Sunday Times Life Story
14 Apr 2019
His father's friend told him about LaSalle College of the Arts. He went, armed with a small portfolio of his works. There, he bumped into its founder, the late Brother Joseph McNally.
The meeting changed his life.
"I didn't even know who he was. He took a look at my works, told me there were areas which needed improvement, and to try again in three months."
Mr Koh then sought out artist Lim Poh Teck to help him with his technique, and returned to LaSalle with a new portfolio.
Brother McNally was impressed enough to offer him a place in the fine arts diploma programme. Then only 15, he was the college's youngest student.
"He said: 'I can't promise you will have a diploma because you need to have O levels for this course.' But it didn't matter to me; I just wanted to learn."
He proved to be a natural and started winning prizes after a few months.
In his second year, he decided to major in jewellery design.
"It was love at first sight. It was like sculpture," he says.
While his talent was obvious and he won multiple awards including Young Designer Award at jewellery design competitions, he still struggled with the course, especially in subjects like art history, which required a lot of reading and writing.
But sheer determination helped Mr Koh - who was nicknamed Flower King for his exquisite floral designs - to pull through.
On Graduation Day in 1989, he walked up the stage expecting to receive just a certificate.
"But I was given not just a diploma, but a diploma with merit," says Mr Koh, who stayed on in LaSalle for a year as assistant lecturer in jewellery design after graduating.