Tan Swie Hian is a self-taught artist, poet, novelist, sculptor, calligrapher, and even a costume designer. Truly a multi-disciplinary artist, Tan has received several awards locally and internationally including the prestigious Cultural Medallion of Singapore in 1987. As a devout Buddhist, Tan Swie Hian has a deep affinity with Eastern art, philosophy, literature, and religion, but at the same time is also familiar with Western culture through his experience of working at the French Embassy of Singapore. It was even the French art community who was first to recognise Tan’s artistic talent by honouring him as a member-correspondent to the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of France.
In the present lot Pandas, created in 1993 on Chinese ink on rice paper, the overall palette of black, white, and dark green represents Tan’s profound roots in Eastern art and calligraphy. The harmony between the lean and thick brushworks all over the canvas indicates his appreciation of the balance created by the difference in thickness of brushstrokes. However, this traditional or even common subject in Eastern art, of pandas in tranquil bamboo forest, is infused with modernity and exoticism by the multi-faceted artist under his unlimited use of bold intertwined horizontal and vertical brushstrokes and the depth of the canvas through the contrast of light and dark colors. While retaining the colors of Eastern traditional ink painting, Tan reflects his cosmopolitan spirit, freeing himself from any rules or conventions of both the East and the West. As Tan once said, “I create to show how a free mind functions”, the artist’s canvas is not only a stage for his free mind and free hands but also a reflection of his understanding of the world.