CHEONG SOO PIENG
B. China, 1917 – 1983
Fishing Village in River Landscape, 1964
Chinese ink and watercolour
44 x 66 cm
Cheong Soo Pieng’s works are very much coveted in the art scene, as it is undoubtedly and truly a gem. With his Western easel painting influences and Chinese ink formats and techniques applied to his Southeast Asian subjects, he created a style that was exclusively his own.
The artist had an unwavering passion and fascination for the Southeast Asian culture and village life, its simplicity and ordinariness of normal people going about their daily routine was something that charmed Cheong Soo Pieng and led him to capture it through art, one of the famed ones being landscapes of the kelong (fishing village).
The artist was well-known for fusing two techniques – the traditional Chinese ink painting and the Western oil painting such as Fauvism (garishly expressionistic and non-naturalistic colours) and Cubism (geometric shapes, interlocking planes), which gave birth to the Nanyang art style.
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.
The National Heritage Board of Singapore has a vast collection of Cheong Soo Pieng’s works, over 1670 in total.
An incessant innovator who never settle for an established style, Cheong Soo Pieng holds an array of works ranging from many art styles, series and mediums under his repertoire. Even in this piece he reflects a unique and very distinguished reconfiguration of a wondrous village, incorporating brush strokes that leaves viewers’ feeling captivated and intrigued through his view.
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. He mixes his emotions and reality onto canvas.