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Erica emerged as an artist in the midst of the COVID pandemic as she sought refuge in painting. All photos by Erica Wee.

What artist Erica Wee thought were four “totally random works” that she had submitted for an art exhibition delivered a powerful epiphany to a complete stranger.

In December 2021, four of Erica’s works were exhibited at Arte@PavilionKL, an annual exhibition featuring artists residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her artworks did not follow a particular theme, but collectively, they spoke deeply to one visitor to the exhibition.

The visitor posted a reel of Erica’s paintings on her Instagram account and wrote: “These four works summed up my life in the past year.” She tagged Erica.

Intrigued, Erica sent a direct message to the woman on Instagram, who responded promptly to share how the paintings spoke to her. 

For one woman, these four artworks by Erica Wee described her personal journey from brokenness to God’s masterpiece.

The first painting was of an autumn scene with falling leaves: The woman likened this to her life that year – her business had folded, her marriage had ended and the relationship with her family came under severe strain.

“Everything fell apart,” the woman wrote.

The second was of a Tuscan valley in autumn. She saw the picture as a cocoon – one that she hid in after her life “collapsed”. 

“Thank you for helping me find renewed hope.” 

The third was a seascape that represented overwhelming peace and calm to the woman. She found strength in the peace.

The final piece was an abstract portrait of a woman rendered with expressive strokes and bright colours. The image assured her that, though she felt broken and in pieces, she could be put together and restored into a vibrant masterpiece.

The woman concluded her message to Erica: “Thank you for helping me find renewed hope to start 2022 with.” 

That her art could bring life to an observer in such an unexpected and powerful way is what keeps Erica going—there is no “random” in the life of a believer.

The art student who gave up 

Erica took art lessons in junior college but was often put down by her art teacher with disparaging comments like “You call this art?” Deeply discouraged, she threw out all her work after she finished school at 18 years old.

When Erica found out about the COVID art fundraiser organised by art gallery Sound of Art, she promptly reached out to Galven Lee, its co-founder and director, and offered to donate her works.

Her series of four safari animals was snapped up the very morning The Straits Times ran an article on the fundraiser. Erica was the featured artist in the article.

That was how the 50-year-old then-unknown burst into the art scene in Singapore.

“God, are You even real?”

Erica grew up in a Christian family but did not have a personal relationship with God. She gave her life to Jesus in secondary school after hearing the Gospel at a Luis Palau rally. 

“His message was a very simple. There was no fanfare. I felt my hand move and I accepted Christ,” she recalled.

Erica hopes her paintings will stir the hearts of her audience and point them to Christ.

After what she terms an “unremarkable” conversion, Erica attended Bible study classes and church until she left for university in Seattle, United States.

It was in Seattle she encountered God personally. She was brought to a church with “very good college fellowship” that reached out to all international students attending the University of Washington. It was also there that she met her husband. 

During her years in Seattle, Erica learned to cling to the word of God. Homesick and struggling to make significant decisions, the young woman pored over the Bible and immersed herself in the Word.

“Prior to this, I thought being a Christian was just a nice thing to write down when filling in application forms,” Erica quipped. “That was the first time I realised that being a believer was actually an intimate, personal one-on-one dynamic relationship with God.”

Her years in Seattle proved to be preparation for the tsunami that was coming.

Whatever verse Erica meditated on during the anxiety of the COVID pandemic was eventually translated on to canvas. 

Erica and her boyfriend, also a Singaporean, returned to Singapore after graduation. They were soon married and started what she calls “a typical family with a typical routine”.

“We went to church, put the kids in Sunday school, and served in children’s ministry together,” she described. 

This routine was thrown into disarray in 2000, when the dotcom bubble burst, followed by the collapse of the world economy in 2001 in the cruel aftermath of September 11.

The confluence of events threw Erica and her family into a financial and health crisis—one that would last for years. With a five-year-old son and a newborn, the couple struggled with the demands of parenthood and the loss of income streams, a situation that put their marriage through severe testing.

