Cheong Soo Pieng



Cheong Soo Pieng (b. 1917, Xiamen, Fujian, China–d. 1 July 1983, Singapore)1 was one of Singapore’s pioneer modern artists, and a key proponent of the Nanyang (South Seas) style of art. He was known for his paintings of Malay women depicted with elongated limbs. Having taught for many years at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, he was also an influence on many of his students.2

Early life
The youngest of seven children, Cheong started studying art at the age of 16, in the Xiamen Academy of Fine Art. His parents were ambivalent towards his pursuit of the arts. After graduating three years later, he moved to Shanghai for further studies at the Sin Hwa Academy of Fine Art. However, his studies were disrupted by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), with the school destroyed by the Japanese forces in 1938. As a result, Cheong returned to Xiamen Academy to teach. He held his first solo exhibition there in 1942. At the time, the artist painted primarily in watercolours as he had little opportunity to paint with oils which were hard to find. Cheong decided to leave China in 1945, and spent some time in Hong Kong before relocating to Singapore in late 1946. He quickly gained employment at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, teaching from 1947 to 1961 before becoming a fulltime artist in his late 40s.3

Career
Cheong formulated his distinctive style of painting Malay women after a 1959 trip to the Dayak longhouses of Borneo. Besides painting both in the Eastern and Western techniques of Chinese ink and oils, Cheong also sculpted and crafted metal installations. However, it is his Nanyang-style paintings in particular that have received much attention. The techniques used are recognised as a creative blend of West and East, and the subject matter was inspired from his Southeast Asian surroundings, hence the label “Nanyang style”. He was one of the first artists to paint in this theme. Inspiration for this stemmed from a Bali trip in 1952, which he embarked on with three fellow artists: Liu Kang, Chen Wen Hsi and Chen Chong Swee.4

A favourite with critics and curators, many have lauded Cheong’s works, describing the artist as a pacesetter and a dominant figure in Singapore’s modern art scene. Cheong was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1962.5

To recognise his contributions to Singapore’s art history, the former National Museum Art Gallery organised a retrospective exhibition of his works in 1983. Unfortunately, Cheong did not live to see this – four months shy of the exhibition, he died of heart failure on 1 July 1983 at the age of 66.6

Career7
1947–1961: Teacher at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

1948: Part-time lecturer at Chinese High School
1952: Travels to Bali with Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang
1959: Travels to Borneo and is inspired by the Sarawak lifestyle
1961–1963: Travels through Europe, holding exhibitions in London, Oxford and Munich

Selected exhibitions8
1942: First solo show of watercolours in China.

1953: Exhibition of paintings on Bali, with Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang, Singapore.
1956: First solo exhibitions in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
1962: Exhibitions in London and Munich. Represented Singapore in the Commonwealth Art Today Exhibition organised by the Singapore Art Society, held at the Commonwealth Institute, London.
1963: Exhibitions in London and Oxford.
1964: Sets up art studio on Zion Road and gives private art lessons.
1965: Paintings are shown at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Glasgow and Dublin.
1966: Participates in the Malaysian Art Exhibition in London, Cologne, Berlin and Hamburg.
1967: Twenty Years of His Art, a retrospective exhibition at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, in honour of his 50th birthday. Also exhibits at Sculpture 67, Singapore’s first sculpture show.
1983: Retrospective exhibition, part of the Pioneer Artists of Singapore series at the National Museum Art Gallery.9

Family10
Wife: Ng Lay Sian

Children: Two sons, Cheong Wai Chi and Cheong Teng, and one daughter Leng Guat
Grandson: Cheong Yang
Granddaughters: Wan Chen, Wan Ting and Wan Er



Author
Alicia Yeo



References
1. Yeo, W. W. (2010). Cheong Soo Pieng: Visions of Southeast Asia. Singapore: National Art Gallery. p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SOO)
2.
Ho, S. P. (2015). The story of Cheong Soo Pieng. Singapore: Oxford Graphic Printers, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 HO)
3.
Yeo, W. W. (2010). Cheong Soo Pieng: Visions of Southeast Asia. Singapore: National Art Gallery, pp. 19–20. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SOO); Soo Pieng 泗滨. (2013). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, p. 186. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SOO)
4.
Yeo, W. W. (2010). Cheong Soo Pieng: Visions of Southeast Asia. Singapore : National Art Gallery, p. 29. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SOO); Ho, S. P. (2015). The story of Cheong Soo Pieng. Singapore: Oxford Graphic Printers, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 HO)
5.
Yeo, W. W. (2010). Cheong Soo Pieng: Visions of Southeast Asia. Singapore : National Art Gallery, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SOO); National Day honours. (1962, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6.
Yeo, W. W. (2010). Cheong Soo Pieng: Visions of Southeast Asia. Singapore : National Art Gallery, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SOO)
7.
Ho, S. P. (2015). The story of Cheong Soo Pieng. Singapore: Oxford Graphic Printers, p. 215. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 HO)
8.
Soo Pieng 泗滨. (2013). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, pp. 187–188. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SOO)
9.
Government of Singapore. (1983, November 10). Speech by Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri, parliamentary secretary (health and culture), at the official opening of the Cheong Soo Pieng retrospective at the National Museum Art Gallery on Thursday, 10 November 1983 at 5.30pm. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
10. Obituary for Cheong Soo Pieng. (1983, July 3). The Sunday Times. p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



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
Arts>>Painting
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists
Artists--Singapore--Biography
Artists

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