Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Banyan Tree, 63
Banyan Tree, 63

In this oil pastel painting, Patrick Ng Kah Onn depicts an abstract landscape of banyan trees, possibly drawn from his visit to India in January of 1963 and later shown two months later as part of a one-man show at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur. Rendered in earthy tones and controlled, overlapping linear strokes, he imbues the national tree of India with a sense of movement as if nature were in a state of dance. The banyan tree is also native to many regions in Southeast Asia, appearing in many ancient myths, texts and scriptures. With its interlocking branches and expansive roots, the tree is also a symbol of unity in diversity, a sentiment often reflected in the artist’s works.

Oil pastel on paper
45 x 59 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Patrick Ng Kah Onn
About Patrick Ng Kah Onn

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Patrick Ng Kah Onn (1932-1989) was a pioneering modern Malayan painter and founding member of the Wednesday Art Group, initiated by Peter Harris. His work expressed a decorative, linear style that evoked the essences of the region and its sensibilities–best remembered in his iconic 1958 painting, Spirit Of The Earth, Sky And Water for its mystical vision and synthesis of complex regional belief systems. A self-taught artist, he first attracted attention for his Batek Malaysia which was awarded first prize at the First Southeast Asian Art Conference and Competition in Manila, the same year Malaysia gained her independence. In 1963, he held his first solo show at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur, where fifty works in watercolors, pastels, wax, charcoal and Indian ink based on his visit to India were on show. Under a Sino-British fellowship, he then enrolled at the Hammersmith College of Art, London in 1964 before furthering his Fine Arts studies at the Wimbledon and Southlands College of Education, London in 1966. After his studies, he remained in London and taught at his alma mater before his untimely death in 1989.

Further Readings

  • Redza Piyadasa, 'On origins and beginning,' Vision and Idea: ReLooking Modern Malaysian Art, ed. T.K. Sabapathy, Kuala Lumpur: National Art Gallery, 1994. 

  • Simon Soon, ‘Fabric and the Fabrication of a Queer Narrative: The Batik Paintings of Patrick Ng Kah Onn,’ Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific. Issue 38, 2015. 

Learning Section

  • Describe what you see in the painting. What colours do you see? Are some colours more dominant? Why is that? What colours are used more sparsely? What colours are not used in this painting? How have lines been used in the painting? What shapes do you see in the painting? Are there shapes you recognise? The title tells us that this is a painting of trees but does it remind you of anything else? When you first looked at the painting, did you see trees?

  • We know from the title that this is a painting of Banyan trees, the national tree of India which is common in many parts of Asia. Does this painting feel like an Asian landscape? How is the Asian landscape different from landscapes elsewhere in the world?