Tay Chee Toh



Tay Chee Toh (b. 1941, Johor, Malaysia–) is a second-generation Singapore artist.1 His works, which range from paintings to sculptures and prints, have been associated with figurative and abstract art, and draw on a diverse range of influences including batik painting, industrial objects and the surreal.2 In 1985, Tay received the Cultural Medallion. He also won the second and first prizes in the United Overseas Bank (UOB) Painting of the Year competition in 1982 and 1985 respectively.3

Education
Tay moved to Singapore in 1958 to study at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA),4 where one of his mentors was Nanyang Style pioneer Cheong Soo Pieng.5 Tay studied at NAFA for two years.6

Career
Tay held his first group show at the National Library in 1960. The show, titled 4 Man Joint Exhibition,7 and Tay’s works in particular, received critical attention in the 1963 book, A Brief History of Malayan Art.8 That exhibition was followed by another group show, Modern Art Exhibition, in 1963. Tay became a founding member of the Modern Art Society that same year.9

In 1966, Tay held his first solo exhibition at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. He studied the indigenous Dayaks, which gave rise to fresh thematic and stylistic ventures featuring Dayak women with elongated figures and arms.10 He debuted these new artistic expressions in his second solo exhibition at the British Council in Singapore in 1967.11 Beginning an association with Alpha Gallery in the 1970s, Tay held solo and group exhibitions at the gallery in 1972 and 1973.12 He also participated in several of Alpha Gallery’s group shows, including its inaugural exhibition in 1971.13

In 1981, Tay won the first prize at the art competition, Singapore Innovations in Art, jointly organised by the then Ministry of Culture and Singapore Airlines.14 He won the second prize at the inaugural UOB Painting of the Year competition the following year.15 In addition, he had the honour of having one of his paintings reproduced on a UNICEF greeting card in 1969.16

Tay was conferred the Cultural Medallion in 1985 in recognition of his artistic talent and achievements.17 He won first prize in the UOB Painting of the Year competition that same year. In 1987, he debuted his sculptural practice with Tay Chee Toh’s 1st Sculpture Exhibition at the National Museum Art Gallery.18 That year, Tay also completed the hanging mobile, Flowers In Blossom, for the Orchard Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station.19

In 1993, Tay took the first prize at the Real Estate Association of Singapore Building Sculpture Competition with his entry Rustling.20 His work took a new direction in figurative sculpture in March 2001, when he held a retrospective titled Body Lines at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.21 An image from Body Lines was featured in the Celebrating Singapore Art series of stamps in 2009.22 By 2012, Tay had held 10 solo shows, the latest of which was an exhibition of woodblock prints on gold and silver fabric.23 Some of the prints, which took close to three years to complete, spanned 4.5 m in length, and returned to the theme of the daily lives of Dayak women.24

Style and media
Tay’s artistic practice has taken various paths in the choice of media and modes of visual expression.25 One of the founding members of the Modern Art Society,26 he forged directions in figuration and abstraction. His body of work, while registering formal sensibilities, reveals surreal expressions that have origins in fantasy.27


Tay’s early Dayak Women series, which emerged after a trip to Sarawak in 1966, featured elongated lines and flattened forms reminiscent of the works of his mentor, pioneer artist Cheong Soo Pieng. Tay appropriated abstract motifs from tribal textiles and body ornamentation to produce decorative surfaces that underscored his vision of the exotic.28 He began working in batik in the late ’60s;29 with the exploration of the medium came the use of batik motifs that, like his use of Dayak motifs, would undergo stylisation in his abstract and figurative works.30

In the late ’70s, Tay steered his attention towards abstraction, producing the Aqua and Windows series of paintings that juxtapose geometric with organic forms that float gracefully in fields of flat and intense colours. Later developments in abstraction in the ’80s saw his earlier organic forms becoming increasingly structured, which Tay attributed to the influence of industrial objects and their physical materiality.31 This influence was apparent in his three-dimensional sculptural works in the ’80s,32 which include raised abstract forms on totemic supports and hanging mobiles that evoke the imagery of floating structures.33

Tay continued to advance formal trajectories in the early 2000s, weaving past abstract and decorative devices in fresh articulations of figurative compositions in painting and sculpture. In his free-standing Body Lines sculptural series, the figure is articulated in fractured and contorted forms in which curvilinear plans fold with languid sensuality.34  