“We were faithfully praying, faithfully seeking God but we didn’t see the end of the tunnel,” Erica recounted. “We were hanging off the cliff by our fingertips.”

In the midst of the family’s prolonged struggles, Erica found herself questioning the reality of God. 

One night, at “the lowest point” of her life, she cried out in desperation to a God who seemed absent. “Are you real? Are you even real? You made all these promises to us in the Word. We cling on to them faithfully. We can’t even see the end of the tunnel!”

After wrestling all night with God, Erica made a decision that would shape the rest of her life.

“I will still choose to believe You are real,” she told Him as she ended her prayer.

Their lives turned around after that very night.  

A new season

A few days after her wrestling match with God, Erica landed a job from a church mate she did not know, neither having to produce a resume nor undergo an interview.

The terms of her employment were equally miraculous: her salary would exactly cover the needs of the family, and her employer offered to let her work from home to accommodate her role as mother with two young kids. This was in 2008, when home-based employment was not common.

“God, are You real? Are You even real?”

Her employer later shared with Erica that she usually attended church service at a different time, but that weekend, she felt God urge her to attend the 11am service, which Erica regularly attended. The employer had been desperately praying for God to bring someone to fill a role in her company. At that 11am service, God answered both her and Erica’s prayers.

After Erica got the job, other doors started to open. Finally, after a long, difficult season, she and her family began to experience restoration.

She shared three things upon emerging from that valley: “One, God is faithful. No matter what He brings you through, He will bring you out. Two, He is a living God who is at work the whole time. Three, He knows us so well that He allows us to reach the breaking point without letting us go beyond it.” 

A year later, Erica left her job and moved to Kuala Lumpur when her husband’s job took them there. They joined a church attended predominantly by expatriates. 

Painting is Erica’s “me” time with God: “I take time to pause, pray, reflect and seek God for His direction and intention for each piece.”

Erica, who had always been serving in children’s ministry, was terrified of the prospect of serving in a woman’s ministry. She had fended off previous attempts by her church in Singapore to make her the woman’s Bible study leader. However, even in Kuala Lumpur, opportunities to serve in the woman’s ministry kept knocking.

“I was like, no, no, no!,” Erica laughed. But she ended up taking it on when, like Jonah, she had nowhere else to run. 

“That wrestling match with God gave me the assurance of who He is, and who I am in Him.”

It turned out to be a blessing: at first she “winged it” but eventually fell in love with the ministry. “I was so ministered by it,” she mused.

Erica led the women’s ministry for eight years, during which the group grew from six ladies to 60. Erica, known as “the Bible study lady” was often the go-to person for the women at her church. Infidelity in the church was rampant: broken family ties threw women into depression and anxiety, and children into self-harm.

It was a stint Erica admitted she would not have survived had she not herself been broken during her and her family’s crisis in Singapore all those years ago. 

“That wrestling match with God gave me the assurance of who He is, and who I am in Him,” Erica pointed out. “It gave me the confidence to do what He has given me, and to trust Him to do it.” 

Erica eventually stepped down from the woman’s ministry in March 2020, on the cusp of the COVID pandemic. 

The artist emerges 

Released from ministry commitments, and confined to her home in Kuala Lumpur by lockdowns and border closures, Erica found herself faced daily with the grim news of a pandemic spiralling out of control. 

She found respite in God’s word and meditated on them day and night. From the head to the heart, those meditations eventually flowed onto canvas. Whatever verse she was clinging on to during a particular week was what she painted. 

When Erica shipped her paintings from Kuala Lumpur to the COVID fundraiser in Singapore in 2020, she did not expect them to stir up such excitement. 

The swift sale of her work caught her and Galven by surprise. One buyer tracked down her art page and wrote her a personal message expressing admiration for her work.  “Are you a Christian?,” he asked. “I could tell.” 

