An equestrian artist, Lim Ah Cheng is a well-known talent both at home and abroad. “I’ve been painting horses for well over 25 years, which is almost half of my life since I’m 50 years old this year,” Lim begins heartily. “I was actually few of the lucky ones who received a scholarship to study in the Malaysia Institution of Art in Kuala Lumpur. After graduating in 1991, I then became a full-time graphic designer/illustrator for an advertising firm. However, the limitation and restriction of the job were taxing to me. I needed an outlet for my creativity to flow. Thus, my career in the corporate world didn’t last long. Two or three years later, I became the full-time artist that I am today.”
I like Chinese ink painting. And at the beginning, I was learning many mediums because I wanted to explore. As I slowly expose myself to the world of art, I unearthed my love for brush strokes and oil painting
Of course, being a full-time painter, Lim also evaluated the sacrifices he’d need to make. “Truthfully, the burden that comes with being an artist is okay for me. I don’t require much in life. Definitely, having a secure job would mean a better, more stable life. But it’s an entirely different thing. To be an artist is what I’ve wanted to be,” he shares. Thankfully, when he first proposed his art to Art Salon and they were quick to accept him. “Even then, Art Salon is renowned in Malaysia. And with their support, it really gave me the strong confidence to proceed and become a full-time painter.”
If you’re not familiar with his art, his paintings are a place where West meets East – his highly fluid style that is reminiscent of Chinese ink painting is complement with western media such as oils and acrylics, coupled with the frenetic Fauvist and Futurist colour influences. “I like Chinese ink painting. And at the beginning, I was learning many mediums because I wanted to explore. As I slowly expose myself to the world of art, I unearthed my love for brush strokes and oil painting,” Lim replies, adding that he the reason why he favours oil paint to other mediums is due to the texture. “It’s brilliant! I love how it shows the layers of colours and richness of texture. Depth and perspective can be reached easily as well.”
You’d made a name for being an equestrian artist. Why the sudden change to the orchestra performing?
For me, horses have always been symbols of grace and power. Their movement mesmerises me and I admire their fluidity. During my younger days, it was my mentor who gave me the advice that I should continue painting horses as it was a unique subject that not many dwell on. It was to be my trademark. That being said, my artistic direction and inspiration have always been about movement. Apart from horses, I also paint other subjects like dancers, tigers and cranes. For EnCore 共鳴, the focus is on the orchestra scene. I really enjoy the constant movement of the players and instruments. As a modern artist, I need to gather all the latest information at my fingertips. And during my travels, it struck me that no other artist has attempted to capture the whole orchestra group. And honestly, it is challenging yet rewarding to paint the whole orchestra scenes.
I can see how it is challenging; with nearly 100 people playing at the same time, each instrument with different movements. How do you do that?
Well, the question I ask myself always is how do I include everything into one canvas? Apart from that, how can I keep each piece different from one another? As you would know, the conductor is always in the middle, with the strings on the left, the percussion at the back and the bass on the right. Perhaps during a concerto, you’d get a pianist or a violinist at the spotlight. But, the structure is always the same. So, my challenge is to make each piece stand out. It took me many years to think and break through this – perhaps 5 years’ time. And more importantly, there needs to be a story behind. How each piece expresses a different vibe; to capture a different essence. I just have to constantly think twice before I start painting.
So, I’m guessing you’re always at MPO or Istana Budaya, attending concerts and what not?
Haha not at all! I’d be broke if I go to every concert that is played in Kuala Lumpur. I do attend performances that I find attractive, but most of the subjects are painted at my studio, with orchestra music as my background.
Where do you see it evolving in the future? What will be your next subject?
At this moment, the orchestra scene is still in my mind and there’s more that I can still explore. Artists are very straightforward people – they will only express what is in their mind. Take for example Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Beloved by all, Monet dedicated much of the last 30 years of his life painting the water landscapes of his backyard, forging on even when cataracts began threatening his vision. What I’m trying to say his, you don’t have to jump from subject to subject too fast. Heck, I can stick to this orchestra scene for another 5 years before moving to another subject or medium. As of now, it is my thing, my identity and I’m in no rush to changing it.
Do you have any artistic role models? Both in history and/or present time.
That’s a subjective question. Everybody do things in hopes of achieving something. Building a career as an artist, I just want to paint what I want and be able to sustain myself. If I can become famous and rich, well, that’s a bonus for me. I don’t want to set myself to be the next Van Gogh or Leonardo Da Vinci. I enjoy a simple life. Anything else is a plus. Artist life is a long journey. If I’m lucky enough to still paint when I’m in my 70s, it’s a blessing. At the end of the day, I only hope that my paintings are appreciated. Of course, I’m well aware that that’s not something I can control. Thus far, my paintings have been more positive and I like to give that “feel good” vibe to my viewers. When they hang my paintings on the wall, it should project harmony, tranquillity and positivity.