Wednesday, September 29, 2010
About a month ago, I came across a video preview of the exhibition entitled Bridging Worlds: Cheong Soo Pieng, and I was certain that it was an exhibition that I must catch. Who is Cheong Soo Pieng?
Cheong Soo Pieng (1917 - 1983) was born in Xiamen, Fujian province of China. I do not know him personally. Thanks to his contributions to the Singapore art scene, I learnt a little bit about the artist, Cheong Soo Pieng, when I studied Art History during my secondary school days. He was one of the Singapore's pioneer artists. What I remember about him was that he was the artist who painted very stylised female figures with elongated necks, almond-shaped eyes and slender long arms. What I did not realise back then was that Cheong Soo Pieng painted more than just styled female figures. The exhibition, Bridging Worlds: Cheong Soo Pieng, brought to my attention that Cheong Soo Pieng was one of the most experimental artists of his generation.
(Credits: National Art Gallery of Singapore.)
If you had watched the attached short video preview, you might have realised that you could have been acquainted every day with one of Cheong Soo Pieng's art without your full knowledge. If you have a fifty-dollar Singapore note from the portrait series, please turn to the back and with an observant pair of eyes, you will find an image from a part of Cheong Soo Pieng's Drying Salted Fish (1978) in orange.
In the original Drying Salted Fish painting that was done with Chinese ink and watercolour on cloth, Cheong Soo Pieng depicted a scene of a fishing village that was commonly sighted in the 1970s. Although Chinese ink and watercolour were used, the painting was depicted using a perspective that was more commonly found in Western painting. The figures in this painting were elegantly stylised.
Actually, when I visited Bridging World: Cheong Soo Pieng, I was hoping to find out why Cheong Soo Pieng was greatly admired by one of the late Singapore artists, Ng Eng Teng. This question had been quite on my mind ever since my visit to the exhibition "Sculpturing Life - Ng Eng Teng Collection" about two years ago.
I think I could have figured out why Cheong Soo Pieng was so greatly admired by Ng Eng Teng. Cheong Soo Pieng was experimental in his approach to art and he was a very systematic artist. His courage to experiment and his diligence could have inspired Ng Eng Teng. The online article entitled "Arts and Thoughts: Conversation between Ng Eng Teng and T.K. Sabapathy" gives a glimpse of how Ng Eng Teng had greatly admired Cheong Soo Pieng. In Bridging World: Cheong Soo Pieng, visitors can see a three-dimensional relief portrait of Cheong Soo Pieng that was very thoughtfully done by the late Ng Eng Teng. I had almost felt as if Cheong Soo Pieng had came alive through the relief!
The revelation that I had at the exhibition was that Cheong Soo Pieng's art was more than just paintings. He experimented with various mediums and various art techniques. I suddenly realised that there was more to Cheong Soo Pieng's art than whatever I had learnt during my Art History lessons many years ago. I would say that anyone who is interested in Singapore's art history ought to make some time to visit this exhibition so as to study the works of Cheong Soo Pieng.
For novices, they would probably be inspired by the belief that had probably propelled Cheong Soo Pieng to be so brave and innovative in experimenting with various approaches to art. This quote by Cheong Soo Pieng summarises it all "You have many failures before you achieve success". Merely viewing his artworks lend one a glimpse of Cheong Soo Pieng's courage and willingness to experiment in efforts to excel in art.
Children will also find this exhibition very engaging. There is a Children's Art Studio in this exhibition whereby children can participate in various creative projects using the art materials and stencils provided. This is an exhibition suitable for all ages.
Check out this exhibition. Till 26 Dec 2010.
Bridging Worlds: Cheong Soo Pieng
Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555
Monday to Sunday: 10AM –7PM
Friday: 10AM – 9PM
(Free admission on Friday night, 6pm – 9pm)
Acknowledgements: My words of appreciation to Mr Walter Lim and the National Gallery of Singapore for inviting me to the opening night of the Bridging Worlds: Cheong Soo Pieng exhibition.