source: The Star Malaysia, Star Two, Wednesday July 20, 2005

An artistic sojourn

GEOFFREY LIP speaks to a young artist who is determined to make her mark in the world of art.

THE painting shows a robot wreaking havoc on a city. The view of the destruction has been broken up into shards, shattered and then put back together disjointedly in a violent objection to the carnage.  

Surely the creator of such angst-ridden and edgy work of art would reflect all that in her appearance but when 19-year-old artist Lee Hui Lian stepped out from behind her 1.75m by 1.42m piece called Terrorism to greet me for this interview, there were no outer signs of rebellion.  

With her short bob hair, cherubic face and small eyes, Hui Lian looks like someone who could walk past you unnoticed on the street. But hidden beneath this quiet exterior is an artist skilled at artistic self-expression.  

“Some people express themselves in music or writing but painting is my best medium. I have been living with it for many years and it is the best tool I have,” she says at her home in Klang, Selangor.  

Hui Lian’s parents, Lee Kian Seng and Shoko Lee, are award-winning artists and her sister, Lee Hui Ling, has also impressed with her own exhibitions.  

“I grew up in a studio-like environment, so I was naturally inclined towards activities like sketching and I developed my interest from there. It has been interesting in many ways and each of my family’s pieces has something of interest to me. It is like if you have too much good food, you do not know which one is the best,” she says.  

Hui Lian carries herself with a quiet confidence, a determination to stamp her individuality and not to be overshadowed in a family of artists. She has managed to excel at art and many other things in her last four years in Singapore, where she is currently based. She will be starting a degree in Architecture at the National University of Singapore soon. 

The launch of her first art exhibition called My Journey at the newly opened Singapore National Library from July 22 to July 24, will see Hui Lian carrying on a family tradition – every member in her family has held an art exhibition.  

Despite this artistic background though, Hui Lian has managed to stamp her own mark as an artist, having scored distinctions in her O and A levels art elective exams. Her A levels piece, Judgement of Freedom, was selected to be one of 46 pieces for the Art Elective Programme Exhibition, which was held from June 29 to July 17 at the Singapore Art Museum.  

“I learnt a lot of the technical know-how, like the different types of paper used, the different mediums and other basics, from my parents. But we have very different styles so the creativity is my own,” she says.  

Hui Lian has been awarded the Asean Secondary School, Pre-Univer-sity and now the Undergraduate scholarship, and she is not only extremely intelligent (she has a Mensa score of 180) but active in school. She was a prefect and member of her school’s tennis team in secondary school, and in college, she was part of the swim team and was the harmonica band president.  

“A lot of people thought I was crazy doing all of that but at the end of the day, it still is about time management. Besides, joining things like the harmonica band was relaxing. I was playing an instrument I liked and I found enjoyment in it. It is the same with swimming and drawing, which I guess have kept me sane,” she reveals.  

Hui Lian never had toys like Barbie dolls when she was young, and grew up playing with artistically stimulating products like crayons, modelling clay and Lego blocks.  

“It was fun playing with crayons, modelling clay and doing origami. The only proper toys I had were Lego blocks, which encouraged me to use my imagination to build what I wanted to build. It never bothered me that I did not have dolls or things like that,” she says.  

HER childhood days saw her taking many weekend trips with her mum and sister to sparsely populated parts of Klang, like to the mamak stalls along the Klang River for an afternoon or morning of landscape sketching.  

“My mum may not have had much of an influence on the style of my art but she took me out when I was young to sketch and see what normal people did not see, to places people in the city did not usually explore,” recalls Hui Lian.  

“We would search for nice spots and then settle down, take our equipment out and adjust to the environment. And when I put it in a painting, I found it looked nice and it was unusual,” she adds.  

So it seemed right for her to include some of those early sketches in her exhibition’s Klang series, a series that gives a nod to her past and the form of art she feels she excels in.  

“Landscape painting is more fun, and I will not say it is easier but it is more me as I find the more I have to think about what the final product will be, the more it will not turn out to be as good,” she says.  

The focus of her exhibition though will be on the last four years she has spent in Singapore, the pictures of the Singaporean landscape, Chinatown, the city and river.  

“At times, when I was free, I’d grab a cup of coffee, sit by the river and sketch. I lived in a hostel so the experience of living with people my age, the fun we had, how we would go out in a group on weekends is covered in My Journey and I put it down to share with others,” she says.  

Another feature of her exhibition is her flower series – a series of paintings that focuses on the stand-alone beauty of the lotus flower, which she mentions is also the meaning of her name in Chinese.  

“It is not common for people to just paint the lotus. I find it a striking flower. The lotus grows one at a time and stands out amongst the many leaves. I find that interesting, how it can be so pure,” she says.  

Hui Lian will also feature her two complex works of Terrorism and Judgement of Freedom, which she created for her O and A levels art electives.  

Judgement of Freedom (2004)

“Pieces like this give me time to think through about what is happening around me and what is going on in my life and gives me an insight into the real world and myself. It does help my art, thinking through all this to compose the final piece, like whether the composition best conveys what the whole thing is about and playing with the ideas of using visual tools to explain what people would use in literary terms,” she explains.  

Hui Lian says she felt she needed to put in the months of work to set up the exhibition to mark a turning point in her life before she starts a new chapter in her life.  

“University life will be a whole new experience and I want this exhibition to mark my journey,” she says.  

While she admits there is some pressure on her to put up a good exhibition, she is focused enough to know she needs to take things as they come and not aim for the stars.  

“I am taking things one step at a time with this exhibition first, and if I can exhibit in other countries after this, I will set a higher standard for myself. I will not immediately aim for the sky, but maybe the second storey and if I reach that, then maybe I will aim for the moon,” expounds Hui Lian, who but adds nonchalantly this is far from the end of her artistic journey.  

“There will definitely be more from me in the future and it is not like I will do this exhibition and stop. This is the start of my journey, and I will carry on to do more,” she says.  


Geoffrey Lip