Gallerist Continues His Parents’ Legacy

Artist Choo Keng Kwang (L) stands in front of his painting with gallerist Howard Yu (R).
By Li Yen, Epoch Times Staff

Howard Yu, a professional teacher turned gallerist, is visibly delighted to talk about art appreciation.

In 2013, Yu founded Da Tang Fine Arts Enterprise Pte Ltd to honour his parents, who have been in the art gallery business since 1990.

Yu’s parents, who admire art and collect art pieces, used to operate ‘Dynasties Antique & Art Gallery’.

But his passion for continuing their business only became much stronger in March 2013.

“In March 2013, I did an external exhibition of Mr Choo Keng Kwang’s solo exhibition. The exhibition [had a positive reception], and since then I was encouraged and motivated to manage the gallery full-time,” he says.
In May 2013, Yu opened his art gallery shop at High Street Centre to continue his parents’ legacy.

“[As] I am the eldest son, I need to fulfil my filial piety to my parents,” he conveys.

“Moreover, I would like to give myself an opportunity. My family is quite contented with what we have, thus managing this business is not about getting rich, but just a mission to carry on the family business.”

The gallery has an extensive collection of 5,000 paintings, which depict beautiful sceneries of landscapes, flowers and people.

Most of the paintings are traditional, in oils, water colours and Chinese inks. Some of the paintings also capture scenes of old Singapore. Original artworks by Choo Keng Kwang, Liu Kang, Lim Tze Ping, Goh Siew Guan, Park Chul-Hwan and other China artists (like Huang Xiong Wen) are featured.

“It would be quite a waste if nobody carries on the business, as my parents have actually accumulated quite an extensive collection of art pieces painted by local as well as overseas artists.

Through operating a gallery, we could exhibit and educate people too,” he shares.

“Presently in Singapore, I am quite confident to say that there are less than five galleries which [have been operating] for more than 20 years. And we are one of them,” he says, beaming with pride.
What kind of artworks do you exhibit?

The art we showcase are quite traditional.  [You won’t] see much of those very abstract and modern art in my gallery, though some do exist recently. It is (mainly) realist and traditional.

Who are your favourite local artists?

I admire Goh Swee Guan, who is a retired teacher. He paints very good watercolour paintings, and he is 74 years old.

Choo Keng Kwang is also one of my favourite artists. He specialises in oil.

Mr Choo’s earlier works are quite refined. There is a heritage piece which depicts Chinatown in 1975, and it costs around $60,000. If you see Mr Choo’s catalogue, most of his earlier works are about doves, which are very magnificent paintings. He is considered a 2nd generation artist in Singapore.

In his later years, he tried to paint animals. He usually paints according to the zodiac of the year, like in the Year of the Horse, he will paint a horse.

[I am proud to say that] Mr Choo has chosen our gallery as one of his main distributors to exhibit and sell his works. He knows my parents very well, thus he is glad to park his artworks with us.
When I did Mr Choo’s solo exhibition, it was very successful. We sold out seven pieces.

Who are your favourite overseas artists?

That would be Korean artist Park Chul-Hwan, who is very good at painting flowers and specialises in watercolour on canvas.

Recently, I did his first solo exhibition in Singapore. He is very famous in Korea, but still not that well-known in Singapore.

He is quite a humble guy, and is only 50 years old, thus there is still a huge growth potential for him.
During his solo exhibition, we sold around 14 works.

From an artistic point of view, his artworks are very pleasing and could be classified under the investment category.

In Singapore, most people are economic-driven rather than aesthetic-driven. Therefore, I wish to position Fine Art as a means to enhance business and social assets.

Howard Yu, gallerist

Another favourite overseas artist of mine is Huang Xiong Wen from Guilin, China. He has been fine-tuning his panda drawing skills for the last 10 years. We held two of his solo exhibitions in 2015, and they were quite successful. His replication of the panda is very life-like, and he is 48 years old. We sold 10 pieces of his work during his solo exhibition.

