LEE Kian Seng   李健省                                                  Asia Contemporary Art                  亚洲当代艺术


 Source: Original Chinese text by Goh Siew Poh  Photo by Lai Choon Ngoh / PuMen September 2011 issue 140




Documenting Our Times—Artist  LEE Kian Seng


LEE Kian Seng has always been in the vanguard of artistic progress in his style of works. He is known to be daring yet attentive to details. On a lot of contemporary issues, LEE is one rare trendsetter who constantly leads the local art scene in ever new paradigms of thinking. And his works are therefore very much in step with the pulse of the times.


Recently, the celebrated Malay poet, novelist and national laureate Datuk A. Samad Said was probed by the police into his poem recital during a rally in Kuala Lumpur. The incident sparked a public outrage that had more than 100 artists, writers and activists in the country banding together to sign a joint statement decrying the harassment of A. Samad Said. And there in that long list of names, we find the name LEE Kian Seng.


LEE Kian Seng is a name that resounds in the regional art scene. Extremely diverse in his techniques and medium, many of LEE’s artworks have become key milestones in the history of art.  He has even been hailed as the progenitor of installation art in Malaysia.


At a young age, LEE’s artworks were already showing great promise. The self-taught artist  made two study tours to Japan through the 1970s. His outstanding works have earned him eleven national awards and two international awards. He was twice commissioned by the government of Malaysia to represent the country at international art events overseas. His works were exhibited at numerous world art exhibitions. He has also held a total of 22 solo exhibitions.


LEE has always been in the vanguard of artistic progress in his style of works. He is known to be daring yet attentive to details. On a lot of contemporary issues, LEE is one rare trendsetter who constantly leads the local art scene in new paradigms of thinking. Society needs dissenters to blow the whistle when the people have lost their sense of direction, fearless people who would stand at the frontline against oppressive regimes to defend truth and justice. As a staunch believer in justice, freedom and democracy, LEE as an artist is just such a man.


As has happened most recently, when LEE saw that the freedom of artistic expression had been threatened, he and other outraged artists rose to the occasion to express their solidarity with A. Samad Said. To LEE, an artist needs to have more than just artistic skills and techniques. He or she needs to have an artistic conscience as well.


Artists Must Have Courage and Insight


LEE was born in Kinmen, China. As a child, his mother took him and his elder brother to Singapore to be reunited with their father. Eventually the family settled down in Klang. Given the dire straits his family was in, the young LEE had no financial means to further his education in an art institute following his high school graduation. However, he did not give up his dream of obtaining an art education. Being artistically gifted, LEE decided to design his own course and learn everything through self-study.


“I believe there is no such thing as an absolute learning procedure. Under adverse circumstances, human beings have the capacity to create an ideal environment and procedure that is conducive for learning,” said LEE. “In fact, self-study is also a way of learning. It is different from other learning methods in that it is not done in stages, but is a lifelong endeavor.” It is commonly believed that one becomes a qualified artist after three or four years of formal study in an art institute. But LEE apparently does not think so.


“What we learn in school is nothing but basic knowledge. A true artist, however, learns from real life experiences.”


It was such profound insights that moulded LEE into the artist that he is today. His artworks have been shaped not only by the technical training and study of aesthetics that he undertook, but also his personal observations and perceptions of the world, the society and life itself, which are artistically presented in his works.


To LEE, the creation of art must neither adhere rigidly to conventional ways without being open to new ideas, nor simplistically changing the form without changing the content or departing from the classical style of antiquity. “We are contemporary people, and we cannot deliberately create an ‘integrated ideological beauty’ in order to bury the harsh realities of life.” Artists must not play sick, or live in dissipation, or repeatedly paint the same things as if they are replaying stories from memory to shortchange people who wish to see a constant flow of fresh creations.


It is this very philosophy of life that made LEE one of the few local artists who care deeply about current political trends and literary development in the country. His keen observation of current affairs makes him realize the truth about some issues. However, it is not always easy for him to express his thoughts verbally.


In fact, LEE was systematically marginalized by a small number of his fellow artists who were envious of his numerous award-winning groundbreaking creations. For instance, some people deliberately excluded him and his works from the art scene, and tampered with his works and the relevant historical facts. Having thus been cut off from the art community, what would LEE think about his future? Would he be worried and discouraged?


“Having lived with this for more than thirty years, I am used to the fact and have made peace with it. If you were to worry about all these, then you had better not be an artist. Just be a painter and be content with painting imitation works.” In his reply to this question, LEE lashed out in a straightforward manner, “Artists must have courage and insight. Without these qualities, how could they create a masterpiece?  I would document all these experiences on my website (www.leekianseng.com) and share them with the world.”


Caring about the World, Embracing the Earth


An artist who dares not speak out to decry the gross violation of the freedom of artistic creation is showing signs of decadence. Therefore, LEE stressed the point, “Innate conscience and ability make up the moral character of an artist. Anyone with a conscience would understand that truth and justice constitute the essential nutrients in any artwork.”


