CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN ESTEEMED COLLECTION
CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)

Life in Bali

CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
Life in Bali
signed in Chinese (middle right); signed and dated 'SOO PIENG. 77.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
101.5 x 81 cm. (40 x 31 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1977
Private collection, Singapore (acquired directly from the artist's family)
L. C. Yu, SOO PIENG, Summer Times Publishing, Singapore, 1983 (illustrated, plate 19).
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Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

‘The harbinger of tranquillity resides in the life of the elements, flowing from the tree, through the leaves, through the water and rocks coming to rest in the figures.’ –Dr Bridget Tracy Tan, in reference to Cheong’s late paintings of Balinese women

Life in Bali is an exquisite masterpiece to be offered at auctions for the first time in history. The present painting perfectly embodies Cheong Soo Pieng’s vision of Bali–an island that the artist mused throughout his artistic career. Life in Bali is not merely a depiction of localised subjects. Instead, it is a work that evinces the island’s tranquil spirit through a sophisticated display of details, forms and techniques.

Cheong Soo Pieng is a crucial pioneer of the Nanyang style of art. Like his compatriots, Georgette Chen, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang, the artist constantly innovated works of Southeast Asia that combined classical Chinese painting methods and Western modernist techniques. Life in Bali, populated with dots, lines and patterns, recalls Cheong’s inspirations from his time in Europe, in which he experimented with mixed media paintings and Western abstraction that invoked his urge to seek rich textures. The bold treatment of the surface on this canvas demonstrates the artist’s keen eye for the splendid myriad of flora, artefacts and materials that he meticulously examined and sketched during his trips to Bali.

The artist’s Bali paintings are profoundly significant to Singapore’s art historical canon. In 2010, National Gallery Singapore dedicated a major retrospective to Cheong Soo Pieng, celebrating his legacy with more than three-hundred of his art pieces, many of which were sketches and paintings of the province. Beyond the national collection, these works have been particularly desirable to buyers in the market. For instance, Scene in Bali fetched the top world auction record of the artist.

One of the most iconic elements of Life in Bali is the artist’s depiction of human figures. While Cheong Soo Pieng’s most well-known trip to Bali took place in 1952, it was in 1977—his second trip to the island—that cemented his approach to depicting Balinese figures. Subjects illustrated in the 1950s were often painted in contrasting and striking reds and blacks. His works from the 1970s present a shift; the figures’ colours are more earthy, harmonious and intentional. Amidst the canvas’ ochre-like palette, cool hints of green and orange accentuate the exquisite sarong, a traditional garment that Cheong depicted with diverse patterns. Female figures, once angular, are rendered here in silent repose with elongated limbs and highly stylised facial features. With downcast eyes, these subjects appear to enter an almost meditative state, in harmony with the corresponding verdant environment that surrounds them. ‘These are elements that many come to identify as Soo Pieng’s more famous works today’ (B. Tan, Soo Pieng, 2013, p. 29). Soo Pieng placed women at the centre, and upon close inspection, added a feature to the background unique to Life in Bali: bathing women. The portrayal of this intimate activity in plain view candidly depicts the daily life of Balinese women as perceived by the artist.

As attested by this painting, Bali was a powerful stimulus underpinning Cheong Soo Pieng’s art. Through creating works of the island, the artist expressed many subjects and colours that define his mature and final stage of artistic practice.

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