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New exhibition puts the spotlight on little-known Singapore artist from World War II

Vincent Hoisington: Painter, Decorator showcases works by the Singapore-based artist, who passed in 1972.

A new show aims to revive interest in a little-known Singapore artist who died from a heart attack, aged 48, in 1972.

Vincent Hoisington: Painter, Decorator by art consultancy Art Agenda, S.E.A. features 10 works, ranging from an aluminium work to a charcoal sketch to large oil on board paintings.

Artist and curator Ian Tee, 25, says of Hoisington: “He did not have any formal training and it is reflected in his unconventional approach to painting. He builds up layers and scrapes them back. You can see very quick gestures being made in the charcoal sketch.

“He also mixed materials for various effects, like spray paint to suggest light and walnut stain for its translucency.”

The Ceylonese artist, who was also an architect and musician, was born in Singapore in 1924 and supported himself during World War II by painting and making technical drawings for the Japanese.

He was part of the first exhibition of sculpture in Singapore in 1967, which also featured established artists such as Cheong Soo Pieng and Ng Eng Teng. He also turned his home in Margoliouth Road into a gallery that hosted music events.

Mr Tee calls Hoisington an “outlier” in modern Singapore art history as his work was influenced by Western techniques but without the close focus on local themes that characterised the Nanyang school or the post-war artists who painted Singapore river landscapes.

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Noted art critic T.K. Sabapathy sounds a note of caution though.

He says: “Vincent Hoisington’s place in Singapore art history has not been registered. He has not been sufficiently researched or examined to say how his practice in art and design might be measured.”

But he adds that he has seen Hoisington’s painting Pontianak (Female Vampire), which is in the NUS Museum collection, and written about it. “It is a compelling picture in all respects. He is an accomplished painter.”

In his lifetime, Hoisington could be considered a successful commercial artist as he received both public and private commissions.

Five of the works on display, which are for sale from $9,000 to $30,000, come from the estate of lawyer Rosalind Ratnam, who was a personal friend. A large landscape, titled Capriccio I, was a commissioned work that hung in her home.

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Although there are few publicly accessible works now, with many commissions having been taken home by the expatriates who formed a large part of his clientele, one of his paintings depicting the Annunciation can still be seen at Novena Church, as Hoisington actively created works for the church’s Christmas decorations.

The juxtaposition of early works, such as the charcoal sketch, with the later works, also offers a glimpse into the artist’s progress.

Mr Tee notes that in the 1970s, the influence of rapid urbanisation was creeping into Hoisington’s works. “You get the sense he was engaging more with social changes.”

Vincent Hoisington: Painter, Decorator

Where: The Modern Space, 05-04 Tan Boon Liat Building, 315 Outram Road

When: Till Aug 23, weekdays: 11am to 6pm, weekends by appointment only

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.

Photo: ST/SPH