5 things to know about Singapore artist Tan Swie Hian

Tan Swie Hian's ink-on-rice-paper portrait Bada Shanren, which sold for a record S$4.4 million at a Beijing auction on Nov 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: POLY AUCTION
Tan Swie Hian's ink-on-rice-paper portrait Bada Shanren, which sold for a record S$4.4 million at a Beijing auction on Nov 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: POLY AUCTION
Singapore artist Tan Swie Hian in his Telok Kurau studio. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Singapore artist Tan Swie Hian in his Telok Kurau studio. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Tan Swie Hian is in the news again - after his ink-on-rice-paper work titled Portrait of Bada Shanren (2013), done in 60 seconds, sold for a record 20.7 million yuan (S$4.4 million) at the 2014 Poly Auction held in Beijing on Sunday night. 

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Here are five things to know about the 71-year-old multi-disciplinary artist:

1. The sale broke the artist's previous record set in 2012. Oil painting When The Moon Is Orbed sold at the same auction for a record $3.7 million.

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He is known for his large-scale works, often executed at lightning speed. Many of his artworks also include calligraphy that appeals to his collectors.

2. Portrait Of Bada Shanren is Tan's tribute to Bada Shanren (1626-1705), a painter and calligrapher and one of the great art masters of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Calligraphy completes the portrait, reflecting the subject's multi-faceted career as a poet and one of the four monk painters in the art circles of the early Qing dynasty.

Tan says he created this portrait in a 60 second flash when he was in Beijing in September last year. One night, while at an entrepreneur friend's studio, this "genius of Chinese art who is regarded as one of the most influential personalities and ink painters of his time just came to me", he says.

3. His earlier record-setting painting, When The Moon Is Orbed, also came to him as a "vision", during a meditation session in 2009. Tan is a practising Buddhist.

The moon in the painting was a symbol of Eastern culture and family reunion at the emotional level. It also represented a voyage. He spent almost three weeks on the actual creation of the artwork.

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4. The multi-disciplinary Singaporean artist is known for his poetry, novels, paintings, calligraphy and sculptures and has a great following in China. He has received several awards both locally and internationally in the fields of literature, visual arts and the performing arts.

In 1987, he was awarded the Cultural Medallion. In 2003, the celebrated artist became the first Singaporean to be conferred the prestigious World Economic Forum's Crystal Award to acknowledge and celebrate the role of arts and culture in fostering global understanding. Previous luminaries who have been conferred this award include American actor, director and author Sidney Poitier and Italian novelist Umberto Eco.

In 2006, Tan, a fluent French speaker, received France's highest civilian award - the title of Officer in the National Order of the Legion of Honour.

5. He has a private museum dedicated to his works. The Tan Swie Hian Private Museum, opened in 1993, is located at 460 Sims Avenue. Spread over two floors, the museum highlights the sheer diversity of his practice.

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It was opened by art collector and businessman Tan Tien Chi and has elaborate calligraphy on the raw cement floor, as well as oil paintings and several works done with Chinese ink on rice paper.

deepikas@sph.com.sg