Born in Singapore, Kim Lim (1936–1997) moved to London when she was 18 to study sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art. After two years, she transferred to the Slade School of Fine Art, where she was taught to model and carve from the figure. It was in the printing studios, however, that Lim found a place of escape where she could explore her interest in simple, abstract forms. Both media, she said, became ‘of equal importance’ to her: through printing, Lim explored forms and ideas that she continued to develop in the slower process of wood carving; equally, ideas that first appeared in sculpture informed new explorations in printmaking.
Her discovery of Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti suggested new possibilities, and Lim looked far and wide for references that resonated with her. On her frequent travels between London and Singapore, she visited museums, religious and secular sites, and architecture in Europe, India and Southeast Asia.
She began to collect offcuts from timber yards, which she then carved and assembled. She did not like the idea of painting the wood, preferring to maintain its vitality. Instead, she scorched its surface, so that particular parts of the work would acquire distinctive textures and reflect light differently.
‘There was a kind of innocence and an arrogance at the same time,’ Lim later said of her early sculptures from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Like her prints from the same time, they have a remarkable sense of wholeness and balance, combined with a certain boldness and rawness. Over the following decades, Lim continued to explore the productive tension between organic and geometric forms, between stillness and movement, and between contrasting feelings of emptiness and completeness.
Kim Lim: Carving and Printing, Tate Britain, until 5 April 2021. Curated by Elena Crippa, Curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain.
With the generous support of the estate of Kim Lim, a small number of original limited edition prints are available for sale this autumn. For more information visit shop.tate.org.uk/limited-editions.