Nanman Art Gallery: Wee Beng Chong

Tucked away in the art gallery-centric Tanglin Shopping Centre, Nanman Art played host to pioneering artist, Wee Beng Chong, for his 2015 exhibition of his latest works.

Beng Chong is a prolific and passionate Chinese ink artist, steeped in traditional Chinese literature, calligraphy, seal carving and painting. He currently teaches Chinese ink painting at Nanyang Fine Arts Academy.

While I have met him many times in various society exhibitions through the years, I have never mustered up the courage to approach such a famous painter – I can only admire him from a distance, knowing that I hardly have the knowledge nor substance to hold a decent conversation with him.

By chance, I was tasked to meet him with regards to copyright issues pertaining to the usage of digital images in my course of work. So I met the great man himself, and walked away full of awe and admiration – I was honoured to be politely received and regaled stories by Beng Chong. As a parting gift, he slyly winked and said I should try the roast duck hawker stall just behind his apartment block (it was delicious!).

At his exhibition, Beng Chong was very kind to approach me and welcome me as a friend. I was told that he is a difficult person to deal with – they are very wrong, Beng Chong is the absolute gentleman and artist.

My interests in Chinese ink art lies predominantly in the exploration of techniques in medium and brushwork, and the thought processes that each artist has.

Whenever I view art, I look at overall composition followed by meaning. Once I can grasp some potential within a given artwork, I will look deeper into the brushwork and usage of the ink/colour pigments (if you see me inspecting a painting briefly, and then moving on… there is a reason).

Naturally, I am struck by several particular brushwork techniques used by Beng Chong for his abstract calligraphy artworks.

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Detail of water-spots

Spots, formed by dripping water on still-wet ink strokes, can create a pattern similar as the above detail of the artwork. In my mind, I can see the frenzied movement of Beng Chong water-spotting the ink strokes to create a multitude of layered spots along each stroke – it would be a sight to behold as I could imagine Beng Chong holding his breath to see the results of his water-spotting as they dried slowly.

From another artwork, another detail caught my eye.

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Detail of “water spot-within-water spot”

The formation of the water spot is clear and sharp, without the usual feathering patterns (as seen from the previous detail). Additionally, the “water spot-within-water spot” is truly amazing. I am still figuring out how he managed to create such an effect, and with what.

My close inspection of such details, and my photography of which, made Beng Chong curious. He approached me and asked what I was looking at, I explained to him that I was trying to figure out the techniques that are being used here. He gave me a beautific smile and said, “I am glad someone is asking and thinking about techniques like these. Most people just want to learn things the easy way and call themselves masters of the art or medium. Having you look and understand these techniques and effects, I am glad to know that my brushwork techniques will have a lasting record in art history itself.”

Gosh, I have never blushed so much.

Unknown to Beng Chong, I have known his younger brother, Ming Sheng, for more than a decade.

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With Huang Ming Sheng

Ming Sheng is my go-to man for Chinese ink conservation and preparation of Chinese ink artworks. Despite his lack of education, Ming Sheng holds the knowledge and skills to prepare Chinese ink artworks (prior to framing), to repair tears and holes on rice paper, to remove mould and stains from such artworks, and many more restoration issues that Chinese ink artworks will face over the years of being kept or exhibited.

With the numerous artworks (Chinese ink) I have in my possession, as well as the various people I have introduced to him; I can safely say that Ming Sheng outshines all public and private “paper conservators”. I seriously believe that these “paper conservators” should apprentice under Ming Sheng, and learn from him instead of inviting expensive and inexperienced “specialists” from China. However, I know that Ming Sheng would be quite picky on who could enter his workshop (not to mention learn from him).

When I first knew him, I was still very young. My father introduced me to him as the person whom I can rely on for such services. I remembered fondly how he advertised his services – by hanging a flat brush outside his window along Balestier Road. His workshop smelt of glue and paper… a constant humidity and a slight cigarette scent in the air.

In various corners of his workshop, he had bales of rice paper (from various manufacturers and even year of manufacture). I remembered being amazed at a “work-in-progress” where he was patiently splicing paper fibres from the edge of the artwork to patch a hole made by a small infestation.

I also remembered that he suffered from indigestion and stomach ulcers from working long hours without eating or drinking. He is really dedicated to his craft, and I truly respect him for this.

Today, being able to see him hale and hearty… I am truly blessed to be here for Beng Chong’s exhibition.

If you are interested in contacting Ming Sheng for Chinese ink artwork restoration, you can call Rising Studio at 6336 0208 (office hours only). Be polite, I mean it. 😀