Harking back to the imagery and feeling of the 1952 Bali trip, Cheong’s figuration of the late 1970s and early 1980s took on an exceptional refinement of style in the final stage in the evolution of his iconic female figure-type. Cheong’s women are demurely postured, and with their gazes directed away from the viewer. With their delicate and elongated bodies, Cheong Soo Pieng developed a characteristic stylization of traditional village women through an appreciation of the beauty found in the simplicity of line and form.
The most instantly recognizable style of work from Cheong, he painted prolifically in the last years of his life, with a hunger towards recapturing and immortalizing the sublime elegance of the indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia. Cheong returned to Bali in 1977, and upon his return, embarked on a renewed iteration of the indigenous figure. His figures now bore characteristics from the lithe forms of Balinese women, the tribal motifs of the Dayaks of Borneo, and were adorned with intricate textiles from across the Southeast Asian region. The figures of Cheong’s later works express the maturity of his artistic technique, and reveal the artist’s sensitivity and respect for his subjects.
In Golden Harvest (Lot 369), the expressions of the figures are characteristically serene, with the heads of the women tilted away from the direct eye line of the viewer. The geometric shapes of the women’s hats, and the sharply delineated forms of the figures evoke Western artistic styles of cubism and abstraction that preoccupied Cheong as much as Chinese ink and brushwork. The rich, golden tone of the painting is one completely unique to Cheong, and was a shade that he greatly favoured in his later works.
The stalks of rice within which the women are situated are densely and finely detailed, and we can almost imagine the lushness of their texture brushing against the arms and bodies of the women. Cheong extends the line of women receding into the background, and expertly creates depth in a painting largely composed of flat surfaces and smooth lines. The serene atmosphere of Golden Harvest invites the viewer to appreciate the fullness of the scene, and is a truly exceptional example from Cheong’s later body of work.