She’s been likened to a guardian spirit of the true Malaysian artist. Meet Lim Wei-Ling, one of the scene’s foremost champions, and our August Artsy Fartsy Issue's Woman We Love.
Here's an excerpt from our special article on Wei-Ling about the moment her dad's office burnt down, and how that taught her what it means to be a struggling artist:
"Anyone can take a paintbrush and paint something. But if there’s no journey, no starting point, no growth, how do you call yourself an artist?"
She stared at the pile of ash. What was once her architect dad’s office had turned to cinder. In a mere half an hour, a fire had ripped through the building and rendered it useless. In 2004, the Lim family came to know the devastation that comes with losing all you love— and then, the beauty that rises from ashes.
“How do you recover from this? The only way I could contribute to help Dad [award-winning architect Jimmy Lim] recover was to breathe new life into the space. To create new energy out of that. Which is what happened.”
In 2005, Wei-Ling Gallery, in its down-to-earth Brickfields nook, was born in place of her dad’s old office. It became a symbol of the journey that every artist must make. At some point, the skills and knowledge you always thought would hold you in good stead will be torn down, and you have to start from scratch. You lose heart. You doubt yourself. But you press on, you take remnants of the past and you fashion something entirely fresh for the future. It’s when the term “struggling artist” takes on a deeper, richer meaning. And, in Wei-Ling’s mind, this is what separates the great from the good.
“When an artist searches for something new in their work, the process is difficult. There are no answers, right? You’re looking for something, and only time and working at it will bring that to fruition.” She gesticulates with her hands as she paints a picture of an invisible world. “When it gets too easy, when you don’t need to think very much about it, when it’s no longer a struggle, an artist stagnates. There’s no more search for anything. That’s basically selling out.”
It’s tough balancing art as well as the art of business. Her background has afforded her the unique perspective of seeing what happens when good artists go for the green. “When a young artist has a successful sell-out show with me, we have a talk and I ask, ‘What are you going to do next?’ And I hope it’s not going to be the same. Sometimes, if an artist is misguided, when he has a sell-out show, instead of taking a step back to re-assess where he’s going next, it is ‘do lah another 25.’” She snaps her fingers like a magician. “I know this happens. And I feel so sad. In the long term, the creative spirit is gone.”
So she strives to provide an incubator for the precocious. Occasionally, she sees promise. She tells the story of Chen Wei-Meng, an artist from Terengganu whom she turned down 10 years ago. His work—hyper-realistic landscapes—didn’t pique her interest at the time. Six years later, Wei-Meng emailed his new paintings and invited her to visit his studio. What she saw were stacks of plastic boxes piled up to the ceiling, each filled with journals, sketches and etchings of East Coast scenery. Wei-Meng had spent three months driving up and down the east coast, even sleeping in his car, all for that one chance to show the world fairytale-like renditions of his home state. This year, the 46-year-old will have his second solo exhibition at Wei-Ling Gallery.
“I really want to preserve the artist’s spirit, so you’re there to give them support, to back them up, [to act as] a safe place for them to stay on the straight and narrow. To believe in yourself, and to know the gallery supports that.”
Read more about Wei-Ling in our August Artsy Fartsy Issue, out now in newsstands. Words by Jon Chew. Photographs by Simon Chin. Styling by Andrea Wong.