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UOB Painting of the Year

Man of many hats, Lester Lee is an artist but also an estate and financial consultant as well as part-time yoga and Pilates instructor.

UOB Painting of the Year 2022, Lester Lee, UOBPOY, Art Herald Magazine, Singapore Art Magazine, Singapore Art Publication, Singapore Art Media, A Painting About Nothing and Everything
Singaporean artist Lester Lee

Please give us some backstory to all these (metaphorical) hats.

At some point, I was a flight steward with SQ while instructing fitness. After leaving the airlines, I became a freelance personal trainer and enrolled at NAFA, where I did watercolour under Mr Ong Kim Seng.

Your career choices provide you with autonomy over time allocation to the different aspects of your life. Is this notion of freedom a life-principle or something you reflect in your artwork?

It is more about passion. Art is within me, and I just have to do it.

I make these choices only because I’m realistic. I have to survive; I have family to take care of. Of course, if I can survive just being a full-time Artist, that would be optimal. But till now, it doesn't seem to me like the financial aspect of doing that is viable.

Passion is important for me; I look towards seeking happiness. That may be the reason that I refuse to take up a full-time job. I appreciate the freedom and not be bogged down by a nine-to-five and to deal with politics. I think that just is my character.

Might this explain why it’s not easy to find out more about you and your work online?

Yes! I'm quite a behind-the-scenes artist so I do not have a website and I seldom post my work online at all. In fact, for the longest time, I did not have an Instagram account. I just do art for personal gratification. That's why up till now, I still am not represented by galleries, nor have I had any major showcases.

Indeed, we only just found out you had previously collaborated with Singtel. Could you also tell us more about any awards or about your painting journey or process in general?

One of my winning works is in the possession of Singtel. I believe it was from 1989 when I got an outstanding award under the 1989 Client Search for Excellence by the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI). The winning piece was an initial exploration of media like acrylic instead of watercolour which I was comfortable with. I was doing watercolour a lot those days.

The current painting here that won UOB painting of the year is different, although it is not the first one I had submitted for UOB. There was another painting I won a UOB award for in 2013. My works are basically a reflection of what are around me. It can be happenings in the world, in Singapore, or a philosophical reflection. I do not paint with specific answers, I simply point them out and allow the viewers to contemplate about them.

UOB Painting of the Year 2022, Lester Lee, UOBPOY, Art Herald Magazine, Singapore Art Magazine, Singapore Art Publication, Singapore Art Media, A Painting About Nothing and Everything
A Painting About Nothing and Everything | Lester Lee | 180cm × 180cm | Mixed media on canvas

Can you walk us through your decision process on the elements you choose to include? For instance, it looks quite deliberate in this current piece that “every day” items are cast in a new light.

First, I will come up with a concept. From there, I filter images which I want to include in the composition. For this UOB winning piece, I thought: What if I had no concept? So, I started without a concept and put in whatever comes into my days throughout the period I was painting – the bike, the chair, the Chinese clocks, etc. That was how everything I encountered came together as a collage. As the days went by, I had to consider the composition; what colour scheme should it be? Where would the things go? This process this time round was quite free, actually. But it was also scary since because I did not know if the outcome would be successful ultimately.

As for my style, I have become quite figurative. About 10 years before, I did a lot of abstract work when I was in Seatt. I was living in Seattle so I practiced there. Works there are very abstract, including Installations and sculptural aspects of it, so maybe that explains how the abstract parts of my work came about. But now, I don’t know why in these few years I’ve somehow been a bit representational. It’s strange since I usually like to find a balance between abstraction and representation. So maybe, it was just something subconsciously ingrained in me.

That’s rather amusing to hear, and we’re glad it all worked out so incredibly! Is there anything you can share about future plans for your art career?

Actually, I’m trying to work on a new series with no restrictions on the number of pieces at the moment – it will be based on a concept. Unofficially, I’m scheduled for a solo show in October at Gallery 1819. If this year’s solo show comes about, it will be my third solo show!

So that adds to my to-do list: a proper website, a few more pieces…

We shall look forward to that! Right now, has winning the UOB Award here put you in a better place as an artist?

Absolutely! I think UOB has done an amazing job promoting art locally and in the region. Quite fantastic – I think they ought to go on for years to come. I am thankful for all the times I participated and won awards, which have led to me winning the top prize today. Additionally, I had a change of mindset this year – I thought about getting more exposure and to get cracking on that to-do list of getting a website, and maybe even look at gallery representation, eventually. Collaborations with galleries are not always easy, so I hope I can find a right one.

We shall remain optimistic on your behalf, Lester. Thank you for sharing about you and your work!

Thank you! And thank you for the reminder about my to-do list!


Registration for the 42nd UOB Painting of the Year competition is now open. Visit and submit your entries through the website:


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