Lee’s 30-year love affair
Kok Wan Lee’s latest exhibit is a tribute to Astwood Park, the place he fell in love with on moving here 30-odd years ago.
He thinks it is especially fitting as it’s likely to be the last solo display of his work before he retires and returns home to Malaysia next year.
“Astwood Park has been my favourite spot for a very, very long time,” he said. “I’ve always found it interesting. Not so much the benches side where people go for picnics, I like the hillside where there are a lot of pine trees and all the bushes. Especially near the cliff it’s so mysterious.”
Mr Lee’s curated collection of 30 of his paintings and 13 sculptures open at the Bermuda Society of Arts tomorrow. The pieces were all created in the past year.
“I have colour ink, charcoal and watercolour and acrylic as well,” he said. “Some of them are mixed media. And I also included some mini sculptures, based on Bermuda cedar.
“What I do is I get an idea planned and then I keep working and working on it. I always like to curate my work which means I don’t have to incorporate everything I’ve done into my exhibition. I can take out pieces and put in what I feel l like more or what I believe is stronger.”
Mr Lee enjoyed art while in school but was never encouraged to study it further or explore his talent.
Once here the chef discovered that, as an employee of Stonington Beach Hotel, he had access to free classes at the Bermuda College. Art was one of several that appealed to him.
“I think as a chef you need a lot of artistic ideas and skill as well,” he said. “I think that all those years [working in restaurants] helped me once I got started painting as an artist.
“I was the youngest student in the art class I joined. My teacher was Mary Powell and she encouraged me to go to the US to take. And then after that I just kept working and polishing myself, developing my skills, working out what I like what I don’t like.”
He continued: “I always encourage artists who are first starting out to just make something – it doesn’t have to be huge or big. Even small works can be very interesting. Keep the idea and start working on it.”
It is an attitude that has enabled him to frequently showcase his work. Mr Lee’s last solo show, about three years ago, was also dedicated to Astwood Park.
“This show is more about how I feel about Astwood Park and not what I see. This second series is a bit more conceptual,” he said, adding that he wasn’t at all nervous about how others might receive it.
“I’m a little more bold than before. Normally most artists, when you have a show you worry about not selling anything basically. This time I realise probably it will be my last solo exhibition in Bermuda and I just want to be sure I do my best [getting across] what I want to say about Astwood Park, one of the iconic places in Bermuda.”
At the moment Mr Lee intends to leave “sometime around June”. He’s looking forward to it because having “decided to go for another chapter [I] don’t look back at what is behind”.
His only real plan is to connect with an arts society and find somewhere he can volunteer a few days a week “to occupy my time”.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do once I get home,” he said. “I just need to settle down first to adapt to the environment, to the lifestyle. Even though the last couple years I’ve been home every year, when you’re on holiday it’s very different. Once you know you’re going to be settling down in a place for some time then you look at things very differently.”
Despite that there are some things he will miss about life in Bermuda.
“I love the weather here – six months cold and six months hot which is not like Malaysia where it’s hot all year around,” he said. “You need to try to escape the heat. Here you have a bit of relief.
“So I will miss the climate, the tranquility here, the quietness here – I don’t get that in Malaysia. I also love that we’re so close to the water. Back home I don’t live around the coast. I won’t hear any waves, any ocean. It won’t be like here when, on a sunny day when it’s hot and you feel the need to go for a dip you just pack and go. There it will take a little bit of a journey to reach the water.”
What he won’t miss are “hurricanes” and the inconvenience of not having power because of them.
“Back home in Malaysia we don’t have any natural disasters. We have no earthquakes, no storms, no hurricanes; no monsoon. There’s barely anything. I think we’re spoilt in a bit in a way.”
Kok Wan Lee’s Astwood Park II opens tomorrow at the Bermuda Society of Arts and runs until August 25