Opening – Singapore’s pioneer artist Chen Chong Swee @ NAFA

A new exhibition about one of Singapore’s lesser known pioneer artists, “Chen Chong Swee: A legacy in Truth, Goodness and Beauty” is opening on Dec 23 at NAFA Galleries. The exhibition presents over 50 Chinese ink, watercolour and oil paintings by the prolific artist, some of which have never been seen in public and spanning nearly his entire lifetime in Singapore.

Born in Chenghai County, Guangdong, China, Chen Chong Swee (1910 – 1985), also known as Chen Khai, was trained as a Chinese ink painter at Xinhua Art Academy Shanghai and came to Singapore in 1932. Like many of his peers, Chen was trained in both the Western style of artistry and the fundamentals of traditional Chinese genres which enabled him to use different techniques to render landscape and figurative paintings of local and South East Asian scenery. He was influenced by Realist works and believed that paintings were expressive vehicles for ideas and intense feelings about art and life.  His early landscapes of the 1940s and 1950s drew inspiration from the coastal and urban environments of Singapore as well as community living in the ‘kampongs’. In 1953, he travelled to Bali with fellow pioneers Liu Kang, Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Wen Hsi. But if he espoused the Nanyang style, a term coined during the 1950s to denote the depiction of South East Asia using a mix of traditional Chinese and Western techniques and medium, it’s not quite evident in the works on show. Personally, I think his most interesting and accomplished works are his detailed ink and colours, which often have a whimsical appeal.

The exhibition over a good overview of an artist who has not yet been as acknowledged as others from the same generation.