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

Blue Expression

CHEONG SOO PIENG (1917-1983)
Blue Expression
signed in Chinese and dated ‘1963’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
131 x 102 cm. (51 5/8 x 40 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1963
Acquired directly from the family of the artist
Private collection, Asia
Yeo Wei Wei (ed.), The National Art Gallery, Cheong Soo Pieng:
Visions of Southeast Asia, Singapore, 2010 (illustrated, p. 37).

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

Cheong Soo Pieng is most recognized as one of the leading lights in shaping the development of modern art in Singapore. A prolific artist renowned for his experimental and adventurous spirit, he strives to merge both Western and Eastern aesthetics and traditions into his own unique repertoire. Throughout his long and fruitful career, he produced a diverse body of work that spanned across countless styles, medium and genres, from Nanyang inspired works to poetic abstraction. Executed in 1963, Blue Expression is an exceptionally rare and early large vertical format work that showcased the artist’s sheer talent and his ability to demonstrate a multitude of artistic expressions.

Born and raised in Xiamen, the artist first completed his art education at the Xiamen Academy of Fine Arts by 1935, followed by his studies at the prestigious Xin Hua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. During then he had undergone an art curriculum that comprised of both Western and Chinese art forms, thus allowing him to explore the versatility of pairing Western medium, Chinese landscape composition and ink painting techniques together as seen in the present lot. Like many artists of his generation who hailed from the southern coastal towns in China, Cheong Soo Pieng bore an outward-looking vision and decided to relocate to Singapore in 1946. It was in Singapore where the artist relished in his new-found freedom in art, thus inspiring him to create works that went far beyond the traditional bounds of Chinese painting.

Blue Expression enfolds viewers in a rich expanse of tenebrous hues with daring brushstrokes sparking energy and vitality into the piece. Juxtaposed at the bottom of the work lies a bed of deep crimson layer, overpowered by the artist’s calligraphic yet spirited strokes of blue that forms the ambiguous landscape as if one was to see it on a misty night. Staged at the centre of the work are dots and touches of vibrant colours, opening light and dimension into the painting. Compact with plays of texture, calligraphic lines and dots, the artist tries to convey the spontaneity and unpredictability of nature. The work itself encapsulates strong characteristics rooted from Chinese landscape ink painting, a genre the artist was already well-versed in. Especially by adopting a vertical format, which is typical of Chinese scroll paintings, it allows viewers to see the entire painting in one glance. At the heart of traditional Chinese aesthetics, artists abide by the phrase ‘obliterate the form and go with the feeling’ (????); meaning “form” is the object’s physical appearance, while “feeling” is one’s conception and mood in response to the object. Embracing this concept in his own works, the artist once said, “I have landscape or figures in my mind, and as I work, they become abstract”.

Documented in a monochrome photograph in the publication Cheong Soo Pieng – Visions of Southeast Asia , the artist is shown standing side by side with Blue Expression , a significant work Christie’s is proud to present this season. This nostalgic moment captured in picture was taken during Cheong Soo Pieng’s travels in Europe. A career defining journey as it marked the beginning of his experimentation in abstraction. Under the patronage of Singaporean filmmaking magnate Loke Wan Tho, the artist was fortunate to embark on a European tour, visiting cities from London, Dublin, Berlin, Munich and many more to host exhibitions. Most notably his solo exhibition at the renowned Redfern Gallery at Cork Street London in 1963, which was remembered as a tremendous success. Cheong Soo Pieng’s show was from 23 April to May 17 while Zao Wou-Ki’s exhibition stretched from 29 October to 29 November in the same year. With two exceptional Chinese artists on display, it introduced European collectors to Eastern abstractionism, placing both artists at the forefront of the international art scene. In parallel to his contemporaries Zao Wou-Ki and Chu Teh-Chun, who were also Chinese artists based in Europe during this time, these artists along with Cheong Soo Pieng were simultaneously exposed to the vibrant art scene of the early 1960s. Europe offered them visual and intellectual inspirations, where they would discover the works by famed artists such as Paul Klee, Matisse, Kandinsky and many more. It had a transformative impact on their artistic direction, encouraging them to merge concepts of Western modernism while remaining faithful to their Chinese roots. Visible in their hybridized works are displays of strikingly defined calligraphic brushstrokes gracing across the canvas. Along with the brilliance of oil pigments, the painting is then transformed into washes of rich colours and lines infused with depth and energy - reminiscent to the present lot.

By amalgamating Chinese art concepts with a Western approach, the artist bridged worlds through the painting. Blue Expression is an embodiment of Cheong Soo Pieng’s personal journey and artistic liberation while abroad. His extraordinary understanding of colours, space and depth inspired him to create a new pictorial language that is transcultural, distinguishing him as one of the most innovative and creative modern masters in Singapore.

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