Visual Arts Centre

Chinese ink painting exhibition shows how pioneer Singapore artists broke the rules

Clement Young, The Straits Times, Tuesday 26 September 2023

Fan Chang Tien’s Landscape (right) is one of 50 Chinese ink and calligraphy works on show at Masterpieces Of Ink And Calligraphy, curated by Ms Iola Liu (left). PHOTOS: COURTESY OF IOLA LIU, ASIA ART COLLECTIVE

Created at Tuesday Sep 26, 2023

Pioneer Singapore artists broke Chinese ink painting rules

Masterpieces Of Ink And Calligraphy exhibition will showcase the works of four Singapore first- and second-generation masters Clement Yong

While it has often been Nanyang artists’ oil paintings that have received plaudits, their works of Chinese ink on paper deserve at least equal attention, says Ms lola Liu, the 33-year-old founder of Asia Art Collective.

Since 2016, Ms Liu has run the Visual Arts Centre at Dhoby Ghaut Green, after Asia Art Collective re- located from Tanglin Shopping Centre and begun holding ad-hoc exhibitions there.

From Oct 5 to 11, she is putting on a show of 50 Chinese ink and calligraphy works by four Singapore first and second-generation masters including well-known pioneer artist Liu Kang (1911-2004) – in the glass house.

It is part of her longstanding campaign to correct the bias against Chinese ink painting, which she says has been used by Singapore artists in distinctive ways without much public appreciation.

“It’s a matter of perception,” says Ms Liu, who has curated multiple Chinese ink shows. “Ink painting has been a mainstream medium in China, and these paintings are more expensive than oil paintings there.

“In Singapore, we are more used to the bolder colours of oil painting, which we are taught are more pleasing.”

Works by Fan Chang Tien (Left) and Ling Cher Eng (Right) will be on show at the exhbitions. PHOTOS ASIA ART COLLECTIVE

Her exhibition, Masterpieces Of Ink And Calligraphy, seeks to defy these norms.

Traditionally, Chinese ink paintings are known for having more muted colours, choosing to place greater emphasis on the expressiveness of lines and blank space, and often have a flexible representation of visual depth.

Some of that is present here, as in the works of first-generation mas- ter Fan Chang Tien (1907-1987), who was schooled at the Xinhua Art Academy in Shanghai before moving to Singapore.
But his disciple Ling Cher Eng (1940-1995) – whose works are perhaps the most eye-catching among the four artists- did not shy away from using brighter blues and reds.

Another second-generation ink painter, Phua Cheng Phue (1934-2004), arranged his elongated Balinese women in compositions that have a clear foreground, middle ground and background.

Ms Liu says of Phua’s Six Malay Ladies Resting, which features the iconic figures inherited from his teacher Cheong Soo Pieng: “The portraits are realistic, using unique colours to South-east Asia the skin tone is something you wouldn’t see anywhere else in ink painting.”

Even when these Singapore art- ists were painting traditional subjects like the Four Gentlemen – referring to the plum blossom, or chid, bamboo and chrysanthemum they reinterpreted and reimagined them, adds Ms Liu.

“Fan came from a Chinese literati tradition and persevered in the classical style, and his works are not out of place when compared with Chinese painters of his era.

“In Ling and Phua’s generation of Singaporean and Malaysian painters, they were more clearly in- spired by the environment of South-east Asia – the hot and tropical climate, the multiracial people and diversity.”

The selected paintings were mostly created in the 1970s and 1980s, though they also include later works by Liu, when he revisited Chinese ink painting and calligra- phy in the last decade of his life.

Ms Liu, who is not related to the artist, says his return to the medium signalled how important ink had always been for first-generation artists, who were likely first exposed to it in school, even before Western art.

Coincidentally, the ongoing Cheong retrospective at Artspace@Helutrans also has a section showing his take on the Song Dynasty Chinese ink painting tradition yet another first-generation artist who returned to ink in his later life.

Artworks at Masterpieces Of Ink And Calligraphy are priced from $3,200 to $22,800.

Inspired by recent multi-sensory exhibitions such as Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at Resorts World Sentosa, Ms Liu has also planned a tea appreciation session to spruce up the perhaps more dowdy image of a Chinese ink exhibition.

During a paid programme on Oct 8, a tea sommelier will be present and an artist station will be set up so participants can immerse them- selves in the feel of carrying ink across paper with a brush.

Asked why she likes Chinese ink, Ms Liu says it is a pleasant medium that has a wealth of great artists awaiting discovery.

Though these paintings may be harder to keep than oil paintings, given Singapore’s humidity, she promises it will be worthwhile.

“Chinese ink in Singapore is as good as those in China, Japan and South Korea. It is bold in a way that is unique to our heritage, a combi- nation of East and West.”

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WHERE : Visual Arts Centre, 01-02 Dhoby Ghaut Green, 10 Penang Road
WHEN : Oct 5 to 11, 11 am to ppm daily