Gog Sing Hooi was one of Singapore’s pioneer watercolour painters. He was known for his transparent watercolour depictions of Singapore street scenes and of the Singapore River.2 He helped co-found the Singapore Watercolour Society in 1969,3 and was a strong promoter and supporter of the watercolour art form.
An only child, Gog was born in the small Chaozhou village of Fengxi in Guangdong province, southern China. His father died of malaria when he was almost a year old. Mother and son moved to Penang, Malaya, to live with relatives when Gog was five years old. Unfortunately, due to the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), he did not begin his studies until the age of 12, spending his childhood helping out at his relative’s rubber plantation and vegetable farm.4
After completing his primary and secondary school education, Gog went on to a teaching career in Kedah before moving to Singapore in 1957 to enrol at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). While pursuing his interest in art at NAFA, he also taught at Tuan Mong Primary School and studied at the Singapore Teachers’ Training College. He graduated from NAFA in 1962, and married Tan Lee Ching that same year.5
Gog began his artistic journey with caricature drawings and portraiture in his teens. Not long after, he ventured into transparent watercolour painting, and remained faithful to it all his life. This medium necessitates the mix of colours with water, unlike the denser body-colour method in which pigments are mixed with opaque white to obtain different shades. Transparent watercolour painting employs thin washes that allow the whiteness of the paper to shine through, giving the subject depicted a clear luminosity.6
The Singapore River was a favourite subject of Gog’s work. He and fellow painters would meet unfailingly on Sundays to paint at the river bank. Other outdoor subjects included Chinese temples and Singapore street scenes from the 1970s and ’80s, some of which no longer exist today.7 Gog also painted landmarks such as Coleman Bridge. The bridge brought back fond memories for him as he used to visit the area when courting his wife.8
Although he never became a full-time artist and remained a teacher for pragmatic reasons, Gog’s technical virtuosity is undisputed. Discerning art patrons, such as the late former president Ong Teng Cheong, were collectors of his works. Gog also championed the art of watercolour painting, and was one of the persistent voices that called for the creation of the Singapore Watercolour Society in the 1960s. He was an active member of the society throughout his life and sat on various society committees. He was also instrumental in the artistic development of younger members, mentoring them during those Sunday sessions by the Singapore River.9
Gog taught for over 30 years at various schools before retiring, when he was finally able to paint full-time.10
Shortly after retirement, Gog succumbed to complications from cancer surgery and passed away at the age of 61 on 11 February 1994.11