POH SIEW WAH
Versatile, Abstract Artist
BY HIRANMAYII AWLI MOHANAN
Poh Siew Wah, a versatile painter, was born in Singapore on April 30, 1948. His father was a commercial artist who encouraged him to draw and paint from an early age. He received his formal education at Gan Eng Seng Secondary School where he was taught by Mr. Namasivayam S. (known for his life drawings and figure studies) and Mr. Yeong Ah Soo (holder of a master’s degree in graphic design). Seeing an innate talent, these teachers encouraged him to experiment with different mediums, ranging from charcoal and crayons to watercolours and oils. In 1967, Poh entered the Teachers’ Training College, majoring in art education where he was exposed to new techniques and ideas. He graduated in 1970 and taught art ever since before retiring.
In Poh’s eyes, abstraction is the best means of conveying his emotions, paired with the unrestricted use of material and the spontaneous gesture seems much more direct than any kind of realistic art. In particular, his use of collage technique, revealed his interest in the links between material and experience. Poh’s early works were realistic watercolours and oils of Singapore scenes. His works embody an endearing quality to them, reflecting the quietude of nature and its beauty in his works. Poh’s major influence came from the works of Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies, who paved his personal artistic journey and moulded Poh to foray into abstract art and free-form expression works of art in ink.
Be it realist or abstract, Poh has gone through stages of development and creative stances, all invigorating its viewers. His range of materials include acrylic and/ or collage and/or sand on canvas; acrylic marble paper on paper; acrylic on canvas; oil on canvas; calligraphy/collage; watercolours on paper; Chinese ink on Chinese rice paper; acrylic, gouache on watercolour paper. He also had a stint with rolled images on Jindezhen ceramic panels and porcelain vases. Poh has lived by an ever-guiding principle, “Art has the power to make people think about the meaning of life. “Everything as a part of nature has a secret soul, a spirit in silence.”
ISLAND IN THE SUN EXHIBITION, MALAYSIA
For a second-generation Singaporean artist who has been painting seriously for nearly half a century and an art educator from 1967-1999, ‘Island in The Sun’ was his first Malaysian solo exhibition and only second solo outside Singapore, the first being in Flensburg (Court of Justice Hall) in Germany in 1995. It’s quite out of the norm for Poh to centre his artworks around or be inspired by a specific place, but, the UNESCO-inscribed world heritage site, Penang, seemed to have made an imprint on the artist. The artist visited Penang for holidays numerous times and every time he does, he is overwhelmed with happiness just by taking in its natural charms.
It is these serendipitous experiences in Penang that became Poh’s muse for his latest series, featuring modern Chinese ink and colour on paper as well as acrylic on canvas works. The works were exhibited at Daiichi Art Space in Penang. The exhibition represented a major change in the artist’s abstract explorations and experiments since his first abstract painting, Pink, Yellow and White (acrylic, gesso on board, 1989). The hush, thoughtful works have a distinct contrast to his earlier abstracts of greater demarcation of forms with vibrant colours and vigorous strokes.
The works exhibited in the ‘Island in the Sun’ are an exploration of dynamic shapes while touching on aspects such as horizon, infinity, reminiscences, romance and ambiguity. His abstract styles run the repertoire of standards like AbEx, minimalism, colour field and even collage. There are drips, splotches and splashes, and shapes that are organic and geometric. Focal points are not rigid, while the composition is fluid. The present works reveal a more lyrical and cleaner veneer.