Chua Ek Kay
An artist who has been hailed as the bridge between Asian and Western art, Chua Ek Kay (b. 1947, China - d. 8 February 2008, Singapore) is the first Chinese ink painter to win the United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award (1991). Chua trained under master ink painter Fang Chang Tien of the Shanghai School but later developed a keen interest in Western art. He received the Cultural Medallion Award in 1999. Prominent in Chua's paintings is the blend of traditional Chinese art forms and Western theories and techniques.
Chua is the eldest of seven children. His family came to Singapore in the 1950s and lived in Liang Seah Street. This area has a deep influence in his work for he has made street scenes and old shophouses a regular subject of his paintings. In fact, for one of his biggest recognition that he won in 1991, his winning piece was entitled, "My Haunt", a brush painting of old buildings in Liang Seah Street. It gave him the United Overseas Bank (UOB) Painting of the Year Award, the first Chinese ink painter to have won the award in its ten-year run then. Chua's fascination for old shophouses lies in the architectural beauty that he claims does not fade with time.
Chinese cultural influences are very much a part of his daily life and art. He writes Chinese poetry, reads Chinese literature and practises calligraphy which he learnt from his father. His interest in calligraphy continued into his Catholic High School days. Combining his love for classical Chinese poetry and calligraphy, he would transform his own poems into calligraphic script. Excelling in both, Chua was already well-known in calligraphy and poetry circles before 1975, the year he started learning Chinese brush painting and seal-carving from Fan Chang Tien, the master ink painter of the Shanghai School. The Shanghai School teaches perfection as having four elements - calligraphy, classical poetry, painting, and seal-carving - a style that Chua has striven to emulate in his works.
A full-time artist
In 1985 at the age of 38, after taking on a variety of jobs for 17 years that included running a restaurant, he quitted his last position as a manager of a garment factory to become a full-time artist. He supplemented his income by teaching private students at the National University of Singapore's Extra-Mural Studies Department. He strayed from the Shanghai School traditions not long after and accommodated his own local environment in his paintings, switching from mountains and lakes to shophouses and even abstracts inspired by aboriginal cave paintings. The works of Western artists such as Jackson Pollock, Matisse and Picasso also influenced him. Their 'spontaneous' work is similar to the free style of the Shanghai School. His interest in Western art led him to study Western art courses at the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts in 1990 and in Australia. But the "Chinese brush" influence has never lost on him as he continues to express his artistic inclinations in both traditional Chinese and Western contemporary styles.
Several of Chua's paintings have adorned the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), which occupies the third storey of the Istana Annexe. In 2003, his two paintings of the Singapore River scenes were displayed at Clarke Quay MRT station and he was paid about $130,000 for his efforts. He took more than four years to finish that artwork.
1947 : Born in China
1953 : Family moved to Singapore
1975 - 84 : Studied Chinese brush painting under Fang Chang Tien of Shanghai School
1985 : Became full-time artist
1988 : First solo exhibition at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Singapore
1993 : Received National Arts Council scholarship for practising artists
1994 : Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Tasmania, Australia
1995 : MA(Hons.) Visual Arts at University of Western Sydney, Australia
2000 : Appointed member of National Arts Council (NAC)
2000 : Paintings displayed at Prime Minister's Office, Istana annexe
2003 : Artworks created for and displayed at Clarke Quay MRT station
1991 : UOB 10th Painting of the Year Award (Grand Prize)
1998 : Philip Morris Group of Companies ASEAN Art Awards, Juror's Choice, Singapore
1999 : Cultural Medallion Award
2002 : Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts Fellowship, Singapore
Source: Singapore Tyler Print Institute. (2003). Biography- Chua Ek Kay (born in China, 1947). Retrieved July 14, 2004, from www.stpi.com.sg/cek.html.
Eldest of seven children. Chua is married with one child.
Ng, I. (2000, January 9). Local art rules these corridors of power. The Straits Times.
Obituaries. (2008, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 31.
Oon, C. (1998, July 9). Drawing from the mist of time. The Straits Times.
Tuminah Sapawi (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural Medallion. The Straits Times.
Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winners rostrum. The Straits Times, p. 5.
A river runs through it. (2003, June 8). The Straits Times.
Four artists appointed to NAC. (2000, September 21). The Straits Times.
Profile - Chua Ek Kay. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times.
Singapore Tyler Print Institute. (2003). Biography - Chua Ek Kay (born in China, 1947). Retrieved July 14, 2004, from
Lasalle-SIA. (2002). News releases: LASALLE-SIA honours Singapores arts leaders. Retrieved July 14, 2004, from
The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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.
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Chua, Ek Kay, 1947-2008--Biography