The inspiration to create batik paintings struck Chuah Thean Teng in 1953 after the closure of his batik cloth factory in Penang. Unwilling to discard his large stock of leftover imported dyes of different colours, rolls of white cloth, wax and brushes, Teng took a turn from floral patterns of commercial batik and dabbled in figurative designs. With the help of a wax-containing tool made of brass or copper called 'tjantjing', he went through a laborious process of applying and removing wax to ensure different dyes only appeared on certain parts of the cloth. After two years of experimentation, he succeeded in creating a small batik pointillist self-portrait.
Chuah Thean Teng is credited with the first transference of the textile from its status as a craft and function as a garment, to a new identity as an art form to be framed and displayed from the 1950s onwards. Chuah's distinctive rendering in the medium persists to today as iconic encapsulations of the Malayan landscape and its people. The fluidity of his figures and vibrancy of his dyes combined with the geometric modernity of his compositions imbue his works with an unmistakable vitality and balance.
In Eating Durian (Lot 646), Chuah depicts a group of ladies in varying poses of communal and domestic activity as they enjoy the tropical delicacy. The repetition of varied patterns on the traditional sarong skirts of the ladies as well as the checkered mat they are seated upon is complemented by the strong blocks of colour that are contained within the precise outlines. While the figures are composed out of flat, modernist planes, Chuah achieves at creating depth in the painting by positioning the figures in layers from the seated figures in the foreground, to the standing figures in the mid-ground, and the lady carrying a basket on her shoulder in the background.
A work that contains the ideals of work and cohesion in the community, Gotong Royong (Lot 647) is an exceptional example of Chuah's modernist vision. The figures are composed out of thick outlines and geometric regularity, while complex intersecting and overlapping blocks of colour emphasize the different vignettes of daily life on view. The circular placement of the scenes of harvesting, mending, sewing, and crafting, suggest the cyclical and interdependent nature of these tasks as essential components of a synergistic whole. The jewel-toned colours that are expertly layered give the painting a captivating effect of stained glass in a remarkable treatment of the batik technique.