Cheong Soo Pieng
1917 - 1983
A pioneer of the Nanyang art style and a key figure in Singapore modern art scene, Cheong Soo Pieng is widely revered as one of the most prolific artists of his generation. Over a career that spanned five decades, he established a unique and wide-ranging repertoire of styles and mediums, influencing scores of artists and art students in Singapore.
Born in 1917 in Xiamen, China, Soo Pieng studied at Xiamen Academy of Fine Arts and furthered his education at Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. Being schooled in the Beaux-Arts type of education then common of art academies in Shanghai was pivotal in exposing Soo Pieng to the fundamentals of Chinese and Western Modern art during his early formative period in China.
After the 2nd World War, Soo Pieng relocated to Singapore in 1946 to take on a teaching post at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and began his fervent amalgamation of Western and Chinese pictorial styles, often drawing inspiration from themes and subject matters relating to his new, immediate environment in Southeast Asia.
The landmark Bali trip in 1952 that inspired Cheong Soo Pieng (and 3 other pioneer artists,
Chen Wen Hsi, Chen Chong Swee and Liu Kang) to reinvent groundbreaking pictorial modes culminating to the Nanyang art style has been celebrated as a ‘watershed’ moment in the development of Singapore modern art scene. Marrying pictorial techniques of European Modern Art styles such as Fauvism and Cubism with Southeast Asian themes, some distinct features of Nanyang style include a bold colour palette, a cubist treatment, and the use of black outlines to accentuate planes and objects.
A life-changing sojourn in Europe from 1961 to 1963 broadened Soo Pieng’s perspectives and gravitated his experimentation towards abstraction and the mixed media. He concluded successful exhibitions at a few galleries during his time in Europe, including solo shows at the Frost & Reed Gallery (London), Redfern Gallery (London), and Galerie Schoninger (Munich). Beginning in the 1960s, his oeuvre took on a broad range of themes and expressions, resulting in several distinct and stylised abstract series.
Soo Pieng’s work is in various national and private collections. In recent years, his work has also been increasingly prized in the wider markets of China and Hong Kong. One of Soo Pieng’s most iconic and stylised oil paintings, Drying Salted Fish, in which he depicts an idyllic Malayan village scene, is featured on the back of Singapore’s $50 bill.