Liu Kang



Liu Kang (b. 1 April 1911, Yongchun, Fujian, China1d. 1 June 2004, Singapore2), also known as Liu Kai, was a pioneer oil painter who was key in establishing a local style in Singapore’s visual arts. As a renowned artist, Liu Kang not only produced a wide portfolio of works but also, through his various positions in art schools, influenced the next generation of artists and painters in Singapore.3

Early life
Born in the year the Chinese Qing dynasty fell, Liu spent his early years in Malaya, where his father worked as a rubber merchant. A mispronunciation by his principal at Muar Primary School led to his name being changed from Liu Kai to Liu Kang. He continued his secondary school education in China’s Jinan University Middle School in 1926. During the school holidays, he took art classes at the Shanghai College of Fine Arts (later known as the Xinhua Art Academy). While he was residing with his good friend, the painter Chen Jen Hao, Liu became acquainted and fell in love with Jen Hao’s sister, Chen Jen Pen (also spelt Chen Jen Ping), who later became his wife.4


Shanghai was strongly influenced by Western arts during the 1920s, the time Liu was studying art there. Liu continued his art education in Paris, France, at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière from 1929 to 1933. There he was drawn to postimpressionists such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin and Vincent Van Gogh, masters whose works influenced his own.5

World War II
Liu moved to Muar when the Japanese invaded China in 1937 and then later came to Singapore. When Japan invaded Singapore in 1942, Liu and his family fled back to Muar, leaving behind more than 200 paintings. However, all the paintings had disappeared when he returned after the war.6 Liu witnessed many war atrocities committed by the Japanese soldiers. In 1946, after the war had ended, he published sketches of Japanese brutality on Asians in a multivolume work entitled Chop Suey.7 The series was published in both English and Chinese, and in 1991 was translated into Japanese.8 Only limited copies of the original Chop Suey can be found as a complete set.9


Nanyang style
Having received his art education from the best of both hemispheres, Liu translated these influences and incorporated local Southeast Asian flavours into his work to create the distinct Nanyang style. This style, attributed to Singapore’s pioneer painters, was first seen in the works of Liu and fellow painters Chen Wen Hsi, Chen Chong Swee and Cheong Soo Pieng upon their return from a study-cum-painting trip in Bali in 1952. Some of his well-known paintings from this era include: “Artist and Model” (1954), “Batik Workers” (1954) and “Balinese Girl in Red Sarong” (undated).10


Besides his works, Liu continued to influence the next generation of artists through his leadership in the Association of Chinese Artists of Singapore and the Singapore Art Society. In addition to renowned artists, some of his students include personalities such as Singapore’s first elected president, Ong Teng Cheong.11

Despite eye problems and a failed cataract transplant in 1986, Liu Kang continued to paint and exhibit his works.12 His most significant exhibition prior to his death was held in China in November 2000, after having postponed it for more than a decade due to the Tiananmen incident in 1989.13 Liu’s works have been exhibited in Singapore and overseas including France, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the United States.14


Awards
1970:
Public Service Star

1985: Singapore Art Society Service Award; Society of Chinese Artists Service Award
1993: ASEAN Creative Award, Brunei
1996: Meritorious Service Medal15

Appointments
1946–1958:
President, Society of Chinese Artists, Singapore16

1968–1979: President, Singapore Art Society17
Chairman, National Day Art Exhibition Working Committee
Chairman, Advisory Committee on Visual Arts18

Timeline
1917–1926:
Spends childhood years in Muar, Malaya.

1926–1928: Studies at the Xinhua Art Academy, Shanghai, China.
1928–1933: Continues his art studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.
1933–1937: Becomes professor of western painting at Shanghai College of Fine Arts.19
1937: Weds Chen Jen Pen in Shanghai.20
1937–1945: The couple move to Muar when the Japanese invades Shanghai three months after their wedding.21 The couple then arrive in Singapore, where Liu teaches art at Nan Chiao Teachers’ Training College Singapore and Chung Cheng High School.22 When the Japanese forces attack Singapore, they return to Muar and there Liu opens a coffeeshop with his brother. They go back to Singapore to escape Japanese persecution.23
1946: Multivolume illustrated work, Chop Suey, about atrocities during the Japanese Occupation, is published.
1957: First solo exhibition held in Singapore.24
1968: Founding member of the Singapore Art Society and becomes its president for 10 consecutive years.25
1981: Liu Kang Retrospective, National Museum, Singapore – one of his largest local exhibitions with 220 artworks displayed.26
1983: Liu Kang Exhibition Tour in Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Tainan in Taiwan before proceeding to Hong Kong.27
1989: Paintings by Liu Kang exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery.28
1997: Liu Kang at 87 exhibition, Singapore Art Museum.
1998: Liu Kang at 88 exhibition, Singapore Soka Association,29 including 72 works of his family members.30
2000: First solo exhibition in Beijing, China.31
2003: Liu Kang donates all his works to the Singapore Art Museum.32

