Chuah Thean Teng is commonly acknowledged as the founder of modern batik art, transforming the notion of batik as craft to its acceptance within the Malayan artworld from the 1950s onwards as a form of modern art.
Batik is the wax-resist dye technique used to fasten different colours on cloth. The inspiration to create batik paintings struck Chuah Thean Teng in 1953 after the closure of his batik cloth factory in Penang. Unwilling to discard his large stock of leftover imported dyes of different colours, rolls of white cloth, wax and brushes, Teng took a turn from floral patterns of commercial batik and dabbled in figurative designs. With the help of a wax-containing tool made of brass or copper called 'tjantjing', he went through a laborious process of applying and removing wax to ensure different dyes only appeared on certain parts of the cloth. After two years of experimentation, he succeeded in creating a small batik pointillist self-portrait.
Following that, Teng, as he is popularly known, found the patronage of a a few influential art historians and art dealers and was given the opportunity to showcase his batik creations. He quickly adopted the motifs that were most central to Malayan art at that time, painting scenes of Malayan daily life.
According to Frank Sullivan, his productivity in batik painting is enormous...never satisfied, he is always experimenting, seeking to give new depth and range to his batik art. Indeed, in the two works presented here, we find Teng trying to go beyond to extend the scope of his composition. Mother and Child (Lot 620) is a classic universal motif and one that Chuah adopted and perfected. The tube skirt of the mother, called a sarong in Malay, is a canvas for the depiction of stunning patterns inspired by nature. Coconut trees and leaves are symbolically inserted into the picture to reflect a mother’s hope for her child to grow up well. The crackling in the background is the result of Chuah Thean Teng’s tie-dye technique with waxed cloth. Allowing the wax to crack and for the dye to seep through obtains the crackling effect which sets off against the figures well.
Woman with Cat (Lot 621) is a monochromatic study of grace and the feminine nature. Teng’s lady is a study of modesty and elegance, paired with the cat which represents feline grace. In terms of its colour treatment, it is rarely to find a Teng that is monochromatic, thus making Woman with Cat a notable work in Teng’s oeuvre.