CHEONG SOO PIENG
(B. China, 1917-1983)
Fishing Village, 1961
Signed and dated “SOO PIENG 61” with seal on lower left
Ink and colour on paper
92 x 41 cm
Private Collection, Singapore
SOLD – RM 134,400
“Western easel painting conventions and Chinese ink painting pictorial formats and techniques, applied to Southeast Asian subjects, came to cement his artistic style.” – Visions of Southeasia Asia, on Cheong Soo Pieng.
Having always been fascinated by the Southeast Asian culture and village life, particularly by the ease and normalness that are the sights of ordinary folk going about their daily activities and the sceneries that surround them, depicted here is another of Cheong Soo Pieng infamous kelong (fishing village) landscapes. Soo Pieng’s pièce de résistance is known as the apparent synthesis of techniques – the traditional Chinese ink painting and the Western oil painting techniques which were strongly influenced by Parisian art movements such as the Fauvism (vivid expressionistic and non-naturalistic use of colour) and Cubism (geometric shapes, interlocking planes). This combination eventually led to the birth of the Nanyang art style.
However, even after combining his paintings of symbolism with Modernist techniques, they still retain the same Southeast Asian authenticity to it. The Singapore in the 1950s was blatantly different from China, but he sought inspiration from scenes of the everyday life. Soo Pieng’s use of geometrical shapes is the result of his Cubistic experimentations in an effort to reinvent space and present multiple perspectives in form. The sharpness of his brush creates vertical, horizontal lines that are almost grid-like. He also uses a certain kind of pointillism (tiny dots of colours which become blended) and blotches of black ink with Chinese ink painting, making the details seem only noticeable through impression instead of realism. As such, although the setting in this piece seems disjointed and muffled, forms of the kelong and the waters that run beneath them are visible. It is simultaneously familiar and enigmatic. This piece was painted in the same series of works of the same year, which can be seen in the collection of the National Heritage Board of Singapore and featured on page 21 and 121 of the Cheong Soo Pieng book “Visions of Southeast Asia” (2000).
Cheong Soo Pieng was born on the 1st of July, 1917 in Amoy, China. He enrolled at the Xiamen Academy of Fine Arts, a private art school whose principal, Lin Ke Gong, focused on both traditional Chinese ink painting and Western painting. This, in turn, influenced Soo Pieng’s work. Thereafter, he studied at the Xin Hua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai where he learnt more of the Western and Chinese art styles. His arrival in Singapore in 1946 marked his style to this date, after he incorporated the subjects of the Southeast Asian culture and lifestyle into his paintings. Singaporeans may be familiar with the Drying Salted Fish painting at the back of their $50 notes.
He was commonly known as the inventor of the Nanyang style in art. Singapore’s National Museum Art Gallery’s former curator Choy Weng Yang described Soo Pieng as a “dynamic pacesetter of the Singaporean art scene who injected into Singaporean art a sense of innovation”. In lieu of painting realistic shapes and sceneries that people are so used to seeing, Soo Pieng preferred to depict them based on how he personally viewed the subjects. “Ane tu xi ane”, Soo Pieng reminded his students time and time again. It means ‘this is how things are’. It was his way of saying that one should always look at things in your own, unique way.