A Way of Life

YAM PHUI YEE tracks down a Klang native who has a knack for beautiful art.

source: R.A.G.E., The Star Malaysia, Tuesday 24 June 2008.


LEE Hui Lian's architecture drawings are quite distinctive, and usually stands out from the rest. She usually embellishes her computer-generated drawings with sketches to add life to them. 

The 22-year-old architecture student at the National University of Singapore says that sometimes people like to see personal touch added to the work, so she throws the sketches in. Sketching also helps her to complete her work faster. 

"I don't work that fast in 3D rendering. A faster and easier choice is to do that," says Hui Lian. 

Her elder sister Hui Ling who is sitting next to her at the cafť in Equatorial Hotel, Kuala Lumpur shifts her eyes from her sketchpad and tells me that Hui Lian in fact draws well on the computer as well. 

It is the eve of Hui Lian's second solo art exhibition My Journey Revisited, and Hui Ling, an artist and lecturer, was helping her sister with last minute preparations for the exhibition. 

Hui Lian looks stylish with her new hairdo, sporting red highlights on the bottom layers of her hair. Dressed casually in a baby-T and capri pants, she talks in between sips of cold latte about her artistic journey, globe-trotting adventures and her fear of heights. 

The sisters come from a family of artists. As a child, Hui Lian used to tag along on her motherís sketching excursions during the weekends and soon the art bug bit her. 

The Klang girl has been living in Singapore since being awarded the Asean scholarship, where she continues to nurture her artistic side, such as by taking arts as elective while studying science. 

"When it was time to decide what to study in university, I chose architecture because it was the closest to doing what I like," says Hui Lian. 

She adds that her first year of being an architecture student in National University of Singapore was "terrible". 

After she and her friends had spent lots of time to make the first model, the tutor shook it vigorously and the pieces fell apart. Her seniors consoled her that things would get better. Hui Lian eventually learnt to handle critiques better. 

Like all architecture students, she has her share of sleepless nights when deadline looms. 

As her course load is so hectic and demanding, Hui Lian takes the opportunity to do things she enjoys during her long semester breaks. This holiday, she is holding an arts exhibition, My Journey Revisited. 

Hui Lian had her first solo exhibition three years ago in Singapore, organised by the Ministry of Education Singapore. My Journey features paintings of scenes in Klang and Singapore, selected pieces of coursework and a series with lotus flowers - which is part of her name in Chinese, lian. 

"The Flower Series is something I've done for quite a while. At that time my mum planted lotus at home until there were dengue cases around," says Hui Lian. 

As the youngest in the family, she has seen many exhibitions by her family members. It was quite a different experience seeing her name on the exhibition wall for the first time, and she admits with a smile that "it feels good". 

Her second solo exhibition, My Journey Revisited, features some paintings from the last series and a continuation of the young artist's journey. 

"It's to show people what I've been doing all these while and let others see how I've matured in the way I paint," says Hui Lian. 

Comparing images of the paintings in both exhibitions, one can see that the latter is less colourful but with more depth and layers to the paintings. 

"I left home quite young, at age 15, so a lot of friends don't know what I do there. It lets me share how I've been." 

Besides her family, friends have thrown their support behind her and some of her Singaporean friends are travelling up to visit her exhibition. 

One third of the paintings are for sale, and proceeds will be used to fund Hui Lian's participation in an exchange programme in Delf University of Technology in the Netherlands, and a backpacking trip in Europe. 

Meanwhile, 10% of the proceeds and all money from the sale of catalogues will be donated to the Sichuan Earthquake fund. 

Hui Lian will tell you that painting and putting up an exhibition are quite different things altogether. 

"The past one month I didn't paint but just sort out the exhibition. I went to paper mill to choose the paper (for the catalogue), did the layout and write-up, took photos of the paintings, sent invites, meet the hotel people and so on. I work from Monday to Sunday," says Hui Lian. 

The good thing about it is her father, Kian Seng, is at hand to show her the ropes, from getting funding to going down bumpy roads hidden behind bushes to find his regular carpenter to make the frames. Hui Lian and her sister say that their father is strict but he is now more easygoing than when they were younger. 

While working with her father closely for this exhibition, Hui Lian picked up some tips. 

"The way he talks to supplier, takes notes of details - he's quite shrewd and he would tell me some things that I overlooked. 

"He went with me to most of the places and some hidden in 'inaccessible' areas like the carpenter's workshop," Hui Lian adds. 

After all the hard work, pieces of her work now stand tall at the exhibition area in the hotel. Although it takes time and energy to churn out each piece of work, she still enjoys expressing herself with colours on paper and canvas. 

"There's no one to tell me what's right or wrong. My parents don't tell me what's right or wrong; I paint by myself. 

"It's different from taking photos. With paintings I get to inject additional mood into the work," she says. 

Thatís how Hui Lian's friends are able to recognise her assignment, her style and her artistic interpretation of every day life. Maybe another exhibition after the Netherlands programme? 

n My Journey Revisited is now running until June 29 at the Equatorial Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. Admission is free. Visit Hui Lian's website at www.leekianseng.com/lian.htm.