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Wong Kim Hoh
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

Singapore

No paint, no gain

The Straits Times | Wong Kim Hoh | Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

In 1978, Ong Kim Seng was a full-time audio-visual technician nursing big dreams of becoming a famous artist.

"I wanted to be known and recognised so I told myself that I had to do something which was different and exceptional," he says.

A casual chat with a Nepali friend gave him an idea.

"Come to Nepal," his friend said. "We have beautiful landscapes. We have mountains more than 8,000ft above sea level, we have flatlands with tigers, rhinoceroses and other animals, we have old houses in beautiful hamlets, we have centuries-old Buddhist and Hindu temples. You will feel as though you are travelling through time."

A brainwave hit the young artist.

"I told myself I would paint Nepal in the most drastic weather conditions; I would paint in areas above 4,000m above sea level," he recalls.

After he had slogged and saved for the trip, the novice trekker headed for Nepal.

With a couple of porters, he trekked for 16 days and ended up at Gorak Shep, the base camp at Mt Everest, 5,545m above sea level.

It was no walk in the park. He braved sub-zero conditions, moved in areas affected by landslides and grappled with precariously rickety bridges.

"I was not an outdoors kind of guy, it was a first-time experience for me. But because I had a vision and a mission to accomplish, I was forced to do it," he says.

Along the way, he painted, sometimes in the snow and other hazardous conditions.

On the trip, the self-taught artist completed 25 pieces, and upon his return, finished half a dozen more.

The pieces took centrestage at a one-man exhibition Himalayan Pilgrimage by Ong Kim Seng at the now defunct Asia Art Gallery in North Bridge Road.

It drew crowds including art luminaries such as Liu Kang and Lim Tze Peng. More than 80 per cent of the works were snapped up, many at more than $2,000, which was a hefty sum to pay for an unknown artist then.

"In those days, the Himalayas seemed so far away, so remote and so exotic. Not many Singaporeans had been there or trekked there.

I became known as the guy who painted Nepal and Kathmandu," says Mr Ong, now 69.

That trip changed his life in more ways than one.

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