Amateur artists who sold $460,000 of paintings before first show opened

The Straits Times | Feb 28, 1993

IT WOULD have been enough to make Van Gogh choke on his celebrated sunflowers. Three amateur artists who had never exhibited their paintings publicly before raised nearly half a million dollars at their first show - even before it
opened yesterday.

Perhaps Van Gogh should have painted bougainvilleas, the flowers that Jalan Besar GRC MP Peh Chin Hua, 45, chose to paint for his first art exhibition with community leaders Mr Fok Chow, 76, and Mr Lee Sheau Lim, 50.

They had hoped to raise $150,000 to upgrade the Geylang West Community Centre by presenting Chinese paintings and calligraphy to donors pledging $1,000 or more.

Donors who gave at least $1,000 received works by Mr Lee and Mr Fok. For $5,000 or more, they would get one of Mr Peh's bougainvillea paintings or his calligraphy pieces.

People who pledged at least $30,000 were rewarded with one of 10 calligraphy pieces done by Reverend Song Nian, a guest artist who is a Buddhist monk.

But long before the show opened at the Singapore Conference Hall yesterday, donors had pledged about $460,000 and snapped up all 200 artworks. Said Mr Peh: "This is totally unexpected. If there are any more contributions, we'll have to pick up our brushes again."

The 15-year-old community centre's improvements will cost $700,000. Now the artists hope to raise $500,000.
The idea was suggested by a community leader when he saw Mr Peh's paintings.

"Our standard cannot be compared with that of professional artists," said Mr Peh.

Mr Fok, a retired clerk, said he began his calligraphy as a youth in Canton, China, by painting anti-Japanese banners and leaflets.

Mr Lee, a businessman and self-taught artist, said: "I thought I had to donate only 20 paintings. I ended giving 50."

Brigadier-General (Reservist) George Yeo, who opened the two-day show yesterday, said it was a more meaningful way of raising funds than dinners and lucky draws. But he will not emulate Mr Peh.

Said BG Yeo: "Although I'm Minister for the Arts, I myself am not an artist. If I were to try to sell my paintings, some people might buy out of a sense of charity or pity, but it would be a joke."