His paintings are priced around $1,500 to $4,500. He is famous for painting panda and the Miao minority. He is good in personal portraits too, and has received orders from wealthy families requesting him to paint their portraits.

Do you think Singaporeans are interested in learning Fine Art?

I find that in general, no. They don’t have this passion to learn about art appreciation. If there are 100 people aged 20 to 60, maybe only 10 out of these 100 people are interested in Fine Art.

Besides managing my art gallery, I also give occasional public talks on art appreciation. I have given three talks so far. The talk at NUS was quite well-received, but the talk at Warren Country Club wasn’t as good as I had expected. Only eight people signed up, and out of these eight people, four of them are my friends.

Howard Yu’s parents and his 107-year-old grandmother
Art gallery owner Howard Yu

In Singapore, most people are economic-driven rather than aesthetic-driven. Therefore, I wish to position Fine Art as a means to enhance business and social assets.

Many of my art collectors work in the area of Science & Technology and are successful engineers, scientists, etc. I believe art has helped them to think ‘out-of-the-box’ and has inspired them to come up with successful projects which won awards from the government.

I wish to reach out to organisations and hope they would give me a platform to share how art appreciation could enhance their working life.

Why is art important to mankind?

Try decorating your home with beautiful art pieces. My parents do that, thus whenever I visit my friends’ homes, I find it out-of-place without any artwork hanging on the wall.
I believe art can harmonise the environment and soothe the soul, all the more when you live in a concrete environment.

When you have hand-painted scenery and nature hanging on the wall, it would give you a more tranquil feeling, since most of us live in HDB flats and condominiums where we can hardly see any nature. Forest or river paintings can be very peaceful, and might be able to reduce your stress.

How can we appreciate Fine Art?

There are five aspects. Firstly, it is the subject. Secondly, it is the form. Next, it is the line, the brushstrokes. Fourthly, it is the composition, and lastly – colours.

You could attend my art appreciation talk to find out more.

I believe art can harmonise the environment and soothe the soul, all the more when you live in a concrete environment.

Howard Yu, gallerist

Why are Singaporeans not keen on art appreciation?

I think it is a national problem. [There] is no emphasis on art [in school]. Moreover, parents do not place priority in this area too. I think this mindset needs to be changed.

I strongly believe the government should take a lead in this. Maybe they could allow organisations to invite gallerists to give talks to their staff, and the ministers could set good examples by visiting art galleries.

My father says it is hard for art galleries to survive in Singapore. If it is not for my parents, and my desire to honour them, I would not have started this gallery.

Does the art gallery have a future in Singapore?

It depends on how the nation sees it. But these two years are quite critical since the government is converting the Old Supreme Court into a National Gallery.

Hopefully, this will attract more people to appreciate art and bring more vibrancy to the art culture in Singapore.

Did you learn art or are you self-taught?

I am self-taught. I learned art from my parents. They exposed me to the different artists, and this is the fastest way to learn, compared to learning from books.

If you cultivate a good character, you could produce beautiful artworks which bring goodness to people. Do you think this is true?

The artists I have encountered so far are generally quite kind and generous.

Like Mr Choo himself, he was a teacher, and then he rose to become a principal. After retirement, he donated some of his paintings to charities. I kind of believe that this is true.

From now till end of June, make a trip to Rendezvous Hotel Singapore for Goh Siew Guan’s watercolour painting exhibition, ‘Capturing the Light’.

Organised by Da Tang Fine Arts, the exhibition displays 20 pieces of Mr Goh’s watercolour paintings, which depict fishing villages of Malaysia and Indonesia, seaside landscape, terraced farming, trees, rocks and flowers.

For more information, visit http://www.datangfinearts.com or visit Da Tang Fine Arts at 1 Coleman Street, The Adelphi #B1-31. Tel: 67383268 

 

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