Chua Mia Tee



Chua Mia Tee (b. 25 November 1931, Shantou, Guangdong, China–) is one of Singapore’s foremost realist painters. He is best known for his oil paintings that depict Singapore’s vanishing traditional urban landscape. He is also a much sought-after portrait artist who has painted several prominent businessmen and politicians in Singapore, including the nation’s past and present presidents. “National Language Class” (1959) and “Workers in the Canteen” (1974) are two of his oft-discussed works.1

Early life
Born in Shantou, Guangdong province, China, in 1931, Chua was six years old when he and his family fled the Sino-Japanese war in China and came to Singapore in 1937. He was a student at Shuqun School and then Tuan Mong School. In 1947, he enrolled in Chung Cheng High School but left school midway to pursue a formal arts education at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).2

Arts education
Even at a young age, Chua had displayed a keen interest in art, painting and sketching.3 His father, who was also an artist, supported his interest. At NAFA, Chua’s artistic talent was nurtured and developed.4 He received training in drawing, sketching with watercolour and painting, both with oils on canvas and with Chinese ink and colours on paper. He was taught by the academy’s director Lim Hak Tai as well as artists Cheong Soo Pieng, Koh Tong Leong and See Hiang To. Chua also experimented with modelling using plasticine and plaster of Paris in his own time. He graduated from NAFA in 1952.5

Career
Chua’s artistic gift was recognised early on. While studying in NAFA, he was asked to teach part-time at the school, and he continued to teach at NAFA as a fulltime staff after graduation.6 In 1954, Chua went back to Chung Cheng High School to complete his secondary education. Thereafter, he returned to NAFA to teach from 1956 to 1957.7

Between 1957 and 1974, Chua used his skills in the field of commercial art. His first job was with the Shanghai Book Company where he worked as a book illustrator (1957–60).8 Following that, from 1960 to 1965, he worked with Grant Advertising International as a designer and illustrator, creating figure drawings for advertisements and comic strips. He returned to book illustration in 1965 when Times Organisation’s Federal Publication hired him as an illustrator and designer of books. He stayed with Times until 1974.9

The year 1974 was a watershed period for Chua. At the age of 43, he staged his maiden exhibition at the Rising Gallery on Telok Ayer Street. The exhibition was a success and this gave him the confidence to become a full-time artist.10 

Works and contributions
Chua draws his inspiration and subjects from the world around him. Having spent his boyhood in Chinatown and along the Singapore River, many of Chua’s early works depict the traditional landscapes and life in Singapore that were disappearing as a result of urban redevelopment. His paintings capture not only the heart of these places, but also the indomitable spirit of the people living and working there. Chua once said that, as an artist, he saw the urgency to document these scenes before they vanished from Singapore’s cityscape. “Workers in a Canteen” (1974) and “Singapore River” (1983) are two examples of such works.11


Several of Chua’s early paintings reflect the nationalistic concerns that occupied Singapore during the 1950s and ’60s. Paintings like “Epic Poem of Malaya” (1955) and “National Language Class” (1959) convey the heightened sense of political and social awareness prevalent during those times.12 A chronicler of Singapore’s significant and historic moments, Chua has also painted former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s return from London after the Merdeka Talks; the swearing-in ceremony of then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong; and Singapore’s ministers and members of parliament during parliamentary sessions. His portrait of the late President Yusof bin Ishak also appears on Singapore portrait-series currency notes.13 Chua has also been called upon to paint illustrious personalities such as former Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin, Lim Chin Beng and Wee Cho Yaw.14 

Chua paints in a realistic style. His works display his keen eye for details and an understanding of light. He believes that art should be realistic because it reflects life. To Chua, realistic art is not merely about recording what an artist sees, but also the artist’s ability to distil the essence of a subject and present its beauty – what he calls “an organic combination of its universal characters, and a blending of reality with art”.15 He has cited Xu Beihong, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt as artists who inspire him.16 

Chua works predominantly with oil, which he describes as the most competent and perfect medium for capturing details on canvas.17 Although he paints on location, most of his pieces are actually refined and completed in the studio. He also paints from his memories of local places and people. Occasionally, Chua uses photographic aids to recall details or as substitutes for clients who are unable to turn up for portrait sittings.18 Besides oil, Chua also uses other mediums such as acrylic, mixed media, watercolour, bronze and relief.19 One of his best-known sculptures is a portrait bust of Zubir Said, who was famed as the composer of the Singapore national anthem.20

Since the late 1970s, Chua has travelled to Hong Kong, Bali, Java, Spain and Italy to paint and draw. These trips helped him to gain fresh insights for improving his practice. Chua has exhibited in Singapore and overseas such as Belgium, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Thailand.21

Chua has taken on roles such as professional consultant to the NAFA Alumni Association and chairman of the Editorial Board of Nanyang Arts magazine. He is a life member of the Singapore Arts Society and the NAFA Alumni Association.22 

