Painted in 1977, Landscape marks Cheong’s return to abstraction and further development of his earlier foray into Cubism. Reminiscent of Paul Klee’s Castle and Sun (1928), the Landscape Cheong depicts is a tightly packed matrix of distorted squares. The blue lends a wave of calm to the pulsating cell-like structures in the latter, as opposed to the intensity of Klee’s warmer colour palette and bright accents. The irregular sizes of Cheong’s squares evoke an organic feel despite the order and rigidity suggested by their geometric shapes enforced by their contained composition.
In the regional landscape, Cheong was not alone in his exploration of Cubism. Chen Wen Hsi’s Houses Along Boat Quay (completed in the early 1960s) depicts a row of shophouses along the Singapore river. Composed of angular brushstrokes and dashes of bright colour, the shophouses are clearly recognisable. Cheong’s earlier cubist interpretations of daily scenes were similarly more figurative, as in Kelong (1961), where the cluster of houses on stilts at the end of the board walk are distinguishable through the distorted lens of a cubist composition. Other works like A Vision (1962) and (Untitled) Imaginary Landscape (1961) saw greater abstraction of landscape, where the landforms are hinted at through arbitrary strokes of the brush along the horizon. Landscape can be considered one of Cheong’s most abstract renderings of the landscape, departing from the horizontal arrangement he had often used to orientate the viewer. A single horizontal line across the bottom of the canvas serves a similar purpose, as though establishing a baseline for the viewer’s perspective. Cheong’s earlier Landscape (1960) conveys a similar Cubist influence as the present lot, with its layered squares and sharp, angled lines. It is almost as though one is looking down from above, getting a topographical map of a landscape, very much à la Piet Mondrian’s representation of the busy gridded streets of Manhattan, New York City, in Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1943).
Cheong maintains the motif of the sun across his compositions, which holds particularly important in his more abstract works as a point of focus for the viewer. Taking on many forms, the sun motif is represented as the archetypal glowing orb hovering above the scene in works like (Untitled) Dilapidated Building(1948), but also as a single red square of a flat brush in works like Kelong. Despite being some of his more abstract renderings of the landscape, the clear golden sun in A Vision and (Untitled) Imaginary Landscape anchors the painting in some sense of reality. In Landscape, the largest square in the centre of the canvas takes the role of Cheong’s ‘sun’. There is a palpable tension in the space that surrounds the ‘sun’, as though the blocks around it are held in their place by a simultaneous repelling and attracting force in order to maintain their distance apart. The dark blue rectangle appears to radiate light much like the sun, so strong that it seems to beam through the gaps between the tightly packed squares, emitting a glow beyond the larger form they compose.