Passion, purpose through brush strokes

James Kon

Art calms one’s mind, especially during a person’s darkest moments in life. Local aspiring artist Huifong Ng is one such person who proves this is so.

Ten years ago, Huifong Ng was suffering from depression. Having no place to turn she took to art. Since then there has been no turning back for her.

Art however had always been a favourite pastime for Huifong.

“I have been fond of painting since a tender age. I remember when I was eight years I would sit in front of the mirror to draw myself. I would also ask my brothers to sit down and I’d start drawing their faces,” she said in an interview with the Bulletin.

Since then she has gone on to build a successful art career, attaining a number of significant achievements.

One of the major achievements for Huifong happened in 2015, when she was commissioned by a client to paint a portrait of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Huifong speaks during a class. PHOTO: JAMES KON
Huifong gives some tips to her students
One of Huifong’s masterpieces

Huifong presented the painting to the Prime Minister in person at a public event.

In 2016, Huifong was commissioned by a charitable organisation to paint the portraits of former President of Singapore Tony Tan and his wife, Mary Tan. The painting was also presented to the former President in a public event.

Additionally, those two years saw Huifong receive awards. In 2015, she received a special award from Biennale of Umbria, Italy. The following year, she received another award from International Colosseo Prize, also from Italy.

Last year, she was commissioned by Justice of Peace Dato Seri Dr Toh Soon Huat to create a painting of Singaporean President Halimah binti Yacob and her spouse, Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee.

Huifong also did a painting of Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad and his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah binti Haji Mohamad Ali. The painting was commissioned by Persatuan Warganegara Malaysia and presented to the Malaysian Prime Minister.

“Art is more than self-expression. Sometimes you can put art into wider use by spreading awareness and sharing a positive message,” Huifong said.

Huifong’s journey in art saw her getting out of her comfort zone and visit other countries. In 2011, she went to New York, USA.

“I was 30 years and starting a new career was not easy,” she said. “After arriving in New York, I was surprised to find out that art is so much more than what I expected.”

She took a summer workshop on fine art at the School of Visual Art. The person who played a major role in the development of art in her life was her French art teacher Francis Pratt.

“He would say, ‘when you feel satisfied, it’s when you stop learning’. He changed my mindset. Learning is an ongoing journey. We keep learning and keep improving.”

She realised that behind talent, there is a lot of hard work – learning observation, light and shape.

Her journey took her to France and Italy before she started to build her career in Singapore. After Singapore, Huifong found herself thinking about Brunei, her home.

“When travelling alone, I was always thinking of bringing something back to Brunei,” she said, adding that, to do so, “I needed to establish my roots. I needed to commit myself to share much more.”

She then opened Atelier Huifong Ng in 2017. “I started this place because I wanted to teach children painting. Through art, we can discipline and express ourselves as well as set priorities. Children can also explore many ways of art – doing the right technique, controlling the brush and exposing their works.”

As for her own journey, she said, “I still have much to learn and pursue. I personally like the idea of not staying in one place because I like to reach out to share my work and take part in art exhibitions. It is important to get our art out there instead of waiting for people to discover you.”

Last year, Huifong had her first solo exhibition named Raja Julangan Kasih Rakyat, which brought further spotlight to her work. She shared that it went well, and noted that solo exhibitions allow artists to gain exposure and learn.

On her art, she said, “Each artwork has a special meaning and special story. One of the most memorable was when I was commissioned by my client to paint Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong. It was my very first commission work.

“I was very nervous and very afraid as to whether I could deliver the work or not,” said Huifong.

However, she persevered. “If once something is promised, you cannot break the promise.”

On what drives her, she shared, “Passion and purpose. Sometimes, I have the passion but I don’t have the purpose, I feel that I am just drifting and floating – I don’t know what my direction is. I feel it is alright not knowing the direction once in a while. It means we are exploring, so optimism is important.”

“After I established the Atelier in 2017, I feel that my purpose is clearer and bigger. I am very grateful that many children come to share my journey with me. It’s no longer just me. As a teacher I feel that I have a big responsibility and I enjoy being able to share my experience of failure and success with the children, which may become guidance to them.”