[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]t 83, when most people have long retired, artist Yu Loon Ching is staging his first solo exhibition after a lifetime of painting, publishing and doing art-related work spanning six decades.

His show, titled Between The Lines, comprises 40 mostly black-and-white works in ink he created with a ballpoint pen.

Born in Sarawak, Yu is a self-taught second-generation artist who moved to Singapore in 1966.

But he started to paint seriously here only after winning a silver award with his painting, Six Faithful Dogs, under the Emerging Artist Category in the UOB Painting of the Year competition two years ago.

Yu was active in the Sarawak art scene in the 1950s when he was secretary of the Kuching Art Club, before coming to work here 60 years ago as assistant director with the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board.

“I took part in the UOB competition because I had earlier created a new painting technique with my black-ink ballpoint pen and wanted to know how well it would be accepted,” says Yu, who was educated in Chinese and English schools in Kuching before studying typography and fine art for a year in New Zealand under a Colombo Plan Scholarship in 1960.

He remembers creating his new painting technique in 2010 when he visited his daughter Pi-Hsien, then a diplomat working for the Singapore Embassy in Washington, DC. He also has a younger son, a lawyer working in Dublin.

“I was in the garden of her house when I started to sketch and paint abstract figures using a ballpoint pen and found them to be interesting as works of art,” he recalls.

After he returned home, Yu, who is married to a former secretary, continued to create many more works with his new technique, including larger ones on art boards and canvases.

He says ideas for his works come from his dreams, but they show strong social themes and Borneo traditions, all related to his younger days in Sarawak. Dogs and faces are recurring images to show the relationship between the animal and man.

“My dogs are in an exaggerated form and some have two heads to show the harm the double-headed ones could bring to man in real life,” he explains.

Others show his travels to places in the region, such as Bali.

Though he was not a professional painter, Yu’s career till his retirement in the mid-1990s was related to art. He started an art gallery at People’s Park Complex in the late 1960s before working for Federal Publications as a production chief and later starting his own publishing company and producing many art-related books between the 1980s and early 1990s.

In the early 1970s, he joined a group of watercolourists, such as the late Lim Cheng Hoe and Ong Chye Cho, to paint the Singapore River and pre-war shophouses in Chinatown and other areas, every Sunday.

He still joins a group of friends doing life drawings at the Safra Clubhouse every Saturday.

“I am beginning my life as a professional artist with my first solo show at 83 and hope to stage the next one soon,” he quips.

He is selling his works, priced between $3,000 and $8,000, for the first time at the show.

Between the Lines is at The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane from Dec 20 – Dec 25, 11am – 8pm; free entry

This article appeared in The Straits Times.