In 2015, Chua was conferred the Cultural Medallion, a national honour that recognises his artistic contributions to Singapore.23 The National Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, Siapa Nama Kamu?, takes its name from Chua Mia Tee’s iconic painting, “National Language Class”.24 Local filmmaker, Eric Khoo, is producing a new short film inspired by Chua’s painting, “Portable Cinema” (1977). It is slated for completion in the second half of 2016.25

Timeline
1931: Born in Shantou, Guangdong province, China.
1937: Came to Singapore at the age of six.
1938–1942: Education at Shuqun School, followed by Tuan Mong School.
1942–1945: Studies interrupted by the Japanese Occupation. Interested in art grows and begins sketching and painting.
1945–1946: Resumes studies at Tuan Mong School.
1947–1950: Secondary education in Chung Cheng High School but left mid-way to study art at NAFA.
1952: Graduates from NAFA.26
1952–1954: Part-time teacher at NAFA.
1954–1956: Returns to Chung Cheng High School to complete secondary education.
1956–1957: Returns to NAFA to teach.
1957–1960: Book illustrator with Shanghai Book Company.27
1960: Creates a portrait bust of the late Mr Zubir Said, the composer of the National Anthem.28
1960–1965: Designer and illustrator with Grant Advertising International Incorporated.
1965–1974: Illustrator and designer of books with Times Organisation’s Federal Publication.
1974: Becomes a fulltime artist after success of his first exhibition, held at the Rising Gallery.
1979: Commissioned to make 36 sketches of ministers and members of parliament during meetings. Paints former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on his return from London after the Merdeka Talks.29
1984: His National Day painting, “The 25th Year of Nation-building” is featured on the front page of The Straits Times.30
1986: Creates relief mural “Towards High Technology” for Ngee Ann Polytechnic.31
1987: Conducts masterclasses during the 5th ASEAN Youth Workshop for young artists from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.32
1990: Designs Singapore’s new S$50 note to commemorate Singapore’s 25th anniversary.
1990: Designs Singapore’s S$2 currency note.33
1992: Paints the opening of the 8th Parliament.34
1994: Paints a portrait of late President Ong Teng Cheong when he was conferred with the National Trades Union Congress’s highest award.35
1996–1997: Paints a series of paintings of Singapore’s five presidents.36
1997: Designs the One Million Dollars Commemorative Note, a souvenir note to mark the handover of Hong Kong to China.
1998: Paints the portrait of the first president of Singapore for the new portrait-series currency notes.
1999: Paints portraits former presidents Yusof bin Ishak and Benjamin Sheares for the new Parliament House.37
2004: Paints portrait of former President S. R. Nathan for his 80th birthday.38
2015: One of four artists and designers who designed Singapore’s golden jubilee commemorative $50 and $10 currency notes set.39
2015: Awarded the Cultural Medallion.40

Selected solo exhibitions
1982:
Chua Mia Tee Art Exhibition, British Council Art Gallery, Singapore41

1985: Solo exhibition at the Long Pine Gallery, Ming Court Hotel42
1988: Art of Chua Mia Tee, organised by the Ministry of Community Development and the National Museum
1992: Chua Mia Tee – The Best of Four Decades, Empress Place Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
2002: The Art of Chua Mia Tee, Linda Gallery, Singapore
2013: Oil Painting Exhibition of Chua Mia Tee, Han Hui Art Gallery, Singapore43

Selected group exhibitions
1974:
Rising Gallery, Singapore (with Lee Boon Wang)44
1980: Art Exhibition of Mr and Mrs Chua Mia Tee at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore45
1989: 1st Bru-Sin Art Exhibition in Brunei
1990: Joint exhibition by Chua Mia Tee and Lee Boon Ngan, Hilton International, Singapore
1993: Exhibition of Paintings by Six Outstanding Realistic Artists in Singapore, Ngee Ann City Exhibition Hall, Singapore
1996: The President’s Charity Art Exhibition, Revenue House Atrium, Singapore
1997: Art of the Living World, Bonhams Singapore, Raffles Hotel, Singapore
2000: Joint exhibition by Chua Mia Tee and Lee Boon Ngan, Linda Gallery, Jakarta, Indonesia46

