ODE TO A LEGEND
TEW NAI TONG, (1936-2013)
We mourn the loss of one of Malaysian’s most influential artists, Tew Nai Tong who passed away from an aggravated lung infection on May 4. His works have been an inspiration to many artists who came after him and this is a great loss to the industry, which in recent years have been in need of a revamp and a revisit to the old school of artists and their own unique signatures.
Those who have seen and understand Nai Tong’s paintings would agree that he was a man who had his own way of art. His first solo show was in Kuala Lumpur back in 1964 and since then, he has perfected his strokes and created a persona for himself and his passion. There are few artists who paint their passion with their own trademark techniques. Nai Tong was truly one of the few who have changed the landscape of Malaysian art.
Born in 1936, Klang, Tew Nai Tong started his early education at the Peng Hwa Chinese School at the age of seven. At 18, he decided that he wanted to pursue his dream of being an artist, a proper artist. With his mind set on painting as a means of living, he moved to Singapore and enrolled at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and spent two years there to complete his studies. Focusing on sketching, watercolours and landscape painting during his early years at NAFA, he, along with his contemporaries, became part of the watercolours movement in Malaysia, promoting the art style to the people.
It was customary for NAFA graduates to further their studies in Paris and following that rule of thumb, Nai Tong spent the next two years studying oil and figurative painting at the Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux- Arts de Paris. From 1967 to 1968, Tew Nai Tong immersed himself in the kaleidoscope of arts and culture in France and across Europe, visiting museums and art galleries in search of inspiration for new pieces. His time in Paris instilled in him a newfound creative stance, which he fully made used of as he went through an experimental phase on forms, compositions and colours, which shaped his unique art style: an interesting and beautiful combination of Oriental charm and Parisian elegance injected into dreamy watercolour on canvas, playful collages within oil paintings to geometrical abstracts depicting rural living, local culture and landscapes.
In 2009, Nai Tong was awarded the prestigious Grand Prize Asia Art Award in Seoul, South Korea in recognition of his many contributions to the Malaysian art scene as well as exposing the rich cultural heritage and the Fine Arts of Malaysia to the international community. He is considered by some to be one of the top 10 artists in Malaysia and his works have been auctioned at Christies and Sotheby’s as well as through Malaysia’s own Malaysian Art Auction presented by KL Lifestyle Art Space. Highly collectible, many of Nai Tong’s paintings are in private collections both locals and internationals. Institutions that have acquired his artworks include the National Art Gallery Malaysia, National Art Museum Singapore and the Sarawak Museum in Kuching.