Pioneer Peranakan painter Sylvia Lee Goh dead at 80


A file image of Lee Goh standing beside her Peranakan-inspired painting 'Red Bride' (oil on canvas, 1996) at an art event in Kuala Lumpur in 2015. Photo: The Star

Senior Malaysian artist Sylvia Lee Goh, who was known for her richly atmospheric and intense oil paintings surrounding her life experiences and Peranakan cultural heritage, has died in Kuala Lumpur. She was 80.

Her death on May 6 in Kuala Lumpur was announced on the National Art Gallery’s Facebook page this morning.

Lee Goh, who was born in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, began gaining prominence in the Malaysian art scene in the early 1990s through group exhibitions and a series of portraits, still life, landscapes and in her later years, semi-abstract works.

As a self-taught artist, Lee Goh ventured into painting at the relatively late age of 29 as a way to keep herself occupied.

Lee Goh's 'Nyonya's Secret Recipe' (oil on canvas, 1990). Photo: Sylvia Lee Goh Lee Goh's 'Nyonya's Secret Recipe' (oil on canvas, 1990). Photo: Sylvia Lee Goh

Through the years, Lee Goh's paintings had three constant motifs - women, most often renditions of herself, flowers-foliage and an array of stilI life dominated by artefacts from her inherent Nyonya heritage.

“My work has always been a search for identity. I’ve always been a people-person, so they’re about bonding and relationships. They’re about memories, the re-examination of life, bearing in mind how fragile our mortality is, ” Lee Goh was quoted as saying in an interview with The Star in August 2015.

Beyond the old-world charm and her deep love for Peranakan heritage (customs, food and fashion), Lee Goh's paintings also thrived on her femininity.

Lee Goh's 'New Year Still Life' (oil on canvas, 1996). One of her eye-catching still life works featured at  the 'Sylvia Lee Goh: Then and Now - The  Enduring Heart' exhibition in 2015 at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star Lee Goh's 'New Year Still Life' (oil on canvas, 1996). One of her eye-catching still life works featured at the 'Sylvia Lee Goh: Then and Now - The Enduring Heart' exhibition in 2015 at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star

She felt that women had a softer, more sensitive approach to colour, texture and form and a passionate appreciation for all things beautiful.

"Beauty is a joy forever, food for the soul. And for me, women and flowers best epitomise that beauty," she said in an early interview with The Star in March 1995.

"I paint women, children or sometimes myself because those are the subjects I know best. An image can never ring true unless it comes from the heart," she added.

Her first solo exhibition Two Decades Of Art From The Heart, 1978-1998 was held in the Penang State Art Gallery in 1998. In 2015, she was honoured with the Sylvia Lee Goh: Then and Now – The Enduring Heart retrospective, which was held at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

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Art , Sylvia Lee Goh , Painter , Artist , Death , Penang , Peranakan

   

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