a quiet life

[warning: very long post!]

We have finally found the artist on J's side of the family! And more...

As advocated by a senior politician to "take seriously the electoral process" (no jokes allowed please! Confucius says we cannot display the slightest sense of humour disrespect to political powers, or we will incur the wrath of the heavens!), Pa J sat us by the dining table last week and continued his tales of Singapore's more serious political past.

Last week's special was Uncle DS, Pa J's youngest brother.

Uncle DS is the guy with the glasses. Pa J is the guy with the biggest hair.

When Pa J got off the boat from China, he was already too old to get back to school. There were also, of course, more pressing needs of the stomach. So being the youngest, Uncle DS was the one in the family who stood the highest chance of getting a decent education. And in the traditional sense of the scholar, a renaissance man, Uncle DS was also an artist. When he was a student in the 50s at Chung Cheng High School - hotbed of student left-wing activism, he was also a member of the Zhong Zheng Art Society, taking part time classes at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in western and modern art.

In a general mood of participatory politics throughout the 50s and into the 60s, both Pa J and Uncle DS were looking for avenues to contribute to their community. Pa J joined the activities of PAP and had urged Uncle DS to do the same.

With the slightest of sighs, Pa J said, "if only he had listened to me."

That same week Pa J extended the invitation to Uncle DS to be part of the lightning rod party, but Uncle DS, with that Zhong Zheng blood running in him, had already joined his friends of the red star at Barisan Sosialis (社会主义阵线) instead.

I am not sure what was the exact context. Perhaps it was when there was clamp-down on the activities of the Barsan Sosialis and a query into their leftist leanings during Operation Coldstore. But according to Pa J, Uncle DS was arrested and detained for his associations to the Barisan Sosialis.

Pa J described to us his brief visit to see Uncle DS in that underground, windowless detention centre (in our Hollywood-washed minds, J and I imagined V's prison setting). During his detention, Uncle DS, according to Pa J, completed a whole stack of drawings. However, after Uncle DS was released, he stopped drawing and painting for a long time and lived, generally, a quiet life. He got a job, a wife and that was that. It was a life so quiet he hardly talked.

Last night, Uncle DS was at Pa & Ma J's home for a visit.

Uncle DS is a small, dark squirrel-like man with bright eyes, bushy eyebrows instead of a tail. In an old photograph that Ma J had brought with her to China to be touched-up/re-coloured, the young Uncle DS wore large black-rimmed glasses and looked every bit the serious, malnourished Chinese-school student.

Today he wears your regular gold-rimmed frames, a striped Chinatown polo tee tucked into grey tailored trousers that are held up by a cheap gold-buckled belt, and a pair of sports shoes from Bata. He carries with him a faded canvas sports bag, the kind travel agencies give out for free. He is your nondescript uncle. The man who sits beside you, unsmiliingly, on the bus. Or the man who wolfs down a bowl of meepok, alone, beside you at the hawker centre. Or the uncle sitting by a bench outside a Chinatown shopping complex, a copy of Xin Min Wan Bao sticking out of his bag, watching as a skimpily-dressed woman of the night walks by.

caught up in lines

With an introduction from Pa J last night ("She also draws, draws comics" - yes, how I wish I could or did, Pa J!), Uncle DS and I slowly started our chat.

Just me and him. We didn't talk about anything serious, no, we talked about art. Simple, painfully mundane things like how...

1) the grasp of timing is different for oil painting versus Chinese ink painting
2) ink paintings with more colours sell better
3) abstraction is not a western concept
4) he taught himself chinese ink painting some years ago, and he seldom paints now though maybe, just maybe, he should find himself a chinese art master to learn from
5) he still keeps in touch with this Zhong Zheng art society friends
6) it would be nice to have a room or just a small space where all the necessary art materials are laid out, so that anytime you do want to paint, action catches up quickly with inspiration
7) I use a computer now and that is also acceptable as a medium
8) it is so good and enjoyable, to be able to draw and paint

But the conversation ended abruptly. Brother J interrupted with a joke about how he is the real master of paints (he being in the car paint business) and J followed up by asking Uncle DS to demonstrate his art next week. Then Uncle DS stood up, smiled and apologised that he had to be going.

On our way home in the cab, J said that perhaps Uncle DS was suddenly inspired and was rushing home "to paint gold fishes and peonies". Never before has Uncle DS talk so much and in so animated a fashion, perhaps next week he would bring his brushes and ink and paint us all something. Perhaps. After all, it is so good and enjoyable, to be able to draw and paint - whether in our darkest or quietest of moments.


Anonymous said…
hey Chua Ee Kay gives chinese ink painting classes... i think at his apartment, his students are, i think mainly mature folks.

or the shi4 bao3 zai1 at bras basah complex(shop that sell varieties of chinese ink and rice paper)should be able to better introduce chinese ink painters who teaches the works of it.
ampulets said…
Will pass on the message to the uncle. Thanks!

Bras basah complex is a wonderland!

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