In 2013, Asia Art Collective was established with the support from first-generation art collectors. Our first exhibition — Masterpieces, A Selection of Fine Artworks By Pioneering First-Generation Nanyang Artists (Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi, Chen Chong Swee, Fan Chang Tien, Lim Cheng Hoe, and Liu Kang) — hence showcased some of their collected artwork, which revolved around the Nanyang Style art created by first-generation Singaporean artists. Through this exhibition, we gained a deeper understanding about the histories and lives of first-generation artists from the art collectors themselves. By appreciating the artwork of these artists, we also learnt more about the Nanyang Style art that they pioneered.
Since 2013, we have organised many large-scale exhibitions. This includes exhibitions revolving around the artwork of late first-generation artists; second-generation artists; contemporary artists; powerhouse artists; young artists etc. Through our interactions with art collectors during our countless exhibitions, we realised that the artwork of first-generation and second-generation artists still remains most important to them. It really goes to show: Without the first-generation artists, there will be no Nanyang Style and therefore, no Singaporean art.
What exactly is Nanyang Style? Who is representative of Nanyang Style in Singapore?
Let us first learn about one of the founders of Nanyang Style — Chen Wen Hsi (1906 – 1992).
The younger generation might not be familiar with this name, but most people have actually come across his artwork before. His work, Two Gibbons Amidst Vines, is actually printed on the back of the Singapore $50 note!
Chen Wen Hsi
Chen Wen Hsi was born in 1906 in Guangdong, China. He enrolled in Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts and later transferred to Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied Chinese ink painting under the tutelage of renowned artist Pan Tianshou. In 1928, Chen Wen Hsi, Chen Chong Swee including their friends, founded the Chun Yang Painting Society, and they held solo exhibitions in Shantou, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other cities.
He then moved to Singapore in 1948, where he taught at Chinese High School and Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA). Four years later, in 1952, he went on a painting trip with his artist friends — Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee, and Liu Kang — to Indonesia. Afterwards, they held a group exhibition showcasing their artwork from the trip. This exhibition became a turning point in Singapore’s cultural history. Their works, which showcased the landscape unique to the Nanyang (or Southeast Asian) region, hence led to the Nanyang Style. This also established their status as the Four Pioneer Artists of Singapore.