Born in Singapore in 1938, Teo Eng Seng studied art and art education at the Birmingham College of Art and design in the1960s. A Boy from the Temple is a highly abstract piece by Teo. As a result of interlayering, varied images flicker throughout the picture plane. The emphasis is on a strange but undeniable play between colour and shape. A Boy from the Temple is like a mysterious landscape plotted on indefinite forms and colour innuendoes.

Teo Eng Seng's formal art education began with evening classes at the British Council in the mid-1950s and continued at the Birmingham College of Art and Design, "Paperdyesculp" was a term coined by Teo for his medium of paper pulp and dye. A Boy From the Temple is an abstract collage work of paperdyesculp. The strong textural feeling of the collage, together with the loose but balanced arrangement of elements evoke moods and feelings in the viewer. The red, gold, orange, and the dull tan of joss sticks speaks of Chinese religious beliefs and traditions, conjuring the auspicious mood of festivity.

Source: Kwok Kian Chow


The Commuters by Teo Eng Seng

One of the most thought provoking artworks on the North East Line, these rich and varied wall reliefs of people in motion reflect the thoughts and inner-most feelings of commuters. These images seem to emerge from the wall and disappear into it, inviting commuters to pause and contemplate their meaning. The work was originally fashioned in clay by the artist before being transferred onto concrete wall panels. NORTH EAST LINE MRT SINGAPORE Art in Transit.



Peanut Get Monkey

Source: an unedited excerpt of the article published in the Autumn 1988 issue of Modern Painters, and written by Howard Jacobson.

Downstairs, I meet two more senior artists, though neither of these is given to apology. Anthony Poon, whose sculptures can be seen in or around many public buildings in Singapore, began as a painter and advanced on sculpture gradually, through rhomboid and diamond-shaped paintings, illusions of curvilinearity, and then canvases constructed in relief. So his work flutters tremulously, giving the impression of having just liberated itself from the wall. Teo Eng Seng, on the other hand, makes sculptures which are yearning to be paintings, ravishingly dyed paper forms - paperdyesculps, he calls them - which look as though they have come up from the ocean bottom or dropped from some unheard-of star, bearing fading evidence of colors we never knew existed.

The two men enjoy interconneceting studios, and treat me to what I take to be a much rehearsed interconnecting senior artist's routine. Anthony Poon plays the straight guy, looking to adopt the best view of everything, accepting, mellow, ameliorative. Teo Eng Seng is fascinatingly restless, a delicate boned dapper dynamo of a man who wears a disconcertingly well-creased pair of shorts for an artist - but then he has enjoyed senior academics status in Singapore for many years - and bears upon his chin the traces of those whispy Chinese beards (five hairs at most) which I always associate, for no good reason, with nineteen-century opium dens. Teo Eng Seng is the one who dares say the unsayable.

Precisely which of my questions provoked him into an attack of the predominance of foreign work in public places I am not sure. But now he's started not even Anthony Poon's measured scepticism can stop him. 'We welcome all international artists to Singapore', he tells me, 'but we must have balance. You slaughter the culture if you only show work from elsewhere. You have nothing if you don't have your own people's work - you just have nothing to boast about. I'm not talking about private buildings. In private you can do what you like. But in a public place, where you live...'

'He means where he walks', Anthony Poon puts in.
'But hang on', I say.'It's my understanding that you are both represented in Singapore.'

'Not only that', Anthony Poon says, he is one of the first people they consult.'

Teo Eng Seng does not mind conceding that he is one of the first people they consult. Or that his work is highly regarded, and out there where the public can see it. But his argument still holds. The best commissions go to international artists. 'They're welcome', he says again. 'But' - and here he raises a finger - 'on equal ground.'

And what makes the ground unequal? Money. There is not enough it it for Singapore artists. With which even Anthony Poon finds himself in agreement. 'If they pay us peanut...'

I see what's coming... all they'll get is peanut.

But Teo Eng Seng puts it more Singaporeanly. 'Peanut get monkey.'