Born in Xiamen, Fujian, Cheong Soo Pieng (1917–1983) began his art education at the Xiamen Academy of Fine at the age of 16. His further studies in Shanghai at the Sin Hwa Academy of Fine Art were interrupted by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), causing Cheong to return to Xiamen Academy as both a practising artist and an educator. Due to the lack of oil painting resources, the artist worked primarily with watercolours at the time. Upon leaving China in 1945, Cheong relocated to Hong Kong for a short time before settling in Singapore in 1946. He took on a teaching role at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts from 1947 to 1961, and only became a full-time artist in his late 40s.
Cheong has been lauded as one of Southeast Asia’s most important artists emerging from the post-war Chinese diaspora. A pioneer of East-West modernism since the 1950s, his emigration to Singapore marked the start of a rigorous and enduring experimentation with a wide range of artistic media and expressions. Through his frequent travels within Southeast Asia, Cheong refined his distinctive depiction of persons, particularly female figures, of the region. He innovatively combined material treatments and painting techniques from both the East and the West to perceive, portray and articulate his Southeast Asian surroundings, becoming one of the first artists to paint in the ‘Nanyang (South Seas) Style’. Cheong’s practice was further shaped by his visits to Europe, where his encounters with modernist abstraction informed the critical development of his mixed media relief works and sculptural explorations – an oft-overlooked area of the artist’s practice that problematised modern art-historical categories and formed intriguing connections across his artistic genres.
Cheong’s exceptional contribution to the art and cultural scene in Singapore earned him the Meritorious Service Medal in 1962. While the artist’s passing in 1983 was four months shy of his retrospective at the former National Museum Art Gallery, his works were shown extensively over the course of his career, in both solo and group settings, at sites and occasions such as the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur; Sculpture 67 at the National Library, Singapore; Malaysian Art Exhibition, London, Cologne, Berlin and Hamburg; Redfern Gallery, London; Commonwealth Arts Festival, Glasgow and Dublin. Cheong’s body of work continues to be studied, exhibited and widely collected today, and is part of public collections including: National Heritage Board, Singapore; National University of Singapore; University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. STPI is pleased and honoured to present Cheong’s works in Soo Pieng: Master of Composition, an upcoming exhibition slated to run from 19 January to 9 March 2019.