Ong Kim Seng

Singapore Infopedia


Eminent watercolourist Ong Kim Seng (b. 10 June 1945, Singapore–)1 is the former president of the Singapore Watercolour Society (1991 to 2001), a Cultural Medallion winner (Visual Art) in 1990, and winner of six awards from the prestigious American Watercolour Society. He has held numerous solo and group exhibitions since his first solo exhibition, Himalayan Trek Art Exhibition, at the Asia Art Gallery in 1979.2 His works have been exhibited internationally in Europe, USA, Japan and ASEAN3 countries.4

Early life
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 Ong was still young. To support the family, his mother worked as a washerwoman and a grass cutter.6 Ong enrolled in Radin Mas Primary School in 1954 and in Pasir Panjang Secondary School in 1959.

Ong left school in 1963 and subsequently worked as a bill collector in an advertising agency. He left the agency after four years and next worked as a policeman at the British Naval Base in Sembawang. He lost his job in 1971 when the British withdrew their troops from Singapore.Ong subsequently worked as a welder at Pulau Bukom; a line technician at the  electronics firm National Semiconductor; and an audio-visual/graphic technician at Colombo Plan Staff College for Technician Education.9 He became a full-time painter in 1985.10

Ong is a self-taught artist.11 His mother had envisioned him as either a clerk or teacher due to his education. Ong, however, had shown an interest in art since he was young.12 He experimented with painting, beginning with charcoal and oil, and moved on to watercolour painting in earnest in the 1960s.13 He then became a regular participant in a painting group at the Singapore River led by Chia Wai Hoon, an artist, writer and lecturer.14

As a realist painter, Ong’s works focus on inanimate objects, architectural form, masonry, foliage and landscape.15 His style is “naturalist cum impressionistic”, which is “a combination of post-impressionist colour and the outlook of the American realist masters”.16 He has held numerous solo and group exhibitions in the past three decades, and has had his works published by local and international publishers.17 

Ong’s interests include travelling, trekking, jogging, swimming and cycling.18 He enjoys meeting people and discovering their ways of life.19 He has gone on travelling-and-painting expeditions in the past, “recording vanishing ways of life of exotic places” in his paintings.20 For instance, he has trekked the Himalayas over seven times.21 This resulted in award-winning paintings such as Gysante Market (a scene from a Central Tibet flea market) and Thimi, Nepal.22

Ong is the first and only Singaporean to have won six awards from the prestigious American Watercolour Society (AWS), of which he was conferred membership in 1990.23 He received the society’s Dolphin Fellowship in 2000 for having won more than five AWS awards.24 He was the first Asian artist outside the US to be admitted into the society.25 In addition, Ong was elected president of the Singapore Watercolour Society from 1991 to 2001, after which he continued as its honorary president.26

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 former secretary-general of the United Nations. His works are also exhibited in foreign missions and embassies of the Republic of Singapore, and displayed at the Istana.27 Public and private patrons have commissioned paintings from him.28 For instance, in 1984, he was given the honour by The Straits Times to paint the National Day Parade. A year later, then President Ong Teng Cheong commissioned a painting for his new official residence, the Command House, at Kheam Hock Road.29 

 Conferred membership by the American Watercolour Society (AWS), USA.

1991–2001: President, Singapore Watercolour Society.30
1992–94: Paintings, Sentosa from Mt Faber and Raffles Hotel, selected for Look JTB travel magazine cover page.31
1997: Chairman, Asian Watercolours ’97 Singapore / Vice-chairman, Singapore Art ’97.32
1998: Founding editor, Southeast Asia for International Artist.33
1998–2010: Arts Advisor, National Arts Council.34
2000: Dolphin Fellowship, American Watercolour Society. 
2001–: Honorary President, Singapore Watercolour Society, Singapore / Life Fellow, Centre of the Arts, National University of Singapore.35
27 Jun 2003: Launch of instructional book on watercolour painting.36
2004: Launch of first-day stamp cover by Singapore Post, featuring 10 of his watercolour paintings.37
21 Feb 2004: First Singaporean artist to appear on Talk Asia television programme, CNN International.38 
2007: National Day First Day Covers.39
2009: Donates two of his earliest oil paintings and six other watercolour paintings (all original artworks that have not been previously displayed) to the National Gallery Singapore.40

First prize, Port of Singapore Authority Artists Encouragement Scheme Open Art Competition.41