Author

Joanna Lee




References
1.Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts at NAFA. (2011). Visual artist – Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts website: http://tfcsea.nafa.edu.sg/artist_biography.aspx?id=60
2. David, J. (1972, May 21). Top artist Chee Toh switches to abstract forms. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Modern Art Society Singapore. (2017). Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Modern Art Society Singapore website: http://mass.org.sg/index.php/tay-chee-toh/
4. David, J. (1972, May 21). Top artist Chee Toh switches to abstract forms. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, J. (2002). Tay Chee Toh. In V. Purushothaman (Ed.), Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 192. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Asian Art Platform. (n.d.). Cheong Soo Pieng (b. 1917–d. 1983). Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Asian Art Platform website: https://asianartplatform.com/artists/cheong-soo-pieng/
6. David, J. (1972, May 21). Top artist Chee Toh switches to abstract forms. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Tay, C. T. (2001). Body lines: Sculpture & painting exhibition, 17 Mar–1 Apr 2001. Singapore: Author, p. 61. (Call no.: RSING q704.942 TAY)
8. Hsu, M. C. F. (1999). A brief history of Malayan art. Singapore: Millennium Books, p. 93. (Call no.: YRSING 709.595 HSU)
9. Modern Art Society Singapore. (2017). Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Modern Art Society Singapore website: http://mass.org.sg/index.php/tay-chee-toh/
10. Lye, A. (2001, March 24). Tay Chee Toh pushes the lines. The Business Times, p. 22; David, J. (1972, May 21). Top artist Chee Toh switches to abstract forms. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Tay, C. T. (2001). Body lines: Sculpture & painting exhibition, 17 Mar–1 Apr 2001. Singapore: Author, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING q704.942 TAY)
12. Jay, S. E. (2000, November 3). Remembrance of art past. The Straits Times, p. 7; Wong to open art show. (1972, May 18). New Nation, p. 2; Artists put on show. (1972, September 15). New Nation, p. 5; Art display. (1972, May 19). New Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Preview of paintings. (1971, October 14). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Tay, C. T. (2001). Body lines: Sculpture & painting exhibition, 17 Mar–1 Apr 2001. Singapore: Author, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING q704.942 TAY); Contemporary art contest. (1981, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Modern Art Society Singapore. (2017). Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Modern Art Society Singapore website: http://mass.org.sg/index.php/tay-chee-toh/
16. Schoon, J. (1975, November 15). New works by 16 local artists. New Nation, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. (2017). Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts website: http://www.nafa.edu.sg/showcase/awards/cultural-medallion/profile/tay-chee-toh; Lye, A. (2001, March 24). Tay Chee Toh pushes the lines. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tay, C. T. (2001). Body lines: Sculpture & painting exhibition, 17 Mar–1 Apr 2001. Singapore: Author, pp. 5, 63. (Call no.: RSING q704.942 TAY)
19. Tay Chee Toh – Art in Motion. (2011, June 26). Art in motion – hanging mobiles by Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Tay Chee Toh website: https://taycheetoh.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/art-in-motion-hanging-mobiles-by-tay-chee-toh/; Tay, C. T. (2001). Body lines: Sculpture & painting exhibition, 17 Mar–1 Apr 2001. Singapore: Author, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING q704.942 TAY)
20. Tay, C. T. (2001). Body lines: Sculpture & painting exhibition, 17 Mar–1 Apr 2001. Singapore: Author, p. 60. (Call no.: RSING q704.942 TAY); Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts at NAFA. (2011). Visual artist – Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts website: http://tfcsea.nafa.edu.sg/artist_biography.aspx?id=60
21. Lye, A. (2001, March 24). Tay Chee Toh pushes the lines. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Tay Chee Toh – Art in Motion. (2011, June 26). Art in motion – hanging mobiles by Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Tay Chee Toh website: https://taycheetoh.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/art-in-motion-hanging-mobiles-by-tay-chee-toh/
23. Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts at NAFA. (2011). Visual artist – Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts website: http://tfcsea.nafa.edu.sg/artist_biography.aspx?id=60
24. LuxArtAsia. (n.d.). Dayak: Woodblock prints by Tay Chee Toh@NAFA, Singapore. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from LuxArtAsia website: http://www.luxartasia.com/2012/02/dayak-woodblock-prints-by-tay-chee-toh.html
25. Lee, J. (2002). Tay Chee Toh. In V. Purushothaman (Ed.), Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 192. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
26. Modern Art Society Singapore. (2017). Tay Chee Toh. Retrieved 2017, February 3 from Modern Art Society Singapore website: http://mass.org.sg/index.php/tay-chee-toh/
27. Lee, J. (2002). Tay Chee Toh. In V. Purushothaman (Ed.), Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 192. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
28. Lee, J. (2002). Tay Chee Toh. In V. Purushothaman (Ed.), Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 192. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
29. Lye, A. (2001, March 24). Tay Chee Toh pushes the lines. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Cheah, U. H. (2005, October 21). Making batik painting contemporary, relevant. The Business Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Lee, J. (2002). Tay Chee Toh. In V. Purushothaman (Ed.), Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 192. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
32. Lye, A. (2001, March 24). Tay Chee Toh pushes the lines. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Lee, J. (2002). Tay Chee Toh. In V. Purushothaman (Ed.), Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 192. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
34. Lee, J. (2002). Tay Chee Toh. In V. Purushothaman (Ed.), Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 192. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)



Further resource
See, T. (2005). Rethinking tradition: On the search for identity through batik designs. In Singapore Art Show 2005. Singapore: National Arts Council.

(Call no.: RSING 709.5957 SIN)



The information in this article is valid as at 2012 and correct as far as we can 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
Artists--Singapore--Biography
Tay, Chee Toh, 1941-
Arts>>Sculpture
Award winners
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Sculptors--Singapore--Biography
Award winners--Singapore--Biography