June 16, 2021

“Do you think I have improved?”—this is a question Lim Tze Peng usually asks when showing his new works. It is a question he had asked as a young man and continues to ask today. Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100, the book and the exhibition, pay tribute to the artist’s remarkable artistic renaissance at 100. Both the book and exhibition were launched on 15 June 2021 at The Arts House by Guest-of-Honour Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore.

At 95 in 2016, Lim Tze Peng became the oldest Singaporean to be awarded the Meritorious Service Medal on Singapore’s National Day. Farmer, teacher, school principal, and artist, Lim Tze Peng counts Lee Man Fong, Cheong Soo Pieng, and Liu Kang, the pioneering generation of Nanyang artists, as his mentors. Today, Lim Tze Peng remains as a witness to and an important player in Singapore’s art history since the 1940s.

The book “Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100” is authored by Woon Tai Ho, notable media person and pioneer of news channel, Channel NewsAsia, and published by homegrown international publisher World Scientific. It traces the lean beginnings of Lim Tze Peng’s early years, relives the times of controversy over the artist’s innovations in Chinese calligraphy, and celebrates his breakthroughs. Throughout the book, attention is paid to Lim Tze Peng the man, the foundation of everything that is admirable about Lim Tze Peng the artist. It looks at the man behind the art, and how art has given life to him and his family.

“This is a story of steely perseverance. His belief in himself defeats societal norms about age and deepens his resolve to achieve and surprise,” says Woon Tai Ho, author of the book.

Lim Tze Peng started late in life; everything got going only after the ripe old age of 80. A Cultural Medallion awardee at 82 and a Meritorious Service recipient at 95, Lim Tze Peng is used to the twists and turns of life and has been trained by experience to endure the vagaries of fate. His art could be described as the art of perseverance. Lim Tze Peng’s recent works are bigger, bolder, and boast far more colours than ever before. Their spirit is as invigorating as that of a young man, whilst embodying the soul of a sage.

Accompanying the launch of the book, Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100, the exhibition, presents 20 of Lim Tze Peng’s most recent ink works completed since 2020. The exhibition is on at The Arts House from 15 to 30 June. Curated by Low Sze Wee, CEO of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and the former Director (Curatorial, Collections and Education) of the National Gallery Singapore, the exhibition unfolds in five parts, each tracing the arc of Lim Tze Peng’s approaches to his work.

Among the featured works are four paintings which trace back to the 1980s when Lim Tze Peng became a full-time artist and raced to paint the fast-disappearing scenes as the country underwent rapid redevelopment. These four paintings—Morning at Arab Street, Crowded Bugis Street, Tanjong Rhu Riverside and Riverside—were started in the 1980s but reworked by the artist in 2020 with an overlay of bold colours, thus injecting a new vibrancy to his memories of Singapore.

The new works on display reflect Lim Tze Peng’s evolving practice. Unable to continue painting outdoors due to his old age in the 2000s, Lim started working at home where he could create monumental pieces, using huge brushes on large sheets of paper. Due to his many years on a farm, Lim loved to paint trees. This intersected with his passion for calligraphy when he painted trees using calligraphic strokes. In recent years, he pushed the boundaries of calligraphy even further by developing a wildly cursive style which he calls “muddled writing” (hutuzi), and adding vibrant colours to heighten the emotional impact of his works.

In looking back on his practice, Lim Tze Peng once said, “There are people who like my past, prefer that I don’t change… They don’t understand what I paint now. It doesn’t matter. It is not possible for everyone to see what I see. And honestly, it doesn’t matter if they never do. I am painting feelings now.”

The exhibition, Soul of Ink: Lim Tze Peng at 100 is open to the public at The Arts House from 15 to 30 June 2021, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., while the book will be available at all major bookstores including Kinokuniya, Times the Bookstore, and Popular and retails at S$56 (hardcover) and S$28 (paperback).