Visual Arts Centre

Traditional Chinese Ink Painting has a rich history. Influenced by both religion and philosophy, this Oriental art form offers aesthetics that are rich beyond belief.

Two Birds, 1705 – Bada Shanren

Chinese Art is defined by 3 main subjects – Poetry, Painting and Calligraphy. These 3 topics are most often interconnected and used in Chinese Art as a vehicle of self-expression. A traditional piece of work is often accompanied by a text, a poem written by the artist himself or by a poet. Using a highly individualistic style of calligraphy, the artist pens down the finishing touches on his painting.

Landscape After Huang Gongwang (1269-1354), Dong Qichang

Traditional Chinese Ink painting involves the major techniques of manipulating brush and ink. Modern day influences have begun changing the aesthetics of Chinese Ink Painting. Instead of the traditional techniques, one is able to creatively express themselves by using unconventional techniques.

Chua Ek Kay (1947-2008)

I wanted feelings to be the focus of my paintings, not the rendering of physical architecture. For a whole decade, my paintings have undergone a dramatic change. Identity was my main concern. As a result of my travels, my reflections on art, a better grasp of Western contemporary art and having penetrated deeper into Chinese ink technique, the ideology of my art has changed sharply.


Chua Ek Kay, Image courtesy of art net

A famous Contemporary Chinese Ink Painting in Singapore is Chua Ek Kay. Chua uses his environment as his subject matter. The unique cityscape of Singapore featuring the old and the new possesses an architectural beauty that Chua embraces and enjoys.

Yellow Door I & II, Chua Ek Kay (1992) Image courtesy of National Heritage Board

As one of Singapore’s leading Chinese Ink Painters, Chua was recognized for his unique style – a personal voice that marked the culmination of Modern Chinese Ink Painting. His works reflected the duality between Chinese Ink painting and Western art approaches. He combines the tow in his practice, producing works that feature the compositional features of Western painting and the aesthetics of traditional Chinese ink painting.

The Best Time (Shophouse Series), Chua Ek Kay (2002), Image Courtesy of Mutual Art

Chua uses the technique of traditional Chinese ink painting by considering the compositions of his work – emulating the same sense of balance and harmony. Under the tutelage of Fan Chang Tien, the master brush painter of the Shanghai school, Chua learnt the art of Chinese Ink Painting and seal-carving.

A Distant View of Borobudur, Chua Ek Kay (2006) Image Courtesy of OSS

Focussing on the idea of capturing the spirit and the essence of the subjects, Chua’s works embodies the Xieyi (写意 freehand) ideals.

Bicycles by the Shophouse, Chua Ek Kay, Image courtesy of art net

In addition, his subjects were most often largely abstracted. He avoids using representational elements and worked on his interest in stylizing and delicately rendered ink-saturated brushstrokes to create lyrical compositions. Chua’s practice expresses his innovative thinking and his tenacity in challenging pictorial traditions.

To find out more about Chua Ek Kay and his art, visit these websites:

Esplanade’s Tribute to Chua Ek Kay

NLB’s info sheet on Chua Ek Kay

An informative article on Chua Ek Kay by Low Sze Wee found on the Straits Times

If you would like to learn more about Traditional Chinese Ink Painting,

we have a **BRAND NEW** lesson starting from 19 April 2019.

Every Friday