Acclaimed Singapore artist Choo Keng Kwang dies at 88

Artist Choo Keng Kwang, seen here in 2013, was awarded the Public Service Medal in 1976 for his contributions to art.
Artist Choo Keng Kwang, seen here in 2013, was awarded the Public Service Medal in 1976 for his contributions to art. LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Acclaimed Singapore artist Choo Keng Kwang, known for his oil paintings of Chinatown and doves, died early yesterday morning at the age of 88.

The master artist, who was admitted to Sengkang General Hospital earlier this month after suffering a stroke, is survived by his wife, five children and six grandchildren.

Born in Singapore in 1931, Mr Choo was the only son of a Teochew trader. After gaining certificates from Catholic High School and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) - where he had enrolled simultaneously - he began his career as a teacher.

He was later the principal of Sin Hua School and head of the art education department at Nafa.

He started on-the-spot painting in the streets when he was in his 30s. Accompanied by his tireless father, who would carry the easel and paints, and an umbrella to shelter his son, he headed to places such as Chinatown and staked out his subjects for hours on end.

Mr Choo eventually gained a reputation as a painter who could combine Western impressionism and rules of perspective with traditional Chinese brushwork.

He continued working on his paintings and woodcuts in spite of the pain due to a degenerative spinal cord condition.

The artist, who made numerous trips across South-east Asia, depicted the rural lifestyles in the region. He is also remembered for his paintings of animals. He once had more than 20 doves in his Pasir Ris home, a pet rooster and about 10 persian cats - all of which became subjects in his paintings.

He was awarded the Public Service Medal in 1976 for his contributions to art. A long-time philanthropist, he has also donated his paintings and proceeds from their sales to charity.

FONDNESS FOR CHINATOWN

He painted almost every corner and street of Chinatown - except Sago Lane. He loved the character of Chinatown, and loved to go there for the food.

FILM-MAKER ERIC LIM, who recently filmed artist Choo Keng Kwang for his documentary Memories Of Chinatown. 

Former president Ong Teng Cheong was a fan of Mr Choo's work. The Singapore Government also commissioned Mr Choo's paintings as gifts to foreign dignitaries.

 

  • PAYING LAST RESPECTS

    • A wake for Choo Keng Kwang will be held at 6 Pasir Ris Way until Wednesday.

    • The cortege will depart at 2pm on Wednesday for Mandai Crematorium.

In 1989, four postage stamps were issued bearing the artist's Chinatown paintings.

Mr Choo's eldest daughter Ivy Choo, 62, said: "He was a great father. He never lost his temper. I admire him because he did a lot for charity. He was generous - regardless of whether you were relatives, friends or (others). As long as he was able to, he would help."

Film-maker Eric Lim, 55, recently filmed Mr Choo for his documentary Memories Of Chinatown that premieres next month. He said Mr Choo had a jovial personality.

"He painted almost every corner and street of Chinatown - except Sago Lane. He loved the character of Chinatown, and loved to go there for the food."

Mr Choo stopped painting his favourite haunt, however, "as the view has changed a lot", Mr Lim said. Mr Choo was still working on his art when Mr Lim filmed him in October.

"I was amazed. Even with a mild stroke, he had the determination to complete his paintings," said the director.

Mr Johnny Yu, whose gallery DaTang Fine Arts has held six exhibitions of Mr Choo's work since 2003, told The Sunday Times in Mandarin: "In the early days, people said his work was similar to Lee Man Fong's. But even though there are similarities, the two artists had different styles and Choo tends to be better at painting larger works."

 

The gallery sold a 2.1m by 1.3m dove painting by Mr Choo for $228,000 in 2013.

Mr Yu, who described the late artist as amiable and unassuming, added: "Now that he's gone, it's a big loss for the arts scene in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 15, 2019, with the headline 'Acclaimed Singapore artist Choo Keng Kwang dies at 88'. Print Edition | Subscribe