From Our Painters

Memoirs of a Distant Past with Patrick Teo (Pateo) August 25 2021, 0 Comments

 We sat with Pateo, a prolific contemporary artist who illustrates traditional themed subjects in a novel way through his reinvention of traditional artistic practice, to discuss about the importance of heritage and the struggles and joy of being able to experience Singapore's transition from a post-war third world city to a financial hub that stands beside the most wealthiest of countries.

It was mentioned that you and Koeh Sia Yong were childhood friends, did he play a part in your interest in art?

Koeh Sia Yong and I were just casual friends. I knew his skill in visual art that went back to the time when he was in his early 20's; back then I was doing advertising art. But he knew nothing of the profession I was practising.

Were the experience and nostalgia of living in Kampong, a big part of what led you to paint themes of Singapore’s pre-modern era?

In my childhood days, I was not a stay-at-home kid. I explored the neighbourhood often. Being exposed to many sights, I became more inspired to paint the quaint beauty of wooden huts to preserve the kampong way of life we once dwelled in.

Looking back at some familiar roads that you had once walked on like Katong, Paya Lebar and Joo Chiat. Were there any feelings of surrealism, knowing that the landscape that stands before you now is vastly different than what was? What emotions do you experience when you walk these roads now?

Over time, many kampong sites have vanished, giving way to modern concrete buildings until people could hardly tell what the past was like. Sometimes when I visit these places today, I experience a level of melancholy because my memories are able help me visualise what it had looked like then. It was like an out-of-body experience of sorts.

Is there a philosophy that you subscribe to, whenever you begin a creative process for new artwork?

I strongly believe in preserving the sites that signify our heritage and beginnings from a fishing village to the bustling city that we live in today. It's a reminder of our humble roots and the sacrifices that were made to get us to where we are now. So I want to incorporate those key elements and ideas into my painting, where it can become a medium of recollection and imaginative documentation of our past.

What would be a distinct message/lesson in your past works that you wish to convey to the audience?

I want my paintings to be seen as a depiction of my perspectives on the history of Singapore’s old and simple way of life.


It is said that though your art depicts the struggles, trials and tribulations of the economic circumstances of most Singaporeans post-war, it also highlights the brief and small moments of joy and happiness brought about from the simplicity of life, some that could rarely be emulated in our ever fast-paced modern society today. What are some aspects of the Kampong life that you dearly miss?

The most impressive part of my memories were the food vendors who came by our house compound. You name it; like the bread man, the satay man and the rojak man etc. And the most fascinating character was the Indian laundryman who travelled with a bullock cart and above all, were the games we played, like fighting spiders, fighting fish, kite fighting, catching the five stone, the chatah game and catapulting birds in the surrounding greenery among others. These were the activities that had long been forgotten. 

Having experienced two 'Singapores' in your life, what is one lesson/message you’d like to leave behind for others when they look at your legacy?

What was once a swampy land transformed into a modern skyline in a short period of time, the generations that would come after would hardly relate to what Singapore was like. I would hope that my paintings will serve as a historical record and a fond reminder of what once was when our nation advances into the future.


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