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Fan Shao Hua's Happy Times (above), a 2003 oil on canvas showing Mr and Mrs Lee with their grandchildren.

Fan's portrait of Mr Lee titled A Great Man from a Small Country (above, left); and Fan's 2014 painting, Middle of Summer (above, right)

Making his mark in LKY's S'pore

Mar 27, 2015 5:50 AM

FAN Shao Hua's first portrait of the late Lee Kuan Yew was in 1994 - two years after the Guangzhou-born artist first landed in Singapore. "I was attracted to the orderliness and the multi-cultural mix of Singapore - and it was clear that it was Mr Lee behind this country," he shares.

Fan produced two or three more portraits of Singapore's first prime minister and, as he got to know the country better, he began to add more symbolic elements. One of his later works shows Mr Lee shaking hands with his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with the statue of Confucius in the background. "That symbolised how he was passing on Confucian values," the 52-year-old artist explains.

Naturally, Fan is a great admirer of Mr Lee, as he was a beneficiary of the government's policy to open its doors to artists. As a 29-year-old in 1992, Fan was among a small handful of artists from China to emigrate to Singapore.

"Two events made me consider coming to Singapore," Fan explains. He had a relative in Hong Kong who had been to Singapore and encouraged him to go; and then a gallerist in Singapore bought several of his paintings in China.

"That gave me some confidence, that I could find an audience who would appreciate my work here," he says.

Born in 1963 in Guangzhou, Fan started painting when he was 10 years old, and won a hard-earned spot at the Guangdong Academy of Fine Arts. After graduation, he worked in a TV station, designing sets and also looking after fine arts programmes. He returned to academia after that, teaching art.

When he came to Singapore, he also worked at a publishing company (now defunct) doing book design, dabbled in advertising, then taught for a year at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts before he decided to paint full-time.

Fan steadily built up his reputation in Singapore with group exhibitions and competitions such as UOB's Painting of the Year (he won seven prizes before bagging the top award in 2000). His last solo was in 2007, before this Journey in Art: Retrospective Exhibition by Fan Shao Hua at Nafa.

The retrospective featuring some 60 works starts with his studio sketches in the 1980s. The paintings are organised according to themes - such as his portraits (especially of Samsui women), scenes of Singapore as his new home (Fan took up citizenship in 2004), and his current series: lotuses in abstract expression.

Bridget Tracy Tan, director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Arts, notes in her exhibition essay that Fan "draws from everyday life to create the different textures mirroring what his former teacher Lu Yanguang calls 'global insight', 'culture shock' and 'fusion'".

  • Journey in Art: Retrospective Exhibition by Fan Shao Hua is on from now until April 8, at Nafa Galleries 1 & 2, Nafa Campus 1 (80 Bencoolen St). The Galleries are open from 11am to 7pm from Tues to Sat, and closed on Mondays and public holidays.

IN DEPTH: Lee Kuan Yew: 1923-2015