Kim Lim was born in 1937 in Singapore and spent much of her early childhood in the Malaysian states of Malacca and Penang. She moved to London aged 18 to enrol at St Martin’s School of Art where she specialised in wood carving. She then transferred to the Slade School of Art where she concentrated on printmaking before graduating in 1960. Her early works were primarily sculptures carved in wood that incorporated basic rhythmic forms. The simplified forms, aptly made with such an organic material, explore the complex relationship between art and nature. With their exquisite attention to detail of curve, line and surface, Lim’s wooden sculptures were allied to the emergent movement of Minimalism that began to exert a global influence on contemporary art from its origins in New York in the early 1960s.
Nevertheless Lim’s works showcase a greater naturalism than the industrial and synthetic materials favoured by Minimalist luminaries such as Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. The sense of timelessness of Lim’s sculptures is derived both from their natural forms and materials and from their classical sources of inspiration.
Throughout her extensive travels across Europe and South Eastern Asia she developed a lifelong fascination with archaic sculpture, once stating, ‘I found that I always responded to things that were done in earlier civilisations that seemed to have less elaboration and more strength.’ The formal and decorative simplicity of Lim’s 1960s sculptures is thus derived from sources as diverse as Cycladic sculpture, Shang bronzes and Sung pottery. Some 60 works of Kim’s sculptures and prints are within the Tate’s collection.