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.
April Ng Kiow Ngor: Salient Traces
8–17 November 2019
Local printmaker April Ng’s latest solo exhibition, Salient Traces, featured about 20 original intaglio prints - each created and hand-pulled personally by the artist - and foregrounds April’s interest in forms inspired by nature and her continued investigation into the minute but palpable organic presence in our everyday environment.
For instance, the new group of prints titled Existential Silence dramatises the organic interdependence between living and non-living objects: a thriving strand of botanical life that has erupted from the crevice of a rock gently embraces the surface of its refuge like a subtle and dignified gesture. While it has survived nature, the necessity of its existence amounts to nothing of terrestrial concern and most likely goes unnoticed by the human eye. Yet April’s work also takes apart conventional notions of spatiality. A lifeless rock is perhaps more often understood as a compound of minerals incapable of sustaining life but its physical essence as ascribed by nature is in fact capable of supporting lifeform without being a basis for it, as observed in her work. The ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings that she purports through a seemingly stable and simplistic structure of form accentuates the poetic richness of her visuals.
Similarly utilising the robust dynamics of black as a colour but to different effect, another new group of larger monoprints titled Gentle Silent Breeze features juxtaposing dimensions of gradated blacks that fill up the entire expanse of the paper. Overflowing before our eyes are blacks built on blacks, or against blacks, yet there is an order amidst the flux that evokes the beauty of natural phenomena, such as the changing cloud formation in an evening sky or the uneven rhythmic flow of a spontaneous breeze.
April Ng (b. 1963 - , Singapore) studied at Nanyang Academy of Fine Art where she majored in Western Painting and took an elective in printmaking. She subsequently pursued a Master in Printmaking at the Slate School of Fine Arts, UK and has since adopted the medium for her artistic expression. She specialises in monotype and intaglio printing, though her practice in recent years focusses almost entirely on the latter. April explores the concept of infusion with a sense of space, a process through which humans and other organisms become more aware of the relative positions of their own bodies and objects around them that are important for movement and orientation in the environment. Often, her expression centres on the overloading and numbing of the modern city dweller, and how living within a fast-paced urban ecosystem has deprived us of things we once believed to be permanently ours.
April’s works have been exhibited in numerous shows locally and internationally, including Portugal, Taiwan and the UK. Her first solo exhibition, organised by Stiftelsen 3.14, was held in Bergen, Norway in 1994. She is the recipient of the Honourable Mention Award, Philip Morris Group of Companies Singapore Art Award (2001) and her works are in individual and corporate collections both locally and overseas. April has been commissioned by the RSAF (Singapore) to work on projects, and she is one of the artists selected by the Land Transport Authority (Singapore) for the North East Line MRT Art in Transit series (Woodleigh Station).
Ng, S.P. (2019, November 10). 石头默默存在. Lianhe Zaobao [Singapore].