1977: Medal Award presented by Ministry of Culture. 
1982: P. J. Ireland Award, Macquarie University, Australia.42
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 Award.43
1991: Ponnadai (“Golden Shawl”) title, Singapore Kairalee Kala Nilayam (Singapore Kairalee Arts Centre).44
1992: Barse Miller Memorial Award, American Watercolour Society, for Gysante Market.45
9 Dec 1995: Pingat Apad, Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya.46
28 Apr 2000: Winsor & Newton Award, American Watercolour Society, for Old Corner, Nepal.76
4 Aug 2000: Excellence for Singapore Award, Singapore Totalisator Board.48
2001: Arts Supporter Award, National Arts Council / The Singapore Internationale Award, Singapore International Foundation / Ida Wells Memorial Award, American Watercolour Society.49
28 Sep 2003: Silver Award, National Watercolour Exhibition of the People’s Republic of China, Fuzhou, China.50 
2004: Public Service Star Award.51 
23 Apr 2010: Friend of Heritage Award, National Heritage Board.52 
11 Jun 2014: Master of ASEAN Watercolourist at the World Watermedia Exposition, Thailand.53

 Artist on Top of the World: Paintings from the Himalayan Trek.54

1981: Boat Quay (art reproduction).55 
1985: Ong Kim Seng.56
1988: Overland Tibet.57
1993: Caine’s Gallery presents Recent Works by Ong Kim Seng.58
2001: Charms of Ubin.59
2002: Timeless Jiangnan.60
2003: Mastering Light and Shade in Watercolour.61
2006: An Ong Kim Seng & Students Exhibition: Dedication to Watercolour.62
2010: Poems in Watercolor.63
2011: Musings of the Fullerton Heritage: A collection of Paintings.64
2012: Gardens of Inspiration: A Collection of Watercolor Paintings.65
2013: Passion for Landscapes: The Watercolour Art of Ong Kim Seng.66

 Nam Ah Moy.

Children: Henry, Suan Ching and Suan Lin.

