Chua Ek Kay



Chua Ek Kay (b. 1947, Guangdong, China–d. 8 February 2008, Singapore) was an artist who is known for bridging Eastern and Western art. He was the first Chinese-ink painter to win the United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award in 1991.1 Chua trained under Singaporean master brush painter, Fan Chang Tien of the Shanghai School, but later developed a keen interest in Western art. The blend of traditional Chinese art forms and Western art techniques feature prominently in Chua’s paintings.2 He was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1999.3


Early life
Chua was the eldest of seven children.4 His family came to Singapore from China in the 1950s and lived on Liang Seah Street, where he grew up.5 This experience had a deep influence on his work, as he made street scenes and old shophouses a regular subject of his paintings.6 In fact, his piece titled “My Haunt”, a brush painting of old buildings on Liang Seah Street, won him the United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award in 1991, making him the first Chinese-ink painter to win the award. Chua’s fascination for old shophouses lay in the architectural beauty that, according to him, does not fade with time.7


Chinese cultural influences were a large part of Chua’s daily life and art. He wrote Chinese poetry, read Chinese literature and practised calligraphy, which he had learnt from his father.8 Chua’s interest in calligraphy continued into his Catholic High School days.9 Combining his love for classical Chinese poetry and calligraphy, he transformed his own poems into calligraphic script. Excelling in both, Chua had already made a name for himself in the calligraphy and poetry circles by 1975, the year he started learning Chinese brush painting and seal-carving from Fan Chang Tien, the master brush painter of the Shanghai School.10 According to teachings of the Shanghai School, perfection has four elements – calligraphy, classical poetry, drawing and seal-carving – which Chua strove towards in his artistic practice.11

Fulltime artist
In 1985 at the age of 38, after taking on a variety of jobs for 17 years, including running a restaurant, Chua left his last position as a manager of a garment factory to become a fulltime artist.12 He supplemented his income by teaching private students at the National University of Singapore’s Extra-Mural Studies Department.13 Chua departed from the Shanghai School traditions not long after and incorporated aspects of the local environment into his paintings, switching from mountains and lakes to shophouses, and even abstracts inspired by aboriginal cave paintings.14 

Chua was much inspired by the works of Western artists such as Jackson Pollock, Matisse and Picasso, since their “spontaneous” style was deemed similar to the free style of the Shanghai School. His interest in Western art led him to take up related courses at the then Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts in 1990 as well as in Australia.15 But the “Chinese brush” influence never left him as he continued to express his artistic inclinations in both traditional Chinese as well as Western contemporary styles.16

Several of Chua’s paintings have adorned the Prime Minister’s Office at the Istana, and Chua saw this move as a gesture of support for local artists.17 

Chua passed away in 2008 after battling nasal cancer. He was survived by his wife and a son.18

Posthumous developments
In 2010, the Singapore Tyler Print Institute held a tribute exhibition of Chua’s works, showcasing 26 of his artworks featuring themes such as Singapore street scenes and the archipelago.19 Two years later, his donation of 25 artworks to his alma mater, Catholic High School, were exhibited in conjunction with the opening of The Private Museum.20

In 2015, the National Gallery Singapore held an exhibition, Chua Ek Kay: After the Rain, on his three-decade-long artistic career. The exhibition commemorated the significant donation of 38 works by the artist’s family to the National Collection between 2010 and 2011.21

Previously unseen works from the estate of Chua Ek Kay were featured in a group exhibition, Thinking Ink: Improvisations on Cultural Criteria, organised by Gajah Gallery in 2017. The exhibition highlighted ink artists from Singapore and China.22

Timeline
1947: Born in Guangdong, China
1953: Family moves to Singapore
1975–84: Studies Chinese brush painting under Fan Chang Tien of Shanghai School
1985: Becomes a fulltime artist
1990: Obtains Advanced Diploma in Painting, Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore
1993: Receives National Arts Council scholarship for practising artists
1994: Obtains Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, University of Tasmania, Australia.
1995: Obtains Master of Arts (Hons.) in Visual Arts, University of Western Sydney, Australia23
2000: Appointed as member of the National Arts Council24
2000: Display of paintings at the Prime Minister's Office, Istana25
2002: Participates in the Visiting Artists Programme by Singapore Tyler Print Institute.26
2003: Display of artworks at Clarke Quay MRT station27

