Lifelong dream fulfilled: Late bloomer finds an audience for his art (2024)

Lifelong dream fulfilled: Late bloomer finds an audience for his art

Lifelong dream fulfilled: Late bloomer finds an audience for his art (1)

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Published on

19 Jun 2024

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The Straits Times

Mr Loke Joo Teck’s love of painting was buried for decades under the demands of work. He is finally fulfilling his lifelong dream with his first solo art exhibition, 90 Plus 1 – A Lifetime Dream, at the Precious Active Ageing Centre in Punggol.

He strikes a youthful image, sporting camo-print slacks, white sneakers and a smiley-face earring – a gift from his grandson – hanging from his left ear.

Mr Loke Joo Teck, 91, worked in construction and repair for more than 40 years.

He first worked in a company that built wooden doors and windows, where his father was a construction supervisor. He moved on to constructing business exhibitions and later became a contractor and repairman in a small bank.

In 1990, he chanced upon the late contemporary Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong, who was sketching near Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road.

The sight stirred something deep within him – his love of painting, buried for years under the demands of work.

“I remembered I was once an art student, I could draw too,” he told The Straits Times in Mandarin.

Mr Loke had studied painting at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) with the encouragement of his primary school principal. He graduated in 1953 at age 19, alongside six other students, specialising in Western art. However, he stopped painting when he started work.

After watching Mr Wu sketch, he went straight to a stationery shop to buy pencils and paper, and returned home to sketch some fruits.

So began a new chapter in his life when he rekindled his love of painting and sketching, a hobby that evolved into a serious pursuit of art after he retired around the turn of the century at age 65.

He joined art interest groups such as the Scenic Rangers, which paints on location; a figure-drawing group; and the Clementi Coffee Shop Group, which gathers for members to critique each other’s artwork. He painted and sketched nearly 60 pieces from the 1990s to 2022.

His fondest memories are of his solo sightseeing trips to China every year after it opened up to tourists in 1978. He savours the time he spent climbing mountains and walking around.

In the spring of 1994, he spent several months painting with students at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang province. At 61, he was the oldest in class, and the only Singaporean. They travelled in buses to the West Lake and around rural China to paint countryside houses.

“The scenery was beautiful,” he said, recalling Shangri-La City in Yunnan province.

Mr Loke has spent his almost three decades of retirement painting scenes of tranquillity of Singapore and China.

Despite having learnt from fine art masters, including Singaporean pioneer artist Cheong Soo Pieng, Mr Loke is humble: “I’m not a professional artist. It’s just a hobby. I’m fulfilling my dream.”

Ms Jackie Lee, the supervisor of Precious Active Ageing Centre in Punggol Emerald, where Mr Loke lives, said he had bugged her since the Covid-19 pandemic to set up an exhibition of his artwork.

“I couldn’t understand why... Then I realised it was his lifelong dream. We wanted to help him tick it off his bucket list,” said Ms Lee, who is 55.

In February, she set out to transform the centre into an art gallery. She brought together contacts and volunteers from the Life Art Society, social service agency Allkin Singapore and SG Cares Volunteer Centre in Punggol, as well as Mr Loke’s family, to set up white wall partitions, photograph his artwork, interview him, craft descriptions for the pieces and put together an art book he requested.

On the cover of the book is a still-life oil painting of a vase of flowers beside a skull – Mr Loke’s graduation piece at Nafa – which he selected despite objections from his daughter and Ms Lee due to its macabre nature. The piece (below) is also part of the exhibition, which has a total of 46 drawings spanning from his days as a student.

He chuckled when he thought of how the image would throw people off. “I want to be bold and do something different,” he said.

But there is a deeper reason. “I want to preserve these pieces. If not, they will be forgotten. They are more than 70 years old – antiques,” he said.

Mr Loke is humbled by the solo exhibition and the art book.

“Having a book has let me leave behind a record, a legacy, for my kids and grandkids to know what I made,” he said.

“I am already 91, I don’t have many more years to go. But the heavens have been good to me. I have no illness and have many friends at my age. And now my lifelong dream is fulfilled. My life wasn’t for nothing.”

Said Ms Lee: “I really hope this exhibition can also encourage the other seniors at the centre who say they cannot do this and that.”

In Mr Loke’s home of nearly a decade – a brightly lit studio apartment above the active ageing centre – an easel with paints is set up by the television, where he is finishing up an abstract acrylic piece on boats (below).

The flat is filled with books, pet fish and a range of souvenirs from his travels – teapots, Buddha figurines, vintage watches and photos with his wife and four children over the years.

“I don’t drink or gamble, but I like to spend money,” Mr Loke said in jest.

His wife, Madam Irene Tong, who is also 91 and was his primary school classmate, fretted: “Too many things at home.”

She let on that her husband had not slept much as he was rushing to complete a painting for the exhibition.

When he is not painting, his other interests keep him busy.

For instance, he gets up at 5am almost every day to practise qigong at the Punggol Waterway park connector.

His daughter, Ms Karen Loke, a 58-year-old housewife, said: “He told me that he’s got many things to do, even at this age, even though he knows that his years are numbered. Yet he still won’t stay still.”

During the pandemic in 2020, Mr Loke went on a tour of the Civic District and Chinatown in a vintage Vespa sidecar using the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers from the Singapore Tourism Board.

He was so intrigued by the sidecar that he bought one just days later, on which he painted a skull motif.

And he proclaimed to the family that he had successfully renewed his motorbike licence at the age of 87.

The motorbike with a sidecar has been his main mode of transport for four years. He plans to sell it, as riding has taken a toll on his body.

Another of his prized items – his Nafa graduation certificate – was donated to the school’s archives.

Said Mr Loke: “Life is a journey. I’ve fulfilled my dream. It’s time to retire. ”

As he comes full circle with his painting dream, he has the simplest words of advice: “We must be happy, and let go of anything troubling us. Eat while you can, walk while you can.”

The 90 Plus 1 – A Lifetime Dream exhibition is being held at Precious Active Ageing Centre at Block 264A Punggol Way. It is open to the public from Wednesdays to Fridays, 10am to 5pm, till June 28.

Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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Lifelong dream fulfilled: Late bloomer finds an audience for his art (2024)
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