Blending modern art and Chinese calligraphy

Wee Beng Chong's (above) artwork (left) features the Chinese phrase "yue yuan hua hao", meaning the moon is round and flowers in full bloom.
Wee Beng Chong's (above) artwork features the Chinese phrase "yue yuan hua hao", meaning the moon is round and flowers in full bloom.PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Second-generation artist Wee Beng Chong, 77, certainly sees more in Chinese calligraphy than just the characters he writes with the brush.

Singapore's first Cultural Medallion recipient for art in 1979 has blended well his life-long mastery of the art of writing with modern art practices to produce what he calls "creative calligraphy".

Beautiful Chinese phrases such as yue yuan hua hao, meaning the moon is round and flowers in full bloom, and zhen xi suo you, meaning treasure all you have, are embedded in his modern abstract works of lines and drawings in Chinese ink.

More than 30 of them are on show at his solo exhibition which opened at a gallery in Tanglin Shopping Centre on Sunday.

Wee graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) in 1958, where he studied Chinese and Western art under Singapore pioneer artists, including the late See Hiang To, Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen.

He says he started experimenting with Chinese calligraphy 60 years ago. "I have always wanted to mix the traditional Chinese art of writing with modern composition and drawing techniques to see what they can produce," he explains.


Wee Beng Chong's artwork (above) features the Chinese phrase "yue yuan hua hao", meaning the moon is round and flowers in full bloom. PHOTO: NANMAN ART

But to do it well, he believes that one must master the art of Chinese writing and understand modern art concepts and practices well first.

And after working at it for a few decades, he is confident that he has done it well.

"Art is never static but ever evolving and so my creative calligraphy is still developing too," says Wee, who studied at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux- Arts in Paris from 1964 to 1969 when he learnt Western art.

He never abandoned Chinese art though, and for the past 40 years or so has devoted most of his time to teaching, particularly Chinese ink painting, calligraphy and seal- carving.

  • VIEW IT / WEE BENG CHONG CREATIVE CALLIGRAPHY EXHIBITION

    WHERE: Nanman Art, Tanglin Shopping Centre, 03-54, 19 Tanglin Road

    WHEN: Till Nov 2, 11 am to 6pm daily

    ADMISSION: Free

Wee, who is one of the seven founding members of Modern Art Society Singapore in 1964, joined Nafa in 1981 and taught full-time there till last year.

He teaches Chinese ink painting there part-time to a small group of about 15 students.

He says: "I still want to teach after all these years because I want to pass on my skills and knowledge to the younger generation and time is not on my side."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'Blending modern art and Chinese calligraphy'. Print Edition | Subscribe