Always one to bridge the gaps between Asian and Western art, Cheong Soo Pieng has emerged as one of the most influential artists to come out of South East Asia in the latter part of the 20th Century.
Cheong's infinite enthusiasm for exploring new styles and avenues in art has led him to move from style to style in rapid succession during his prolific career. From the 50s to 80s, he has challenged young artists with his versatility and innovation, dabbling in all mediums from painting, to ceramics, to sculpture; and always excelling in each.
Through the long extent of his career, Cheong was most interested in the sense of design and composition of a piece, making use of angular forms, and utilising a bold colour scheme. Despite the willingness to experiment with anything and everything, these were the three principles he was unwilling to compromise.
The period between 1948 to 1959 saw Cheong experiment with oil in impasto effects. Influenced by post-war Western artists, his paintings of this time inevitably possessed a raw, stripped down effect that hinted at three-dimensionality.
The title of this lot - Three Goats - may not strike the uninitiated as anything significant, but it is known that Cheong was deeply steeped in the tradition of his Chinese heritage, and this painting is a pun on a popular Chinese saying, "San Yang Kai Tai". The Chinese pronunciation 'Yang' could mean the animal - goat or the sun. The sun 'Yang' is believed by the ancient Chinese as an embodiment of the righteous, the strongest and the most masculine forces in the universe. It is believed that when the elements of the 'Yang' is at its peak, on the 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar, it would be an extremely auspicious day where all evil spirits are at the peril of destruction. Traditionally characterised with images of three goats grazing, this proverb is repeated in the hope that the recipient will have all the good luck and prosperity in his year ahead.
What is unique about this painting, is of course, the subject matter. Instead of depicting fish, peonies or birds, which form the traditional schema of Chinese painting that convey well wishes and good will, Cheong chooses a less than common subject, albeit its part in the typical pictorial representation of a popular folk saying.
Cheong takes on a modern interpretation with this work, and perhaps even somewhat obscuring the familiarity of the theme to his audience. He paints in a very modern, Western way, distorting the sense of perspective and space, and providing multiple viewpoints while utilising the same two-dimensional plane.