Nureza Ahmad

1. Lisa Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces,” Straits Times, 26 March 1991, 1; John Lui, Artist with More Peaks to Conquer,” Straits Times, 12 December 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Richard Adhikari, “Painting from the Top of the World,” New Nation, 6 October 1978, 5; John Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer,” Straits Times, 12 December 1993, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Richard Lim, ed., Singapore Artists Speak (Singapore: Raffles Edition, 1998), 85. (Call no. RSING 709.5957 SIN)
3. Ong Kim Seng, Overland Tibet (Singapore: Ong Kim Seng, 1988) (Call no. RSING 759.95957 ONG); Leong Weng Kam, “A Rare Dolphin in Singapore,” Straits Times, 14 March 2000, 2; Lisa Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces,” Straits Times, 26 March 1991, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Lim, Singapore Artists Speak, 85; Ong Kim Seng, Charms of Ubin (Singapore: Outward Bound Singapore c/o People’s Association, 2001), 4. (Call no. RSING 759.95957 ONG)
5. Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.” 
6. Richard Lim, “Art Saved Him from Politics,” Straits Times, 29 June 2003, 4; Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”
7. Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer”; John Lui, “No Paint, No Gain,” Straits Times, 20 October 2008, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Lim, “Art Saved Him from Politics.” 
9. Adhikari, “Painting from the Top of the World”; Lim, “Art Saved Him from Politics”; Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”
10. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces.”
11. Adhikari, “Painting from the Top of the World”; Lim, Singapore Artists Speak, 80.
12. Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”
13. Wong, “No Paint, No Gain”; Leong Weng Kam, “Watercolourist Goes Back to Oils,” Straits Times, 7 January 2014, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”
15. T. Sasitharan, “Ong’s Coup,” Straits Times, 20 March 1992, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces.”
17. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces”; Lim, Singapore Artists Speak, 85; Ong Kim Seng, Caine’s Gallery Presents Recent Works by Ong Kim Seng (Singapore: Caine’s Gallery, 1993), 38 (Call no. RSING 759.95957 ONG); Ong, Charms of Ubin, 5.
18. Adhikari, “Painting from the Top of the World”; Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”
19. Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”
20. Adhikari, “Painting from the Top of the World”; Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”
21. Lim, “Art Saved Him from Politics.” 
22. Tan Ee Sze, “Ong Kim Seng Made Member of Premier Watercolour Society,” Straits Times, 14 January 1990, 1; Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces.”
23. Leong, “Rare Dolphin in Singapore”; Tan, “Ong Kim Seng Made Member of Premier Watercolour Society.”
24. Leong, “Rare Dolphin in Singapore.”
25. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces.”
26. Ong, Charms of Ubin, 4.
27. Ong, Charms of Ubin, 4; Nabilah Said, “Works by Singapore Artists Featured in Istana,” Straits Times, 20 June 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
28. Deepika Shetty, “Shop and Stare,” Straits Times, 9 July 2009, 49. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces”; Phan Ming Yen, “President Commissions Two Paintings for New Official Residence.” Straits Times, 25 November 1994, 3; Leong Weng Kam, “Choo’s Donations,” Straits Times, 20 July 1995, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces”; Ong, Charms of Ubin, 4.
31. Ong, Caine’s Gallery Presents Recent Works by Ong Kim Seng, 36.
32. Ong, Charms of Ubin, 5.
33. Ong Kim Seng, “My Biodata,” accessed 17 November 2016.
 34. Ong, Charms of Ubin, 5; “8 New Members Appointed to National Arts Council,” (2010, September 3). Channel NewsAsia, 3 September 2010. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
35. Ong, Charms of Ubin, 4–5.
36. Lim, “Art Saved Him from Politics”; Clara Chow, “Lessons from a Master,” Straits Times, 27 June 2003, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “A Stamp Featuring ‘Dance Studio, Bali, 1999’ by Ong Kim Seng,” National Heritage Board, accessed 16 November 2016.
38. “Singapore Artist on CNN,” Straits Times, 21 February 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
39. “National Day First Day Covers,” Channel NewsAsia, 7 August 2007. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
40. Wu Qiji, 吴启基, “Wáng jÄ«nchéng juānxiàn bā jiàn zuòpǐn dài guójiā měishù guǎn zuì hǎo de shuǐcǎi zuìchÅ« de yóu miàn,” 王金成捐献八件作品 绐国家美术馆 最好的水彩 最初的油面 [Ong Kim Seng donated eight artworks to National Gallery Singapore, including his best watercolour paintings and earliest oil paintings]. Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 19 September 2009, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
41. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces.”
42. Lim, Singapore Artists Speak, 85.
43. Kong, “Seven Silver Pieces.”
44. Ong, Caine’s Gallery Presents Recent Works by Ong Kim Seng, 36.
45. Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer”; Sasitharan, “Ong’s Coup.”
46. Ong Kim Seng, “Awards and Recognitions,” accessed 17 November 2016.
47. Leong, “Rare Dolphin in Singapore.”
48. Jack Hee, “Awards – Six Receive Honours for Excellence,” Straits Times, 5 August 2000, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
49. Ong, Charms of Ubin, 4.
50. Ong, “My Biodata.”
51. Yen Meng Jin, “The Very Picture of Care and Support,” Business Times, 5 September 2009, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
52. Deepika Shetty, “Sharing Treasures of Art,” Straits Times, 23 April 2010, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
53. “Local Artists Win International Awards,” Straits Times, 24 June 2014, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
54. Ong Kim Seng, Artist on Top of the World: Paintings from the Himalayan Trek (Singapore: Educational Publications Bureau, 1979). (Call no. RCLOS 759.95957 ONG)
55. Ong Kim Seng, Boat Quay (Singapore: Ong Kim Seng, 1981). (Call no. RCLOS 759.95957 ONG)
56. Ong Kim Seng (Singapore: K. S. Ong, 1985). (Call no. RSING 759.95957 ONG)
57. Ong, Overland Tibet.
58. Ong, Caine’s Gallery Presents Recent Works by Ong Kim Seng.
59. Ong, Charms of Ubin. 
60. Ong Kim Seng, Timeless Jiangnan (Singapore: Kwek L. J.: Ong K. S., 2002). (Call no. RSING 951 ONG)
61. Ong Kim Seng 王金成, Shui cai guang ying biao xian shou fa: rang ni de zuo pin chong man liang li he qiang lie dui bi æ°´å½©å…‰å½±è¡¨çŽ°æ‰‹æ³• : 让你的作品充满亮丽和强烈对比 [Mastering light and shade in watercolour] (Fuzhou: Fuji Press Art Publishing House, 2005). (Call no. Chinese RSEA q751.422 OKS)
62. An Ong Kim Seng & Students Exhibition: Dedication to Watercolour (Singapore: K. S. Ong, 2006). (Call no. RSING 759.95957 ONG)
63. Ong Kim Seng, Poems in Watercolor (Singapore: Galerie Belvedere, 2010). (Call no. RSING 759.95957 ONG)
64. Ong Kim Seng, Musings of the Fullerton Heritage: A Collection of Paintings (Singapore: Fullerton Heritage, 2011). (Call no. RSING 759.95957 MUS)
65. Ong Kim Seng, Gardens of Inspiration: A Collection of Watercolor Paintings (Singapore: s.n., 2012). (Call no. RSING 759.95957 GAR)
66. Ma Peiyi, Passion for Landscapes: The Watercolour Art of Ong Kim Seng (Singapore: Artcommune Gallery Pte Ltd., 2013). (Call no. RSING 759.95957 MA)
67. Lui, “Artist with More Peaks to Conquer.”

Further resources
Fiona Chan, “Catching the Colours of Morning,” Straits Times, 19 March 2001, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

Leong Weng Kam, “Ubin By Night in Water,” Straits Times, 26 November 2001, 13. (From NewspaperSG)

“Mixed Palette,” Sun, 19 August 2001. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

Ong Kim Seng’s Early Works Sold for S$120,” Straits Times, 9 March 1997, 11. (From NewspaperSG)

Suhaila Sulaiman, “Ubin Exchange,” Straits Times, 4 November 2001, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2017 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.

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