Selected solo exhibitions
1988:
 First solo exhibition, Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Singapore
2003:
Being and Becoming, Singapore Tyler Print Institute

2005: Yixi: Recent Paintings of Chua Ek Kay, Shanghai Art Museum, China
2006: Chua Ek Kay @ Art Forum 2006, Art Forum Gallery
2007: Along the River Banks: Chua Ek Kay, Singapore Tyler Print Institute
2007: Solo exhibition, Lotus Pond & Water Village, Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery28
2010: Re-visiting Chua Ek Kay: Tribute to the Ink Master, Singapore Tyler Print Institute
2012: Old Campus Revisited: A Chua Ek Kay collection of the Catholic High School, The Private Museum
2015: Chua Ek Kay: After the Rain, National Gallery Singapore

Group exhibition
2017:
Thinking Ink: Improvisations on Cultural Criteria, Gajah Gallery


Awards
1991: United Overseas Bank 10th Painting of the Year Award (Grand Prize)
1998: Philip Morris ASEAN Art Awards (Juror’s Choice), Singapore29
1999: Cultural Medallion, National Arts Council30



Author

Nureza Ahmad



References
1. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3; Shetty, D. (2010, March 6). Icons in ink. The Straits Times, p. 3; Obituaries(2008, February 10). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

2. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tuminah Sapawi. (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural MedallionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5; Shetty, D. (2010, March 6). Icons in ink. The Straits Times, p. 3Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Shetty, D. (2010, March 6). Icons in ink. The Straits Times, p. 3Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3; Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  
11. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3; Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5; Tuminah Sapawi. (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural MedallionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3; Oon, C. (1998, July 9). Drawing from the mist of timeThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5; Tuminah Sapawi. (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural MedallionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrumThe Straits Times, p. 5; Subrahmanian, M. (2010, March 5). When east meets westThe Business Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ng, I. (2000, January 9). Local art rules these corridors of powerThe Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Shetty, D. (2010, March 6). Icons in ink. The Straits Times, p. 3; Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2008, February 10). S’pore ink artist Chua Ek Kay dies of cancerThe Straits Times, p. 2Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singapore Tyler Print Institute. (2010). Re-visiting Chua Ek Kay: Tribute to the Ink Master, 5–20 March 2010. Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHU)
20. Teo, D. (2012). Foreword. In The Private Museum Ltd, Old Campus Revisited: A Chua Ek Kay collection of the Catholic High School. Singapore: The Private Museum, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHU)
21. National Gallery Singapore. (2017). Chua Ek Kay: After the Rain. Retrieved 2017, November 27 from National Gallery Singapore website: https://www.nationalgallery.sg/see-do/programme-detail/34/chua-ek-kay-after-the-rain; Low, S. W. (2015). Chua Ek Kay: After the rain. Singapore: National Gallery Singapore, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHU)
22. Gajah Gallery. (n.d.). Thinking ink: Improvisations on cultural criteria. Retrieved 2017, November 27 from Gajah Gallery website: https://www.gajahgallery.com/exhibitions.php?exhibition=154; Happenings – Arts. (2017, July 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
23. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Four artists appointed to NAC. (2000, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Ng, I. (2000, January 9). Local art rules these corridors of powerThe Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Singapore Tyler Print Institute. (n.d). Chua Ek Kay. Retrieved 2016, December 13 from Singapore Tyler Print Institute website: http://www.stpi.com.sg/artist_chuaekkay.htm
27. A river runs through it. (2003, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Low, S. W. (2015). Chua Ek Kay: After the rain. Singapore: National Gallery Singapore, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 CHU)
29. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, J. (2017). In memory of Chua Ek Kay – renowned ink artist (1947–2008). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
30. Tuminah Sapawi. (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural MedallionThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2018 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
Artists--Singapore--Biography
Award winners
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Art)
Chinese ink painting
Painters--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Chua, Ek Kay, 1947-2008--Biography
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Arts personalities