CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)

My Studio, 1975

CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
My Studio, 1975
signed in Chinese (lower left); signed and dated ‘SOO PIENG, 75’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
90 x 120 cm. (35 3/8 x 47 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1975

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Shanshan Wei
Shanshan Wei

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Lot Essay

Tracing back the years of Cheong Soo Pieng’s long and fruitful career, we have come to understand that the artist took great care in conceptualising and executing the spatial compositions of all his works, both figurative and abstract. His academic foundation in traditional Chinese ink painting and Western easel painting conventions endowed him with the knowledge and skill to execute experimental treatments of space on a two-dimensional plane, which eventually contributed to the development of his unique artistic style.

When China-born Cheong arrived in Singapore in 1946 by way of Hong Kong, he was captivated by the sights and sounds of the tropical landscape and its people. His travels around the region, starting from the inaugural Bali trip with his Nanyang peers, inspired his colour palette, subject matter and his artistic perspective. However, it was his sojourn to Europe from 1961-63 that marked the start of a new chapter in his artistic endeavours as he moved away from figuration and into the depths of abstraction.

"I have landscapes or figures in my mind, and as I work, they become abstract."
- Cheong Soo Pieng

My Studio, 1975 is an incredible oil on canvas work that showcases Cheong’s maturity and understanding of the relationship between pictorial form, composition and space. Stripped down to basic geometric shapes, lines and a muted monochromatic colour palette,the work presents itself as a thoughtfully composed, symbolic interpretation of Cheong’s workspace. Flat, overlapping objects are carefully woven with intersecting blocks of blue tones, creating avision of depth, distance and three-dimensionality, a prelude to his later work, Landscape (1977). Aided by the converging foreground, the circular orange nucleus becomes a natural centrifugal attraction as the arrangement of abstract forms are pulled close, drawing the viewer into its dreamlike serenity. The delineation of the horizontal plane along with the emblematic circle as seen in My Studio, 1975 ,bears resonance to the artist’s earlier abstract landscapes of the 1960s like Nature’s Expression. Subtly incorporated, the same recurring representation of the horizon, earth and sky reiterates the importance of perspective for Cheong even when visualising his abstract compositions.

Cheong’s trip to Europe exposed him to the vibrant art scene of colour and expression that was emerging from the post-war period and he worked in earnest to absorb the artistic styles and theories of these avant-garde artists into his own practice. The use of an innovative border, geometric shapes, the almost patchy treatment of blue with white to create a dulled colour palette immediately reminds us of Paul Klee’s highly individualised abstract-expressionist style. However, unlike Klee’s soft energy, My Studio, 1975 is dynamically charged and teeming with movement as it captures the different personalities and complexities of the variegated texture effects created by repeated lines. In particular, circles are a prominent feature of this present lot and it calls to mind the work, October 1949 (composition-Rangitane) by cubist artist, Ben Nicholson, who was known for his use of the circle along with the use of overlapping delineated shapes. By the mid-70s, Cheong’s artistic sensibilities in the realm of abstraction had already undergone a series of explorative phases and even transformed the artist’s signature to a cryptographic, hieroglyph form. Geometric shapes and simplified lines were a highly stylised pictorial language of the past and here we see Cheong smoothly embracing primitive methods of expression together with the representation concepts of the time, highlighting his understanding of the visual complexities of perception as he translated it into his art.

Cheong’s surroundings played an important role in the developmentof his compositions and artistic style. What he saw and discovered on his travels, he would bring back to his studio to reflect and create newworks. Well documented in photographs, the artist’s studio was also a space for Cheong to connect with friends, curators and collectors, apart from images of him at work. The manner in which Cheong wanted his studio to be seen, leads us to interpret this work as a conscious self-portrait, represented through the inner landscapes of his mind and imagination.

My Studio, 1975 exhibits an unparalleled quality of sophistication and expression that is nothing like any of the works that Cheong made in the preceding decade. An amalgamation of the different approaches to abstract painting that the artist experimented with, the work is a confident response to the artist’s understanding and relationship with forms and space. Alliancing his own artistic pursuits with history and the avant-garde, Cheong bridges worlds through the painting, creating a new intellectual dimension to the painting that distinguishes him as one of the most innovative artists of his time.

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