Born in Singapore in 1936, Kim Lim, who has an exhibition on view at S|2 Gallery, London from 6 September until 2 October, spent much of her childhood in the Malaysian states of Penang and Malacca before moving back to Singapore to attend school. At the age of eighteen, she took the bold decision to pursue a career as an artist, enrolling to study at St. Martin’s in London where she was immediately drawn to sculpture, specifically wood carving. Lim then transferred to the Slade where she also developed as a print maker under the teaching of lithographer Stanley Jones and etcher Anthony Gross. Lim also met fellow artists at this time, including the painter Tess Jaray who she studied with at both St. Martins and the Slade.
In the 1960s and 1970s Lim returned to wood sculptures, creating minimal, balanced forms. Works like her Intervals series from 1973, editions of which are in the Tate collection, presented simple, repeated modules in ladder-like forms. The sense of rhythm and order in her work sought to draw parallels with the patterns and structures she encountered in both nature and daily life. She was keen to give attention to what might be seen as empty space in her sculptures, by exploring the changing nature of light and the affect this could have on an overall visual form.
In the spring of 1979 the first retrospective of Lim’s work was held at the Roundhouse Gallery, which served to highlight the concerns of her own practice back to her. Confronted by a “pull within myself between the ordered, static experience and the dynamic rhythms of organic, structured forms,” Lim was realising the need to find a freer form through which to express herself. It was at this point that she began to work in stone, beginning with Portland stone, but moving on to granite, marble and lastly slate. When curating an exhibition of Lim's stone sculptures at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1995, Clare Lilley noted that “the move to heavier material has not resulted in a more solid form of sculpture.” The simplicity of the often small stone forms she created led to a greater focus on the subtleties of texture, surface, line and curve. In the same tradition as Brancusi, she brought a gentle delicacy to the hardness of stone.
Throughout extensive travels across Europe and South East Asia, often as part of trips back to Singapore, Lim found inspiration in a variety of ancient civilisations and their art forms, particularly Cycladic sculpture. She often travelled with her husband, the British sculptor and painter, William Turnbull, whose practice was equally shaped by the wide range of cultural traditions and archaic visual forms they experienced.
Despite being best known for her sculpture, Kim Lim continued to produce detailed etchings, wood-cuts and paper cut-outs throughout her life. Her printmaking became an extension of her sculptural practice, where she experimented with line and form. Across all medium, Lim’s minimalism always had a greater concern with nature, contrasting the ordered with the organic.