Family
Wife: Chen Jen Pen.33 Liu painted six portraits of her between 1927 and 1992, with the earliest painted before they married.34

Sons: Liu Thai Ker, former chief of Housing and Development Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority;35 Liu Hong; Liu Liang; and Liu Kah Teck.36
Daughter: Liu Tow Sen 37



Authors

Bonny Tan & Ruth Creamer



References
1. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 685. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
2. Foong, W. W. (2004, June 2). Artist Liu Kang, 93, dies. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 685. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
4. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 685. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU); The portraits of my love. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 685. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU); Untitled. (1993, February 3). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Koh, K. (1986, September 23). Cartoons on a reign of terror. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Liu, K. (1946). Chop Suey [Microfilm no.: NL 7748]. Singapore: Ngai Seong Press.
8. Shocking revelations. (1991, April 6). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Koh, K. (1986, September 23). Cartoons on a reign of terror. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 685–686. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
11. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 686. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU); Teoh, E. (1996, November 9). Happy reunion as Liu Kang gets his award. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
12. Sasitharan, T. (1989, July 21). Coloured by time. The Straits Times, p. 2; Life is still a big canvas for Liu Kang, 87. (1997, September 26). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Beijing show, finally. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 102. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 686. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
15. Liu Kang: Milestones. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 103; Teoh, E. (1996, November 9). Happy reunion as Liu Kang gets his award. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Liu Kang: Milestones. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 103. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 686. (Call no.: RSING 59.004951 SOU)
18. Untitled. (1993, February 3). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Through the eyes of an artist. (1997, November 8). The Business Times, p. 20; At 92, with nature and nudes. (2002, July 20). Today, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Liu Kang: Milestones. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 103. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Sasitharan, T. (1989, July 21). Coloured by time. The Straits Times, p. 2; Mathi, B. (1998, December 13). The portraits of my love. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore : Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 686. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
22. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 686. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
23. TributeSG. (n.d.). Liu Kang. Retrieved 2016, July 7 from TributeSG website: https://www.tribute.sg/artist-profile-liu-kang/?chapter=1; Chua, B. H. (1991, March 28). Art skill saved author’s life. The New Paper, p. 6; Through the eyes of an artist. (1997, November 8). The Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Liu Kang: Milestones. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 103. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Model artist. (2004, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Liu Kang: Milestones. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 103. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Liu Kang retrospective. (1981). Singapore: Ministry of Culture and National Museum. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 LIU)
27. Liu Kang: Milestones. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 103. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Sasitharan, T. (1989, July 21). Coloured by time. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Liu Kang: Milestones. (2000, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 103. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Liu, K. (1998). Liu Kang at 88. Singapore: Singapore Soka Association. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 LIU)
31. Pravathi, N. (2000, October 14). Exhibition of Liu Kong's work to travel to China. The Business Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Tee, H. C. (2003, June 1). Liu Kang donates life’s works to museum. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Mahbubani, G. (1981, December 1). Journey of a pioneer artist. The Straits Times, p. 1; Through the eyes of an artist. (1997, November 8). The Business Times, p. 20.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Mathi, B. (1998, December 13). The portraits of my love. The Straits Times, p. 3; Lee, S. (2003, May 31). And love is the greatest. The Straits Times, p. 5.  Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: A biographical dictionary. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 687–689. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
36. Life and times. (2004, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 4; Sasitharan, T. (1989, July 21). Coloured by time. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Life and times. (2004, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 4; Father of art’s ‘blind’ despair. (2003, May 31). The New Paper, p. 16. 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
Artists
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists
Arts>>Painting
Arts>>Art museums, collections and exhibitions
Painters--Singapore
Artists--Singapore