Commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Halia Restaurant at the Ginger Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore Cultural Medallion for visual arts awardee and water-colourist, Ong Kim Seng, as well as a handful of his students have been invited to exhibit a range of works at Villa Halia from the 30th August to 16th September. Entitled ‘Gardens of Inspiration: A collection of water colour paintings by Ong Kim Seng & Students’, the works exhibited are clearly inspired by the lush greenery of the historical Botanic Gardens, in addition to a range of various other flora and fauna in Singapore and overseas. Painted ‘en plein air’ – a technique that involves painting in the open air, heavily advocated by the Barbizon school as well as the Impressionists – Mr Ong’s influence and guidance tempered with each individual’s personal style can clearly be seen in the work of his students.
In today’s artistic climate of headline-grabbing contemporary artworks and controversial mediums (a preserved shark, anyone?), it is easy to be assaulted by a visual plethora of art that is coeval, shocking and easy to react to. Art is increasingly produced through assistance and we forget the significance of the artist’s hand. Perhaps in the quest of artistic innovation, we have forgotten how to appreciate the purity and beauty of single-medium art. Therefore, the return to the humble watercolour, which has existed since the ancient civilisations, is akin to the cleansing of one’s visual palette.
Meditating on the balance of negative and positive space, Mr Ong achieves a sense of depth by maintaining a high contrast that is clean and light, lending a sense of purity and honesty, but never compromising on detail or texture. Colours retain a translucent quality within an organic colour palette; he avoids ‘heaviness’ by refraining from using absolutes like black in his work.
As Mr Ong puts it, “The ability to use colours effectively to reveal the emotional message of a painting contributes much to its success. I place importance on colours to achieve the clarity and transparency that I believe are only possible in this medium.”
Another characteristic in Mr Ong’s compositions is the attention he employs in leading the eye through his paintings, always instantaneously grabbing its focus at a particular point, before relenting and allowing it to explore the other details within the work. Despite being quite literal in style and subject-matter, one should never compare his work to a photograph as Mr Ong works with a highly critical eye, using his discretion as an artist to edit his compositions. Often called the stepchild of art, watercolour is in practice, a deceptively challenging medium to master: it is unforgiving and difficult to bend to will, but once grasped allows for experimentation and freedom of the brush. Seeing his work in the flesh, one is not at all surprised that Mr Ong remains one of Singapore’s leading artists and is one of the most highly-collected living water-colourists in Singapore today.
Being Mr Ong’s second exhibition hosted by the Halia Restaurant, It is evident why the partnership works so well. The picturesque restaurant nestled perfectly within the one-hectare Ginger Garden, provides a pleasant respite for visitors, while physically integrating itself seamlessly with the foliage that surrounds it. In fact, many of the watercolours on display draw inspiration from the harmony between the architecture and the gardens.
Running concurrently with this exhibition, chefs at the Halia have produced a special four-course dinner menu inspired by Mr Ong’s watercolour paintings. “A Flower and Fruit Market in Paris” influenced the creation of the Toasted honey cake, salsa of strawberry mint, mango basil, kiwi lime, honey ice cream. As you sit under these vibrant watercolours, the Halia will serve up their signature cuisine which blends modern European with occasional Asian touches, typically accented with ginger in various forms (after all, ‘halia’ is Malay for ginger), so as to give viewers an opportunity to engage in a multi-sensory experience. The menu also offers the option to have some specially selected wines from both France and Australia, which are chosen complement each course of your meal. So, take the time to savour this experience and perhaps you too, will be inspired by the beautiful gardens around you.