies of the Republic of Singapore. Public and private patrons have commissioned paintings from him. For instance, in 1984, he was given the honour to paint the National Day Parade by the Straits Times, and a year later, the late President Ong Teng Cheong commissioned a painting for his new official residence, the Command House, at Kheam Hock Road. Most recently, in February 2004, he received a commission to paint for Singapore Polytechnic's Convention Centre and Plaza. In addition, Ong's weekends for the past ten years have been spent conducting watercolour painting classes.
"..art must be international and yet it must originate from an individual".
"I like to achieve simplicity in art - in my paintings, the interaction with the viewers is always direct".
1990 : Conferred membership by the American Watercolour Society (AWS), USA.
1991 - 2001 : President, Singapore Watercolour Society.
1992 - 1994 : Paintings, Sentosa from Mt Faber and Raffles Hotel, selected as Look JTB travel magazine cover page.
1997 : Chairman, Asian Watercolours '97 Singapore.
1997 : Vice-chairman, Singapore Art '97.
1998 : Founding editor, Southeast Asia for International Artist.
1998 - : Arts Advisor, National Arts Council.
2000 : Dolphin Fellowship, American Watercolour Society.
2001 - : Honorary President, Singapore Watercolour Society, Singapore.
2001 - : Life Fellow, Centre of the Arts, National University of Singapore.
27 Jun 2003 : Launch of Ong's instructional book on watercolour painting, a first by a Singaporean artist.
18 Feb 2004 : Launch of first-day stamp cover by Singapore Post, featuring ten of his watercolour paintings.
21 Feb 2004 : First Singaporean artist to appear on Talk Asia television programme, CNN International.
1974 : First prize, Port of Singapore Authority Artists Encouragement Scheme Open Art Competition.
1982 : P. J. Ireland Award, Macquerie University, Australia.
1983 : Paul B. Remmy AWS Memorial Award, American Watercolour Society, USA, for Heart of Kathmandu.
1988 : Lucy B. Moore Memorial Award, American Watercolour Society, USA, for Backyard, Singapore.
1989 : Clara Stroud Memorial Award, American Watercolour Society, USA, for Thimi, Nepal.
1990 : Cultural Medallion
1991 : Ponnadai ("Golden Shawl") title, Singapore Kairalee Kala Nilayam (Singapore Kairalee Arts Centre)
1 May 1992 : Base Miller Memorial Award, American Watercolour Society, for Gysante Market
9 Dec 1995 : Pingat Apad, Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya
28 Apr 2000 : Winsor & Newton Award, American Watercolour Society, for "Old Corner, Nepal"
4 Aug 2000 : Excellence for Singapore Award, Singapore Totalisator Board
2001 : Supporter of the Arts Award, National Arts Council
2001 : The Singapore Internationale Award, Singapore International Foundation
2001 : Ida Wells Memorial Award, American Watercolour Society
28 Sep 2003 : Silver Award, National Watercolour Exhibition of the People's Republic of China, Fuzhou, China, for Stall Bali
Artist on top of the world: Paintings from the Himalayan Trek. (1979). Singapore : Educational Publications Bureau.
(Call no.: RSEA 759.95957 ONG)
Ong Kim Seng. (1985). Singapore : K. S. Ong.
(Call no.: SING 759.95957 ONG)
Overland Tibet. (1988). [Singapore] : K. S. Ong.
(Call no.: 759.95957 ONG)
Caine's Gallery presents recent works by Ong Kim Seng. (1993). Singapore: Caine's Gallery.
(Call no.: RSING 759.95957 ONG)
Charms of Ubin. (2001). Singapore : Outward Bound Singapore c/o People's Association.
(Call no.: RSING 759.95957 ONG)
Timeless Jiangnan. (2002). Singapore : Kwek L. J. : Ong K. S.
(Call no.: SING 951 ONG)
Mastering light and shade in watercolour. (2003). Verdi, Nev. : International Artist.
(Call no.: RSING q751.422 ONG -[ART])
Wife: Nam Ah Moy
Children: Henry, Suan Ching, and Suan Lin
Lim, Richard (Ed.). (1998). Singapore artists speak. Singapore: Raffles Edition.
(Call no. : RSING 709.5957 SIN)
Adhikari, R. (1978, October 6). Painting from the top of the world. The New Nation.
Hee, J. (2000, August 5). Awards- six receive honours for excellence. The Straits Times, p. 46.
Kong, L. (1991, March 6). Seven silver pieces. The Straits Times, Life, pp. 1-2.
Leong, W. K. (2000, March 14). A rare Dolphin in Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 2.
Leong, W. K. (1995, May 2) Ong Kim Seng commissioned by President for painting. The Straits Times, p. 6.
Liu, J. (1993, December 12). Artist with more peaks to conquer. The Sunday Times, Sunday Review, p. 3.
Ong Kim Sengs early works sold for S$120. (1997, March 9). The Straits Times, p. 11.
Sasitharan, T. (1992, March 20). Ongs coup. The Straits Times, Life, p. 9.
Tan, E. S. (1990, Jan 14). Ong Kim Seng made member of premier watercolour society. The Straits Times, p. 1.
Chow, C. (2003, June 27) Lessons from a master. The Straits Times.
Chan, F. (2001, March 19). Catching the colours of morning. The Straits Times, p. SS8.
Leong, W. K. (2001, November 26). Ubin by night in water. The Straits Times, Life, p. 3.
Lim, R. (2003, June 29). Art saved him from politics. The Straits Times.
Suhaila Sulaiman (2001, November 4). Ubin exchange. The Straits Times, p. 3.
Singapore artist on CNN (2004, February 21). The Straits Times.
Mixed palette (2001, August 19). The Sun.
Ong Kim Seng. (n.d.). Biography. Retrieved July 21, 2004, from www.ongkimseng.com/
The information in this article is valid as at 2004 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.
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Ong, Kim Seng, 1945-