artcommune and AC43 Gallery are pleased to present The Story of Two Presses, which delves into the little-known history and collaborative culture of contemporary printmaking in Singapore. Featuring works by Chen Cheng Mei, Chng Seok Tin, Chen Shitong, Chiew Sien Kuan, Chua Chon Hee, Ho E Moi, Nhawfal Juma’at, Nyan Soe, Oh Chai Hoo and Tan Sock Fong, this multi-generational showcase centres on the developments of two specific printmaking workshops helmed by local artists in Singapore - the LASALLE Printing Workshop (in LASALLE College of the Arts) led by Chen Cheng Mei and Chng Seok Tin between the mid-1980s and 1990s, and Pulp Editions founded by Chen Shitong in 2017.
Though operating over 30 years apart, both printers embody the fervent ground-up initiative of local artists whose passion and sacrifices became instrumental in developing the contemporary printmaking scene in Singapore. The Story of Two Presses presents around 30 fine art prints spanning the period of 1980s to 2022, with almost all being produced in these two workshops.
Celebration of Chng Seok Tin’s birthday, circa 1992.
Artists Ho E Moi, Chen Cheng Mei, and Chng Seok Tin (from left to right in the foreground) with students at the LASALLE Printing Workshop in Telok Kurau. Photograph courtesy of Dahlia Osman (2nd from right in the background), student of Chng Seok Tin.
More often than not, a series of small, thoughtful gestures from one or two individuals is all it takes to set forth a course of meaningful developments for an entire community. In 1985, the dedication of Brother Joseph McNally, who founded LASALLE College of the Arts in 1984, was met with an equal measure of selflessness from artist Chen Cheng Mei, who readily helped facilitate the inception of the school’s printmaking department by placing her own newly imported English etching press and print materials in the school’s printing workshop for all students and interested artists to use.
Chen Cheng Mei (b. 1927, Singapore - d. 2020, Singapore) herself was primarily an oil painter who had trained at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (1949-54). While visiting Paris in 1980, she hung out at the renowned Atelier 17 printer owned by Stanley William Hayter and was determined to experiment further with press techniques. This prompted her purchase of an expensive English etching press in 1985 for her personal use. In the early years of the newly-opened LASALLE, Brother McNally had had to contend with limited funds and resources, and Chen Cheng Mei’s generous gestures had allowed the school to run its printmaking department with verve and aptitude. Her informal gifting of the etching press and materials enabled LASALLE to hire Chng Seok Tin (b. 1946, Singapore - d. 2019, Singapore), who had just returned to Singapore after many years of training and experimenting with print techniques in the US, to helm the department in 1985. In the late 80s, Chen Cheng Mei also added an imported German lithograph press to the workshop. Over the years, she continued to donate many print materials including paper, imported plates and acids to the workshop.
As a teacher and mentor, Chng Seok Tin was instrumental in fostering the first of print majors amongst art students in Singapore. For up until the late 80s, printmaking was offered only as an exposure module at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and the lessons focused more on woodcut and silkscreen printing. LASALLE was effectively the first art school in Singapore to offer a degree majoring in Print, encouraging a more specialised interest in etching and lithography.
Between 1985 and up till the 2000s, Chen Cheng Mei, Chng Seok Tin and Ho E Moi (also Chen’s sister-in-law) worked often at the LASALLE Printing Workshop to produce their own etchings and lithographs. Several students and graduates from LASALLE who were active members of the Contemporary Printmaking Association, Singapore, such as Tan Sock Fong (b. 1966, Singapore, who was amongst LASALLE’s first batch of print majors), also produced many of their works here. In an informal and organic manner, the LASALLE printing workshop functioned as a fecund space where artists of different backgrounds and styles came together to learn and transfer knowledge, bonded by a common interest to pursue contemporary printmaking as an avenue of expression.
The Story of Two Presses aims to celebrate this uniqueness and spirit embodied by the LASALLE printing workshop with a selection of prints completed by Chen Cheng Mei, Chng Seok Tin, Ho E Moi and Tan Sock Fong in this very space.
Poised for Success | Woodcut Series by Zhang Fuming
23 December 2016 – 8 January 2017
AC43 Gallery was proud to present the second solo exhibition of Singapore’s young, emerging printmaker Zhang Fuming. Currently a full-time artist, Zhang Fuming (b. 1989, Singapore) obtained his diploma in Fine Arts (Printmaking) from LASALLE College of the Arts in 2011. He was among the three winners in the Affordable Art Fair Young Talent Program 2014/2015.
This curated exhibition showcased about 15 works from Fuming’s latest woodcut series, Poised for Success as well as selected prints from his two previous woodcut series, Demarcation (2014) and Presence and Distances (2015). To enable a better understanding of Fuming’s technical process, a few of the artist’s original woodblocks will also be on display.
In his latest woodcut series candidly titled, “Poised for Success”, Fuming reflects on the complex societal forces, roles and expectations shaping the upbringing and future of a child finding his place within Singapore’s increasingly competitive and success-oriented society. As with his previous woodcut series, Fuming continues to cast illuminating glimpses into objects and figures situated within the most ordinary of routines and conventions, granting these seemingly placid observations an ironic distance through which social commentary may be underlined.
In images that embody the setting of play, childhood naïveté is displaced by a formal drive for learning and success, as evident in Enrichment Toys (2016), where a set of interactive learning toys – prized for the functional instillment of purpose and calculation – assumes our contemplative focus. Similarly, in Up (2016), the ladder in which two children attempt to climb at a playground assumes an imposing structure almost resembling an alienating cage; the legs of the ascended child extend over the head of another child below – a metaphor for how the “struggle to the top” is often an isolating journey achieved at the expense of others.
In Singapore, Fuming is possibly the only printmaker of his generation who chooses to harness the direct, efficient means of black-white woodcut narratives in expressing critical social messages, reprising the role of social realism in the application of woodblock prints. Fuming’s heavy, expressive use of blacks and whites takes after the technique of influential German printmaker, Kathe Kollwitz who relies on bold, economical usage of blacks and whites to dramatise scenes of vulnerability, toil and destitution. Fuming’s utilisation of large woodblocks, combined with an immersive black-white engagement – usually achieved through both rubbing and printing – heightens the stark emotional quality of his images and generates for his narratives a sense of weight and melancholy.
In conjunction with the exhibition, AC43 Gallery hosted a special Q&A session and live demonstration with the artist on 7 January 2017. This registered event was facilitated by Senior Curator, Ma Peiyi.
Wang, Y.M., Chen, Y.X., & Ng, S.P. (2017, January 2). 2017年艺坛新星 期待 新 光芒. Lianhe Zaobao [Singapore].
Ng, S.P. (2016, December 27). 张富铭个展“成名在望” 用木刻版画说本地故事. Lianhe Zaobao [Singapore].
Spotlight: Q&A with Zhang Fuming