Choy Weng Yang
by Nadia Ramli
Choy Weng Yang (b. 1936, Singapore–) is an artist, curator, art writer and educator. As one of Singapore’s prominent second-generation artists, Choy’s works embody a distinctive style of abstract expressionism and exploration of colours. He was part of the pioneering team at the National Museum Art Gallery in the 1970s, first as Head of Exhibition and Design and later as Curator of Art.
Choy studied painting at the Hornsey College of Art in London on a Ministry of Education scholarship and graduated in 1962 with a National Diploma of Art. In the following year, he enrolled in the University of London Institute of Education and received his post-graduate Art Teachers Certificate.1
Upon Choy’s return to Singapore in 1963, he began his 10-year career as an art educator in the Arts and Crafts Department of the Teachers’ Training College.2 In 1973, he was awarded the UNESCO Fellowship in Creative Arts. Under the six-month fellowship, Choy toured various cities in the United States, surveying contemporary American art and researching on environmental art at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Visual Studies under Professor G. Kepes, a renowned pioneer of art and technology.3 During this period, he met various established artists, including avant-garde artists Jules Olitski, who was part of the art movement known as colour field painting in the 1960s, and Josef Albers, who is famous for his pioneering study of colour and abstract painting.4
Choy’s artistic career blossomed when he went on several cultural tours at the invitation of various governments. In 1979, he was invited by the Indian government to embark on a cultural tour of the country. In 1985, he toured France extensively at the invitation of the French government.5 His visit to the prominent French-Chinese abstract painter Zao Wou-Ki’s studio in Paris as well as numerous art museums in the south of France broadened his horizons. The extensive periods spent in London, Paris and the United States provided Choy with opportunities to immerse himself in thriving art communities, artistic practices and spaces.6
Choy was part of the pioneering team at the National Museum Art Gallery (NMAG), first as Head of Exhibition and Design (1976–77) and then as Curator of Art (1978–85).7 During his time with NMAG, he worked on numerous exhibitions, including the inaugural NMAG exhibition in 1976, NMAG International Artists’ Series, ASEAN Travelling Exhibition of Painting and Photography in the 1980s, and the inaugural Contemporary Asian Art Show (1980) organised by the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan.8
Choy’s interest in light and colour has been consistently developed in his art since 1963.9 Works such as “Horizontals I” (1977) and “Vibrance” (1980) explore the qualities in colour relationships in painting – for instance, how colours “take on a new vitality or a new meaning when the composition is altered”.10 His oeuvre has been described as having a distinct style of abstract expressionism, creating colourful abstractions through line work and layers.11 He continues contributing to Singapore’s art history through his painting practice, numerous writings on art, and as an independent curator.12
Selected solo exhibitions
2000: Ambience, Theme and Variations, DP Space, Singapore.
2008: Vivid and Profound, Cape of Good Hope Gallery, Singapore.
Selected group exhibitions13
1972: Singapore Art – Adelaide Festival of Arts, Adelaide, Australia.
1985: Singapore Artist – Salon des Artistes Francais, Paris, France.
1985: ASEAN Traveling Exhibition of Painting and Photography, Southeast Asia.
1988: Singapore Contemporary Artists, Hong Kong.
1992: The Figure in Art, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Singapore.
1994: Art of the Nude, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Singapore.
1996: Line Perceptions – Recent Drawings by 6 Artists, Singapore.
1998: Windows – Recent Paintings by 3 Singapore Artists, Singapore.
2002: The Contemporary Asian Art Fair, Singapore.
2004: City Inspirations, Singapore.
2005: ARTSingapore 2005 – The Contemporary Asian Art Fair, Singapore.
2006: ARTSingapore 2006 – The Contemporary Asian Art Fair, Singapore.
2007: ARTSingapore 2007 – The Contemporary Asian Art Fair, Singapore; Unique 9, Singapore.
2009: Exploring the Boundary, Malaysia and Singapore.
2010: Choy Weng Yang and Jolly Koh: Master Works from 2 Modern Painters, Singapore.
