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Cheong Soo PIENG 1915 - 1983

Biography

Cheong Soo Pieng was born in Amoy, China. Pieng trained in art in Xiamen Academy of Art and the Xin Hua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai in both Chinese and Western styles of painting, and throughout his career he combining Asian styles and motifs with Parisian schools of art to infuse these elements into a unique style of his own. He moved to Singapore in 1946 at the age of 29, the following year he began teaching at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Soo Pieng's muse was the people and places he saw in Singapore. Throughout his lifetime he took many working trips around the region to observe and sketch indigenous groups, such as the Dyaks and Kayans in Borneo. The most well-known of these trips was the 1952 field trip to Bali that he took with three other artists, and the brilliant results of this trip came to define the Nanyang style of painting.

He did not limit himself to just one painting style or one form of art. Soo Pieng was an experimenter who constantly re-invented himself throughout his artistic career. His painting styles ran the gamut from Realist to abstract works, and he did not shy away from experimenting with new media, working with watercolours, oils, and mixed media sculptures with equal aplomb.

He was an experimenter and his inventive streak developed into a distinctive visual style which influenced other contemporary artists. Art historians classify his prolific output into phases. These phases were: oil in impasto effects (1948-1956): Chinese ink on nice Paper (1960 - 1963): oil with new effects (1963 - 68): abstraction (1968 to 1970): mixed sculptures and porcelain work (1970 -79): oil with new effects (1979): Chinese ink with new effects (1979): painting on tiles and porcelain (1982 - 1983): and Chinese traditional medium on cotton.

Soo Pieng often painted simple subjects. The everyday was a key focus for his art. He portrayed common folk and their daily activities, even going as far as painting rubbish dumps and including discarded frying pans and bicycle bells in his mixed media sculpture. Through the long extent of his career, Cheong was most interested in the sense of design and composition of a piece, making use of angular forms, and utilising a bold colour scheme.

Singaporeans are familiar with the painting of Drying Salted Fish on the back of the $50 notes.