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Oh Chai Hoo draws inspiration for his art from Zen Buddhism. The Space of a Memory (2015, above) is a 48x70cm piece rendered in black pigments on rice paper.
A Thousand Years as a Fleeting Moment(2016, above), is also done in black pigments on rice paper and measures 68x150cm.

Rocks that tell a story

Jun 24, 2016 5:50 AM

ROCKS have a life force which Singaporean artist Oh Chai Hoo tries to capture in his black-and-white paintings.

"I've been fascinated with rocks from a young age. They have, of course, been around longer than humans, so I see them as having a life of their own," says the 56-year-old Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts-trained painter and ceramic sculptor.

In his solo exhibition titled Lifetime of Change, he shows his appreciation for the natural formation of rock structures and also demonstrates how he finds inspiration from Zen Buddhism in his artistic practice.

"My thinking, which is based on Buddhist thought, is that all things on earth have life - we just don't realise it. All my rocks can speak," he says, of how rocks have withstood both time and man's intervention.

Oh, who lives in Bukit Timah, often visits the former quarries there for inspiration.

Rock formations are his frequent subject, but this time, he has depicted them in black and white, which he considers an achievement.

"The works this time are most complete," says the artist, who has previously painted rocks and landscapes in colour; black and white covers the whole spectrum of colours, he feels, and he likes their simplicity.

However, it is not purely traditional black ink; Oh has also mixed in some self-ground pigments and an acrylic medium to create a different texture.

Ink is unlike other types of paint, he says. He likes that it is instant, honest and sincere.

"The moment the brush is laid on the paper surface, the strokes are irreversible, and every trace of movement is captured by the ink, leaving no chance for correction."

The honesty and sincerity of the medium captures everything about the artist - his mood and personality, as well as his familiarity and mastery over his choice of medium.

Oh's last solo was a series of paintings for The Esplanade's Huayi Festival in 2014.

Tropical Zen Garden is an installation of Chinese ink on rice paper, based on the philosophy and beauty of zen gardens.

He had referenced his paintings from images and studies of rocks, sand, moss and trees gathered from his backyard in Bukit Timah Hill.

For this exhibition, he has also made two black-and-white ceramic sculptures - where the natural black was caused by the wood firing, not glaze.

Oh started making art at the age of 14.

He was featured in his first group exhibition a year later, with respected artists such as Chen Wen Hsi and others.

He graduated from Nafa in 1982 and is now a full-time artist and a member of various arts groups including the Singapore Sculpture Society and Nanyang Clay Group.

  • Lifetime of Change, a solo exhibition of ink paintings, ceramic seal carvings and ceramic sculptures by Oh Chai Hoo, runs from July 1 to 16 at iPreciation Gallery, 50 Cuscaden Road, HPL House #01-01. The opening hours at the gallery are 10am to 7pm from Mondays to Fridays, and 11am to 6pm on Saturdays