She ended up signing on as an artist represented by Sound of Art and moved back to Singapore two years later.

The zebra depicts the servant's heart of humility, the lion is a reminder that believers are a chosen people, the leopard represents the need to set our minds on the hope above, and the elephant symbolises the ferociousness and gentleness of the Divine. Photo courtesy of Sound of Art.

Each piece of Erica’s sold-out COVID series of safari animals was based on a Bible verse.

For Erica, art is an extension of her faith, her platform to communicate her testimony and connect with people beyond church walls.

The series of safari animal paintings produced during COVID was her first intentional effort to share the Word of God through her art. Every artwork was based on a verse.

The zebra was based on Psalms 37:7: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” 

The lion emerging from darkness drew inspiration from 1 Peter 2:9. “I felt it was a dark time from which God will lead us out. We are a royal priesthood, a chosen race, His people; He will lead us out of darkness and into His marvelous light,” Erica explained.

The leopard on the lookout was based on Luke 12:36 of servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. 

Although her paintings are not overtly Christian, Erica hopes they will stir the hearts of her audience and point them to Christ. 

“I’m floored when I see how God works through art.”

Erica shared: “I’m floored when I see how God works through art. I could paint with what I thought was one message but the viewer could totally see a different message that convicts the heart and turns it around.

“This is the Holy Spirit and a living God behind the scenes.”

In the years since she dusted off her paint brushes, Erica has produced more than 300 paintings, as well as commissioned murals. “It is a meaningful endeavour to be able to immortalise a precious memory for my clients in an artwork,” she said.

Last September, the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) commissioned two murals at Eunos MRT Station to celebrate its 35th anniversary. The murals feature the culture and history of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Erica at a mural commissioned by SMRT for its 35th anniversary. (L-R) Lam Sheau Kai, President Trains, SMRT Trains; Philip Chew, great-grandson of Chew Joo Chiat; Mohamed Fahmi Bin Aliman, Mayor South East District, Adviser to Marine Parade GRC GROs (Geylang Serai) Photo: Erica Wee

Erica used to paint a piece a day when she first started but now takes anywhere from three weeks to three months for each piece.

“I have become more intentional about my work,” she admitted. “I take time to pause, pray, reflect and seek God for His direction and intention for each piece.” 

For a recent commission for the launch of a ministry by David and Amy Ang, Erica was allowed free rein, which led her to sit before God and seek help for direction. The idea of an olive tree came, and she painted an olive tree by the river flowing towards a city in the background and eventually to a sunrise. 

“The olive tree by the river represents David and Amy, intertwined, strong in faith and rooted in His Word. The city in the background points to their mission field, and the sunrise represents God,” Erica elaborated.  

“My faith has shaped my art, to a point where art has become a representation of my convictions.”

“It was my toughest commission to date because all they gave me was a few Bible verses—Genesis 1:26-28—with no imagery,” Erica laughed. What she did not know was that the very picture of the olive tree was a vision God had given to Amy. She reflected: “One really needs to sit with God and just pray. You cannot get ahead of God.” 

“While a picture captures a thousand words, this painting of Erica’s carries the call of the Kingdom for the many future generations,” said David Ang.

These days, the 52-year-old mother of two boys, 20 and 25, is back in a woman’s small group but waiting on God to lead her into the next ministry. 

Painting has become for Erica an avenue for self-reflection, a time of devotion. “It’s my me time with God,” she said. 

“My faith has shaped my art, to a point where art has become a representation of my convictions,” Erica noted. “I don’t think they’re separate.”

Her art has also shaped her faith, driving her deeper into the arms of God. “I seek Him more, and I listen to Him more,” she said.


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About the author

Peck Sim

Peck Sim is a former journalist, event producer and product manager who thankfully found the answer for her wonderings and a home for her wanderings. She now writes for Salt&Light and also handles communications for LoveSingapore.