Over the weekend the Singapore Fine Art community is saddened by the news of the passing of its pioneer performance artist Lee Wen. The Cultural Medallion recipient, best known for his Yellow Man performances passed away on the 3rd March 2019 at the age of 61.
The artist who also had Parkinson’s disease has died of a lung infection at Alexandra Hospital. He is survived by his wife, Japanese artist Satoko Lee, 57, and 19-year-old son Masatoshi.
Lee Wen is known for painting his own body with bright yellow paint, as part of his performance of Yellow Man series. It was an exaggerated symbol of his ethnic identity as a citizen of Singapore.
In 1988 Lee Wen left behind his banking career to pursue fine art at the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts at the age of 30. He experimented with both painting and various non-traditional media, having influenced by Tang Da Wu, Amanda Heng and Vincent Leow.
In 1990, Lee furthered his study at the City of London Polytechnic, and it was then that Lee had found his true calling as a performance artist. He went on to develop the Yellow Man persona which gained him his first recognition in the arts community. Lee Wen’s work quickly gained international recognition since 1993, having performed and showcasing his artistic expressions in many international locations such as the Kwang Ju Biennale, at the 3rd Asia Pacific Triennial in Australia in 1999.
“Yellow pigment on my yellow skin was an emphasis on my ethnicity. While living in London and meeting many Chinese people from different countries and cultural backgrounds, I found that many of my characteristics and attitudes were uniquely Singaporean. Therefore I wanted to elevate the symbolism of yellow to that of the color of the sun or that of gold. If symbols were still necessary. In art today, let them be of universal appeal, going beyond ethnicity. The sun and gold have often had associations with energy, nobility and spirituality. My wish was to perhaps give the hope that man can manifest these qualities.” Lee Wen
Lee Wen was also a member of The Artists Village (TAV), and part of the Black Market performance collective. Lee Wen founded the Independent Archive in 2012, a library and art space which collected archival material about art in Singapore and around the region.
Lee’s wake will be held at Block 145 Potong Pasir Avenue 2 from today until tomorrow. The funeral will take place on Wednesday.