Ushering in the year of the rat on an artsy note, Merlin Gallery held My Brush, an inaugural solo exhibition of calligraphy works by prominent gallerist 72-year old Johnny Quek last week. Held at Merlin Gallery’s Waterloo Center, the show ran for five days.

My Brush was a special exhibition showcasing Queck’s sixteen inspirational calligraphy pieces. Johnny Quek, gallerist, entrepreneur, art collector, and calligrapher, most recently scored a record with Singapore’s Book of Records for possessing the nation’s largest display of Calligraphy – a collection that he has built and stored for over 30 years.

For the first time, Quek decided to display his compilation- to share his story with the public, about his journey and quest to perfect the art of calligraphy. Each of his large-scale calligraphy pieces have been carefully preserved, labelled, and kept in his warehouse.

Queck, who is also a long-time director of Merlin Gallery, is best known as a key collector and promoter for works by Singapore’s pioneering artist Dr Chen Wen Hsi. I had the opportunity to observe his brilliant collections of Dr Chen Wen Hsi’s work during an exhibition at The private Museum last year. 

An advocate for Chinese calligraphy and arts, Quek’s love for this heritage form of Chinese writing was instilled in him during his childhood days by his scholarly father. 

“I started as early as Primary two. I have had an undying passion for Chinese calligraphy since I was a kid and I think it was mainly because of my father’s influence,” Queck shared with Lifestyle Collective.

The Foundations Of An Artist

Quek has been practising Chinese calligraphy daily for over sixty years, writing up to 1000 characters a day. He was initially introduced to the ancient art by his father, who made it imperative for him to practice daily as a child. Quek eventually took it upon himself to perfect the skill. Traditionally, Chinese calligraphers tend to model after historic masters’ works as a way to learn.

In 1972, Quek’s calligraphy teacher advised him to learn the style of Liu Gongquan’s “Mysterious Tower”, which he followed diligently. After practising for ten years, Quek decided to change his course of practice for the next 35 years, following his heart and creating his style and technique of calligraphy, which he follows till today.

Queck’s philosophy to calligraphy is that one should practise it habitually and write naturally. When it comes to his choice of material, he believes in using the highest quality brushes and ink. He especially commissions animal-hair brushes that are custom-made in China to ensure that the brush quality is refined and authentic.

Painting daily on calligraphy sheets of up to eight-feet is not a new feat to Quek, as he masterfully completes most of the pieces in less than 20 minutes. The two most extensive works in the exhibition each took him over an hour to complete.

Calligraphy is celebrated as an outward expression of the artist’s inner psychology. As such, Quek believes that leaving a beautifully written scroll is akin to giving gold to future generations.

As I looked at more than 2.2 tonnes of calligraphy work occupying almost half of the gallery space, I was inspired by Queck’s passion and consistent perseverance. In the digital era, where people no longer make an effort to put pen to paper, it is encouraging to see this 72-year old artist keep an old artform alive with sheer enthusiasm.

I have been an admirer of Quek’s work for a while and observing his calligraphy collection of a lifetime added to the respect that I have for this passionate artist.