A deep dive into the art of Chinese ink
Underwater Series 2020 by Tay Kiam Hong

20 April 2021

Tay Kiam Hong, Dancing in the Silence 空灵游心, 2017, Chinese ink on paper, 65 x 70.5 cm

28 April 2021 (Wed) – 9 May 2021 (Tues)
The Ngee Ann Kongsi Galleries 1 & 2
NAFA Campus 1 (80 Bencoolen St, Singapore 189655)
Free admission, open daily
Enquiries: [email protected] / 6512 6099


The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) is proud to present Underwater Series 2020 by Singaporean artist and NAFA alumnus Tay Kiam Hong, showcasing over 40 Chinese ink paintings, including large scale pieces and handscrolls depicting marine life. Inspired by the beauty of the underwater world, Tay’s paintings, poems and contemplations reflect his respect for nature and love for classical Chinese arts and literature. Having spent years practicing the delicate yet powerful freehand skill or xieyi 写意, the Underwater Series 2020 is a culmination of two decades of artistic practice presented in Tay’s third solo exhibition, 13 years since his last.

Tay’s thirst for learning and obsession with marine biodiversity and ecology fuels his imagination, inspiring the expressive vocabulary that perfectly complements his art, evident in his unique tribute to marine life – a subject not commonly explored in the medium of Chinese painting. Often, Tay’s works are titled and inscribed with his writings, each playing not just an aesthetic function, but also charming and playful expressions alongside that are heartfelt and soulful.

Highlights of the exhibition include Ink and Fish (Chinese ink on paper, 2010), where a single squid lies sanguinely in space, with colophons paying homage to the wealth of knowledge in ink painting and to the wisdom of the ancients; as well as Toward the Other Bank (Chinese ink on paper, 2019), a magnificent scene of sea turtle hatchlings crawling from a beach into the ocean, beginning new adventures, buoyed by nature’s forces where a little luck is needed to fulfil their destinies.

Tay hopes that the exhibition provides viewers sanctuary amid the COVID-19 pandemic, affording them escape into the underwater realm. “Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the fascinating world of aquatic creatures. I hope this oasis of calm offers a place where the mind can be stilled and where thoughts of the pandemic, may be banished. The meeting of water and ink, as destiny would have it, records itself on paper. This exchange of space and inspiration, gives life, delights and comforts the heart”, said the artist.

Born in 1948, Tay studied Western Painting at NAFA and graduated in 1965. He studied under pioneer artists including See Hiang To, Chen Chong Swee, Georgette Chen and took private lessons with ink masters Fan Chang Tien and Lim Ju Yu Jing. After graduation, he pursued a professional career as an interior designer but did not stop painting. He honed his craft through the years in quiet dedication; creating, learning and exhibiting locally and abroad.

Tay’s journey as an artist who is keenly observant of his physical surroundings is motivated by a strong desire to share his knowledge and practice. His works follow traditional training but are free, playful and dynamic. This parallels NAFA’s pioneering spirit of exploration, while paying homage to artistic heritage and traditions. This exhibition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and returns reimagined in 2021.

ANNEX 1 – Images of Selected Artwork
ANNEX 2 – Biography of Tay Kiam Hong
ANNEX 3 – Background Information