Languishing or resting?

Published May 3, 2021, 11:37 AM

by AA Patawaran

View the first ever survey of the complete body of ink works by Cheong Soo Pieng, a key figure in the development modernism in visual arts in the Southeast Asia

Cheong Soo Pieng, Resting, c. 1978-83, Chinese ink and colour on silk, 68 x 95 cm. Private Collection. (2)

As we coop up at home in these unprecedented times, as if cowering from a pandemic that’s going from bad to worse, a little better and then bad again, are we languishing or just Resting?

The figure in this Chinese ink and color on silk, 68 x 95 cm in size and entitled Resting, by Singapore’s art master Cheong Soo Pieng, who drew it to life between 1978 and 1983, seems to tell us that we are in a period of unbecoming, the period of rest before we can, by adding just another letter into the word rest, we may at last reset.

Cheong Soo Pieng was considered one of the most innovative Chinese artists of the 20th century, a pioneer in the Nanyang art style and a key figure in the development of modernism in visual arts not only in Singapore but also in Southeast Asia. He was born in Amoy, China, relocating later to Hong Kong and, just after World War II, moving to Singapore, where he lived the rest of his life, dying in 1983. He was equally acclaimed for his signature portrayal of various indigenous tribes in Southeast Asia. In his paintings, the limbs and torso of his tribal subjects are elongated for trademark effect, their faces and eyes the shape of almonds.

From May 14 to May 30, 2021, the Singapore gallery artcommune, which specializes in modern art, representing the finest and most important artists in the region, will be unveiling the first-ever retrospective survey of Cheong Soo Pieng’s entire body of ink work, much of which has remained in private collections until now.

In the exhibit, “Tonalities: The Ink Works of Cheong Soo Pieng,” over 100 ink works showcasing different periods of the artist’s career will be revealed. The experience can make viewers travel back in time to the artist’s overseas painting sojourns and learn how they shaped his oeuvre—the Bali trip that cultivated his lifelong preoccupation with Balinese figures and motifs, for instance, or his encounters with post-war contemporary art in Europe, and his re-invention of Chinese classicism after returning from China.

If you happen to be in Singapore, the exhibition will take place at Artspace @ Helutrans on Keppel Road, open from noon to 7 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Or view the exhibit on Follow @artcommunegallery on Instagram and on Facebook.