Chua Ek Kay



An artist who has been hailed as the bridge between Eastern and Western art, Chua Ek Kay (b. 1947, Guangdong, China–d. 8 February 2008, Singapore) is the first Chinese ink painter to win the United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award (1991).1 Chua trained under Singaporean master brush painter, Fang 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 is the eldest of seven children.4 His family came to Singapore from China in the 1950s and lived at Liang Seah Street, where he grew up.5 This experience had a deep influence in 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 in Liang Seah Street won him the United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award in 1991, making him the first Chinese ink painter to have won the award. Chua's fascination for old shophouses lies in the architectural beauty that he claimed does not fade with time.7


Chinese cultural influences were very much a part of Chua’s daily life and art. He wrote Chinese poetry, read Chinese literature and practised calligraphy which he 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 would transform his own poems into calligraphic script. Excelling in both, Chua was already making a name in the calligraphy and poetry circles before 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 The Shanghai School teaches perfection as having four elements – calligraphy, classical poetry, drawing and seal-carving – a style that Chua strove to emulate in his works.11

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, Chua left his last position as a manager of a garment factory to become a full-time 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” work 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 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 and 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 Singaporean artists.17 Chua passed away in 2008 after battling nasal cancer. He was survived by his wife and a son.18

Timeline
1947: Born in Guangdong, China.
1953: Family moves to Singapore.
1975–84: Studies Chinese brush painting under Fang Chang Tien of
Shanghai School.
1985: Becomes a full-time artist.
1988: Holds first solo exhibition at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Singapore.
1990: Obtains an 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, Australia.19
2000: Gets appointed as member of the National Arts Council.20
2000: Display of paintings at the Prime Minister's Office, Istana.21
2002: Participates in the Visiting Artists Programme by Singapore Tyler Print Institute.22
2003: Display of artworks at Clarke Quay MRT station.23

Awards
1991: United Overseas Bank 10th Painting of the Year Award (Grand Prize).
1998: Philip Morris ASEAN Art Awards (Juror's Choice), Singapore.24
1999: Cultural Medallion, National Arts Council.25

Family
Eldest of seven children. Chua was married with one child.26



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 Medallion. The 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 rostrum. The 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 rostrum. The Straits Times, p. 5; Shetty, D. (2010, March 6). Icons in ink. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrum. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Shetty, D. (2010, March 6). Icons in ink. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved 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 rostrum. The 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 rostrum. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrum. The Straits Times, p. 5; Tuminah Sapawi. (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural Medallion. The 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 time. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrum. The Straits Times, p. 5; Tuminah Sapawi. (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural Medallion. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Yuen, S. (1991, July 24). On the winner’s rostrum. The Straits Times, p. 5; Subrahmanian, M. (2010, March 5). When east meets west. The Business Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ng, I. (2000, January 9). Local art rules these corridors of power. The 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 cancer. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Four artists appointed to NAC. (2000, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Ng, I. (2000, January 9). Local art rules these corridors of power. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. 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
23. A river runs through it. (2003, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. 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/
25. Tuminah Sapawi. (1999, September 25). Writer, artist given Cultural Medallion. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. No mountains, I will paint a shophouse here. (1999, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



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.

 

Subject
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Arts>>Painting
Award winners
Chua, Ek Kay, 1947-2008--Biography
Artists--Singapore--Biography
Painters--Singapore--Biography