Just as he strove to continuously search for the best means to portray what he felt was the essential beauty of the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia, Cheong’s abstract period represents a desire to convey the essence of landscapes and ideas. In 1963, Cheong Soo Pieng was featured in a seminal exhibition at the Redfern Gallery on Cork Street in London, where he showcased what has now come to be referred to as his London-period abstracts. The selection of works displayed Cheong’s bold artistic vision and superb grasp of his artistic technique.
Cheong also attempted a number of abstract works on paper, of which Abstract (Lot 387) can be considered a particularly striking example. The spare background of the painting combined with the predominant use of black ink places the work in line with traditional Chinese ink painting, rather than the Western school of abstract expressionism as in Nature (Lot 385). Particularly interesting in this piece is Cheong’s lively interjection of red, yellow, and green accents around the central band of the painting. Drawing an immediate visual link with the work of Chinese ink master Wu Guanzhong, who himself had a strong and long-lasting relationship with Singapore, this work by Cheong in fact pre-dates Wu Guanzhong’s development of his iconic style of colourful spot painting with Chinese ink and brush, and is a further comment on the close artistic community in Singapore at the time, and of the vibrant and conducive environment which these migrant artists enjoyed.
The abstract works from the 1960s, more than any other period in Cheong’s work, are part of the most significant stylistic break that Cheong would bravely embark upon. His trip to London inspired an entirely new means of artistic expression completely separate from the figurative tradition that Cheong had up till that point been focused on, and it is to his merit that he was able to seamlessly integrate both Western and Eastern forms of abstraction into his own distinctive style.