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Cheong Soo Pieng: Drawings

03 // 19.03 2023

artcommune proudly presents Cheong Soo Pieng: Drawings, an exhibition of over 30 drawings on paper that span three decades of the artist’s career arc. Drawing was integral to Soo Pieng’s practice and many drawings made during his lifetime were fashioned into recurring forms and expressions in his oil and ink paintings. It is estimated that his drawings alone amount to around two or even three thousand works, many of which are now in Singapore’s national collection.
Cheong Soo Pieng (b. 1917, Xiamen, China – d. 1983, Singapore) is an important pioneer of the Nanyang art style and one of the most creative Chinese artists of the 20th century. Soo Pieng studied at Xiamen Academy of Fine Arts and furthered his education at Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. After the 2nd World War, he relocated to Singapore in 1946 to take on a teaching post at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and thereon began his fervent amalgamation of Modern Western and Chinese pictorial styles. Often drawing inspiration from themes and subject matters relating to his new, immediate environment in Southeast Asia, the landmark trip to Bali in 1952 inspired Soo Pieng (and three other pioneer artists Chen Wen Hsi, Chen Chong Swee, Liu Kang) to reinvent groundbreaking pictorial modes culminating to the Nanyang art style. A trailblazer throughout his lifetime, his creative output of varied styles and mediums was instrumental in shaping the early Singapore art scene.
The selection in this exhibition largely dates from the period of late-1940s-early 1960s, which offers a glimpse into Soo Pieng’s captivating repertoire of everyday encounters on the streets of Singapore and Malaysia, as well as his sojourns abroad at places such as Bali (1952), Borneo (1959) and Europe (1962-63). Also featured are drawings of Balinese scenes and figures completed by Soo Pieng during his last known visit to the island in 1977, which captures his aesthetic shift to a highly ornate and detailed style of drawing in his later life. Together, these drawings apprehend the interiority of Soo Pieng’s thoughts and the primacy of form in his painting process.

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Landscape, 1952, Ink and gouache on paper, 37 x 27 cm

Malay Custom, 1953, Pencil on paper, 37 x 27 cm

At the Barber, 1956, Pen on paper, 27 x 37 cm

Temple Festival, 1953, Pen on paper, 37 x 27 cm

Soo Pieng was known to have created more than 300 drawings from the historical 1952 Bali trip alone. The volume features a broad range of subject matters including everyday street scenes, Balinese temples, local festivals, traditional dancers and posed models. Soo Pieng’s travel to Borneo in 1959 was another well-documented sojourn known to have profoundly influenced his visual idiom. Drawn by the unique traits and life on the island, much of his time was spent creating hundreds of drawing materials amidst the longhouses in jungles resided by the Dayak tribes. Many of the drawings from these early trips would continue to provide crucial references for the ink and oil paintings that he went on to produce over the course of his career.

Dayak Family, 1959, Ink on paper, 37 x 27.5 cm

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On the Beach to Bali, 1952, Pen on paper, 35 x 55 cm

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Untitled (Bali Dancer), 1952, Pencil on paper, 77.5 x 56 cm

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Weavers with Dog, 1952, Charcoal and pen on paper, 27 x 37 cm

Below is an image of a late oil painting for reference only, it is not part of this exhibition:

Untitled (Bali Girls with Dog), 1982, Oil on canvas, 125 x 102 cm
Private Collection.

A life-changing sojourn in Europe from 1962 to 1963 broadened Soo Pieng’s perspectives and gravitated his experimentation toward abstract and mixed media work. After having studied the reproduced prints (mainly through art books and magazines) of European Art Masters’ works for about three decades, Soo Pieng was finally afforded the chance to relish in person, works by renowned Masters such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and J. M. W. Turner whilst travelling around the European cities. He explored the new environments and revelled in the artistic climate characterising the contemporary Western art scene. To a degree, it is telling how thee refreshing encounters in Europe propelled Soo Pieng towards a new trajectory. A series of fully abstract studies completed in London reveals a new lyrical abstract style that effaces all traces of his earlier figurative language. Though small in format, they deliberately evoke the Chinese ink-wash treatment and are reminiscent of the atmospheric and voluminous rendering of nature so often witnessed in the romantic landscapes of 19th Century British Master, J. M. W. Turner.

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Study in Abstract Composition, 1962, Ink on paper, 23 x 15 cm

Soo Pieng undertook another trip to Bali in 1977. The drawings from this later trip appear more ornate and decorative. The female figures are conceived with crisp, angular forms and elongated limbs.

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Balinese Scene, 1977, Ink on paper, 35 x 27 cm

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Bali Girl IV, 1977, Ink on paper, 59 x 40 cm

This exhibition aims to provide an interesting window into the different periods of Soo Pieng’s practice. Just as his paintings, the drawings are characterised by his cultural preoccupation and growing forays as his visual language evolved over the years. Also accompanying the display are 5 rarely seen oil and ink paintings by the artist that date from 1950 to 1981, which will allow audience to delve deeper into the pictorial experimentation and stylistic shifts across his career.

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Still Life, 1950, Oil on masonite board, 52.5 x 57.5 cm

CSP 192, 1967, 97 x 60 cm.JPG

Mother and Child, 1967, Oil on canvas, 97 x 60 cm

Exhibition Period

Date: 3 – 19 March 2023

Time: 12 - 7pm daily

Venue: artcommune gallery (address below)

Contact Information

artcommune gallery

76 Bras Basah Road

#01-01 Singapore 189558

Tel: +65 63364240               M: +65 97479046

Artworks Selection

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