The oil paintings of Singaporean artist Chen Wen Hsi are considered some of the most rare, experimental, and expressive works from his entire artistic career. A student at the Xinhua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai prior to coming to Singapore, and trained rigorously in the rules and aesthetics of traditional Chinese ink painting, oil painting was for Chen a radical departure and blank slate upon which he could freely experiment with modern styles of Western painting. His initial forays into the medium were confined to realist renderings of Singapore landscape and scenery, but as he grew in confidence, Chen found himself increasingly drawn to abstraction and expressionism in his art.
His strong foundation in Chinese ink techniques gave him an appreciation for space and form, but also the need for connection between different elements within a painting. Combining these fundamentals with his approach toward Western styles of art, Chen developed his own unique means of artistic expression. Angular, cubist forms of composition and rich jewel-tones dominate many of his early canvases, and reveal an underlying strength in both character as well as artistic ability.
Still life borrows from the modernist language of Czanne to construct a flat, multilayered perspective of several items laid out on a table. In the vibrant collision of colours and planes, Chen presents us with a composition of underlying harmony. Two bottles, two fish, two apples, and two pears - symmetry in pairs subtly and elegantly balance the elements of the composition. Showcasing Chen's mastery of substance as well as form, the artist's innate sensitivity towards order gives structure to the apparent abstraction of the painting - an exceptional melding of Eastern and Western aesthetics.
Chen worked in oils for a considerably short period of time, before returning to painting in ink and paper. Chen's oil paintings are hence an incredibly important part in the artist's career if we consider the flair for modernism and abstraction that was translated to his iconic heron and crane paintings in Chinese ink that followed (see Lot 534). Still Life is a remarkable and intimate example of Chen's artistic production in the 50s and 60s, and an expression of his artistic vision and skill.