LEE’s most recentDanJin series(当今系列 )is the best embodiment of “artistic conscience.” Take one of his masterpiecesBlessings(祝福)for example; It resonates with many people across the globe today. “Let this new series be a catalyst for new impetus, new values, new art. Let it be a reconsideration of the eternal and unchanging spiritual values in art.” LEE allows his art to expand beyond the gallery, integrates it with the contemporary society, and exerts its influence over the people. This is what makes LEE’s creation so enchanting. 


The pieceUshering In A Civil Societywhich was completed in 2010, was inspired by massive anti-ISA (Internal Security Act) street protests. In this oil painting, LEE created a fist and placed it alongside a picture that was published in the newspapers to express the people’s wishes. The same year saw another of LEE’s oil painting titled Dawn Is Breaking? unveiled. Amidst a darkened backdrop, a pale bird’s cage (of 1972 )is hanging. The bottom of the painting shows a paragraph excerpt from the article “Awakening the Dawn” authored by celebrated poet and writer Poh Seng Titt, which was published in the 15/08/2009 edition of Sin Chew Daily. In just a few short lines, Poh eloquently bares all that is in the heart of the Chinese community.


   …This country has been making a mockery of justice. Let’s face it. Leaders are too busy grabbing power, amassing wealth, and engineering cover-ups to be thinking about justice. Talents have been unfairly treated. Over the years, unjust policies and corruption in high places have not only sidelined many talented citizens who would have otherwise done their country proud, but treated them as if they were worthless …

  … Meanwhile, the Chinese community in Malaysia has become largely apathetic and insensitive with regard to these issues. Instead of moving forward, Chinese leaders seem to remain complacent about the status quo. Business people care too much about profits, and scholars scorn each other, while the rest of the community holds materialism in higher regard than humanism.  In the mind of the Chinese community leaders, the so-called “Chinese Malaysian culture” is but an absolutely scoreless paper, the dessert after the main course…”


These two oil paintings in the DanJin series (当今系列 )have articulated the sensitivity of the artist towards current affairs. They concern politics, but at the same time transcend it. LEE’s art has never compromised the sordid nature of humanity, nor has it bowed to political powers.


In the DanJin series(当今系列 ), there is a sub-group named The Earth——My Home. “Wherever I go in my travels, I would draw on local resources, and express the emotions and sentiments of my soul directly through my creations.” LEE cares deeply about what all humankind shares in common. Another sub-group that is related to this one isIn Dialogue with the Soul.


“I was calm and composed when I created theDanJin series(当今系列 ). It was as though I was in the process of self-dissection, eyeing the world, crossing national boundaries, and transcending ethnic barriers to reach out to the modern world, and embrace the planet called Earth.” 


Though we are in the age of globalization, many still remain complacent and detach themselves in their racist view of world. A view that focuses on differences not only divides the human race into different groups, but pits one group against another. LEE advocates an artistic vision that crosses international borders and transcends ethnicities. These words from a leading thinker of our times allow many to feel the sincerity of his works.





(转载自普门  140   艺术风华 ·采访吴小保   摄影黎春儿 

記錄我們的時代 —— 艺术家李健省      





































李健省近期的《当今系列 》,是「艺术良知」的最佳体现。其中的作品《祝福(Blessings)目前在世界很多角落引起共鸣。「让这新系列催生新动力,新价值观,新艺术,重新思考艺术里那种永恒不变的精神价值。」让艺术走出展馆,融入当今社会并发挥其影响力,这是李健省艺术的魅力。








在《当今系列 》中,有个小组被命名为 《地球——我的故乡》。「旅途中随地取材,把心灵的感受,直接表达出来。」 李健省关怀全人类所共有的、共同的题材。另一与此相关的小组是《与灵魂对话》。


「我以坦然创作《当今系列 》,像在自我解剖的一个过程,放眼四海,超越国界,超越种族隔阂去关怀当今世界,拥抱地球。」


如今虽是全球化时代,但却有许多人仍然固步自封于各自的种族观念中,这种强调差异的见解,使人类分成各种不同的群体,并互相竞争。倡议跨越国界、超越种族的艺术观点,新思维开拓者李健省的这番话,让许多人受到他的作品的温度。------吴小保/ 普门  140 艺术风华 Pumen September 2011









《拳头就是力量+ 原来是生存在黑暗的时代 》油画/2010The fist is power +We are actually living in the Dark Ages/oil /2010)。

星云大师 拳头就是力量 (星洲日报20091020日) ,所以我也把大师的拳头带入我的画面。他的拳头使我自觉,《原来是生存在黑暗的时代 》。
The Buddhist Master Sing Yun said “The fist is power” (20th October 2009, Sin Chew Daily Malaysia), so I have incorporated the Master’s fist into my painting < The fist is power >. His fist made me aware and inspired me to create the piece < We are actually living in the Dark Ages  >.