Dayak: Woodblock prints by Tay Chee Toh @ NAFA, Singapore

Dayak: Woodblock prints by Tay Chee Toh, the 1985 Cultural Medallion recipient, is currently showing at the NAFA Galleries (80 Bencoolen St). This is the 10th solo exhibition by the prolific painter-sculptor who is known for his varied and versatile body of work. His oeuvre includes oil, batik, watercolour, printmaking, acrylic, Chinese ink and sculpture.

Inspired by the Dayak people of Sarawak, he has created a series of 10 monumental woodblock prints executed on gold and silver fabric. Two of these prints that each span over 4.5 metres across took the artist close to three years to complete. To accompany the prints, the exhibition presents a rare insight into the artist’s creation process with the showcase of some of the original carved print blocks.

The woodblock print marries the artist’s technical ability in both the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional; he revisits his carving craftsmanship on the wood boards and re-evaluates his practice as a designer of large scale compositions. The Dayak figures in various curvilinear poses are carved from an essential geometry of circles and lines with a calligraphic grace that travels from one end of the composition to the other. Graphic representations of birds, floral motifs and vases are incorporated into the compositions, which result in an artwork that invokes infinity through the geometry of icons and symbols. 

Born in Malaysia, 71-year-old Tay studied fine art at NAFA between 1958 and 1960 and was deeply influenced by his teachers Georgette Chen, Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi and Chen Chong Swee, admiring them for their artistic vision . He pursues the Nanyang style that his teachers promoted -- to recognise indigenous life and to draw inspiration from local and regional culture. In the past five decades of his artistic practice, the human figure remains a central theme, in particular the Dayak women whom he depicts in various mediums, assimilating influences found in traditional arts such as batik, woodcarving with painting and drawing.

He was also instrumental to the development of the arts in Singapore. Along with seven artists including Wee Beng Chong and Ho Ho Ying in 1963, he co-founded the Modern Art Society Singapore