Family47
Wife: Lee Boon Ngan
Children: One son and one daughter



Author
Marsita Omar



References
1.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
2.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
3.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
4. Tribute.sg. (n.d.). Chua Mia Tee. Retrieved 2016, May 24 from Tribute.sg website: https://www.tribute.sg/artist-profile-chua-mia-tee
5. Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
6.
Tan, B., & Ng, S. (2015). Lives of the artists: A Singapore story: The Cultural Medallion and visual arts 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 359. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN)
7.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
8.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
9.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
10.
Autobiographies in art. (1991, 2nd Qtr.). Goodwood Journal, 15. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ); Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU); Page 17 advertisements column 2. (1974, November 24). New Nation, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.
Tan, B., & Ng, S. (2015). Lives of the artists: A Singapore story: The Cultural Medallion and visual arts 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, pp. 236–239. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN); Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
12.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
13.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Pub., p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
14.
Autobiographies in art. (1991, 2nd Qtr.). Goodwood Journal, 14. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ)
15.
Cai, M. Z. (n.d.). Chua Mia Tee. Singapore: Author, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CMT)
16.
Tan, B., & Ng, S. (2015). Lives of the artists: A Singapore story: The Cultural Medallion and visual arts 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 236. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN); Lee, S. C. (1992, September 8). Chua: Artist as recorder. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17.
Autobiographies in art. (1991, 2nd Qtr.). Goodwood Journal, 15. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ)
18.
Autobiographies in art. (1991, 2nd Qtr.). Goodwood Journal, 27. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ)
19.
Autobiographies in art. (1991, 2nd Qtr.). Goodwood Journal, 27. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ)
20.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub., p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
21.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, p. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
22.
Tan, B. & Ng, S. (2015). Lives of the artists: A Singapore story: The Cultural Medallion and visual arts 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 359. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN); Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
23.
Tan, B., Ng,S. (2015). Lives of the artists: A Singapore story: The Cultural Medallion and visual arts 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 216. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN); Lee, R., Leong, W. K., & Martin, M. (2015, October 17). 4 awarded Cultural Medallion. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
24.
Yusof, H. (2015, December 25). Singapore art in the global spotlight. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
25.
Wee, D. (2016, May 20). From canvas to film. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
26.
Tan, B., & Ng, S. (2015). Lives of the artists: A Singapore story: the Cultural Medallion and visual arts 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 359. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN)
27.
Cai, M. Z. (1988). Chua Mia Tee, 1988. Singapore: National Museum, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957074 CHU)
28.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who's who Pub, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
29.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
30.
This one’s for you. (1984, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cai, M. Z. (n.d.). Chua Mia Tee. Singapore: Author, [n.p.]. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CMT)
31.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub., p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
32.
De Souza, J. (1987, June 19). Young creations. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub., p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
34.
Lee. S. C. (1992, September 8). Chua: Artist as recorder. The Straits Times, p.8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35.
Painting more than a portrait (1994, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub., p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO); Ho, J. (1997, April 6). I like the way you look. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37.
Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s who Pub., p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO); Soh, N. (1999, July 23). Wholly S’porean effort in producing new notes. The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38.
Toh, S. (2004, July 4). Happy 80th birthday, President NathanThe New Paper, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39.
Lin, M. (2015, August 19). Mrs Lee features on SG50 gold note. The StraitsTimes. Retrieved from Factiva.
40.
Tan, B., Ng,S. (2015). Lives of the artists: A Singapore story: the Cultural Medallion and visual arts 1979–2015. Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 216. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 TAN)
41.
Page 7 miscellaneous column 1. (1982, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42.
Lim, R. (Ed.). (1998). Singapore artists speak. Singapore: Raffles Edition, pp. 32–35. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 SIN)
43.
Shabbir Hussein Mustafa, Yap, J., & Yeo, W.W. (2016) Singapore’s visual artists. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 112. (Call no.: RSING 709.225957 SHA)
44.
Page 17 advertisements column 2. (1974, November 24). New Nation, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45.
Shabbir Hussein Mustafa, Yap, J., & Yeo, W. W. (2016). Singapore’s visual artists. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 112. (Call no.: RSING 709.225957 SHA)
46.
Mustafa, S.H., Yap, J. & Yeo, W. W. (2016). Singapore’s visual artists. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 112. (Call no.: RSING 709.225957 SHA)
47.
Autobiographies in art. (1991, 2nd Qtr.). Goodwood Journal, 29. (Call no.: RSING 052 GHCGJ)



Further resources
Cai, M. Z. (n.d.). Chua Mia Tee: A selection from the exhibition. Singapore: Empress Place Museum Art Gallery. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CMT)
Chew, M., & Chin, S. C. (1999). The presidential notes. Singapore: SNP Publishing, p. 67. (Call no.: RSING 769.595957 PRE)
Huang, L. (2012, June 25). The Life! interview with Chua Mia Tee; Painter of presidents and koi. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
Huang, L. (2015, October 17). Champions of culture; Creating beautiful yet realistic paintings. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
Martin, M. (2015, November 24). A painting’s journey; How Chua Mia Tee’s artwork went from canvas to the national Gallery Singapore. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
Woon, M. (1991, August). In support of realistic art. Mirror, 27(15), 8–9. (Call no.: RSING q320.9595 MM)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



 

Subject
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Art)
Award winners--Singapore
Personalities
Cai, Mingzhi, 1931- --Biography
Painters--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Painting
Arts>>Painting>>Oil painting
Artists
Cultural Medallion
Award winners

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