The Story of Two Presses
15 - 30 Apr 2022
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.
Local Printmaker and Owner of Pulp Editions Chen Shitong (right) processing a print with artist-in-residence Oh Chai Hoo (left), 2022.
In parallel to this narrative surrounding Chen Cheng Mei’s presses for LASALLE (and the workshop’s contribution to the local contemporary printmaking scene), The Story of Two Presses aims to highlight another current, ongoing story of untold dreams and sacrifices that unfold at Pulp Editions.
Founded in 2017, Pulp Editions is an independent workshop owned and operated by young local printmaker and educator Chen Shitong (b. 1985, Singapore). Inspired by the dedication and achievements of American post-war master printmaker and educator Kenneth E. Tyler, Chen Shitong develops Pulp Editions as a collaborative printmaking workshop dedicated to creating fine art prints with Singapore artists and cultivating engagement with printmaking. Collaborations are driven by experimentation with traditional printmaking methods such as lithography, etching, relief printing and monotype.
Every year, Pulp Editions invites a handful of local artists to collaborate on a residency programme. This exhibition introduces audience to the current printmaking practice of Chen Shitong and another 5 artists who were recent residents with the printer, Chiew Sien Kuan, Chua Chon Hee, Oh Chai Hoo, Nyan Soe and Nhawfal Juma’at.
In Singapore the impact of the social-realist printmaking movement in the period of 1950s-60s cast open the potential of print as a meaningful medium that could be easily available, appreciated and collected. In addition, returning artists who explored printmaking - such as engraving, etching and lithograph - while pursuing their art studies abroad in the UK and Paris between the 1960s and 80s, found the discipline crucial to enriching their language of colour and texture in painting. The practice of printmaking either supplements as an experimental platform for painters, or suffices as an innovative medium and expression in itself. The Story of Two Presses interrogates the different ways these various artists explore and push the print medium in fulfilling their artistic ambitions, 30 years ago and now.