2011: Exchange 2011: Singapore–China Art Show, Singapore.
2014: A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s–1970s, Singapore; New Works – Choy Weng Yang, Tan Teo Kwang, Yeo Hoe Koon, Singapore.
2015: Legacy Progression: Singapore–China Art Exhibition, Beijing, China, and Singapore.
2017: Transcend: 50 Years of Singapore Modern Art, Singapore; Singapore Artists in the States: Wong Keen, Goh Beng Kwan, Zhuang Sheng Tao and Choy Weng Yang, Singapore.
1. Choy Weng Yang, oral history interview with Teo Hui Min, 19 August 2018, transcript and MP3 audio, 2:17:21. (From National Archives of Singapore)
2. “Choy Weng Yang,” The Esplanade Co Ltd, accessed 26 December 2016.
3. S. C. Koh, “Introduction,” in Choy Weng Yang, Ambience: Theme and Variations (Singapore: DP Space, 2000), n.p. (Call no. RSING 759.95957 CHO); Choy Weng Yang, oral history interview; Violet Oon, Oon, “Brushing Up – All for the Money,” New Nation, 4 February 1974, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Koh, “Introduction”; Choy Weng Yang, oral history interview
5. Koh, “Introduction”; The Esplanade Co Ltd, “Choy Weng Yang.”
6. S. C. Koh, “Forward,” in New works: Recent Works in Inks by Choy Weng Yang, Tan Teo Kwang and Yeo Hoe Koon. A Painting Exhibition by 3 Renowned Second-Generation Artists, 25 November – 2 December 2014 (Singapore: FAT Gallery, 2014), 1. (Call no. RART 759.95957 NEW); Lola Liu, Transcend: 50 Years of Singapore Modern Art (Singapore: Iola Liu, 2017), 28. (Call no. RSING 709.5957074 TRA)
7. Choy Weng Yang, oral history interview.
8. Choy Weng Yang, oral history interview with Teo Hui Min, 19 August 2018, transcript and MP3 audio, 49:28. (From National Archives of Singapore); Lo Tien Yin and Peter Ooi, “Curiouser and Curiouser,” Singapore Monitor, 11 November 1983, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Chia Wai Hon, ed., “Singapore Cultural Foundation,” in Singapore Artists (Singapore: Singapore Cultural Foundation, 1982), n.p. (Call no. RSING 759.95957 SIN)
10. Choy Weng Yang, “Statement By the Artist,” in Singapore Artists, ed. Chia Wai Hon (Singapore: Singapore Cultural Foundation, 1982), n.p. (Call no. RSING 759.95957 SIN); Huang, Lijie, “New Look at Singapore Art.” Straits Times, 27 November 2013, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Liu, Transcend, 6.
12. Koh, “Forward,” 16; Choy Weng Yang, oral history interview.
13. Choy Weng Yang, Paintings By Choy Weng Yang (Singapore: Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, 2008), 15 (Call no. RSING 759.95957 CHO); Shabbir Hussein Mustafa, June Yap and Yeo Wei Wei, Singapore’s Visual Artists (Singapore: National Arts Council, 2016), 102 (Call no. RSING 709.225957 SHA); Liu, Transcend, 28; Annika Mock, “Singapore Artists Who Took a Bite of the Big Apple,” Straits Times, 16 May 2017, 6; T. K. Sabapathy, “Nude Masters,” Straits Times, 18 March 1992, 6; T. K. Sabapathy, “Among the Studies, Some Engaging Pictures,” Straits Times, 17 March 1994, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
“Art of Pleasing the Eye,” Straits Times, 5 September 1980, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
Akshita Nanda, “Double Team,” Straits Times, 1 July 2010, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
Chan Eng Cheng, “Asean Arts Have Come of Age, Say Curators,” Straits Times, 1 July 1983, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
“Conducted Tours at Museum,” Straits Times, 10 September 1976, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
Huang Lijie, “Old-Timers’ Works Trace History of Art,” Straits Times, 5 February 2014, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 18 March 2020 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.