Singapore artists who took a bite of the Big Apple

Choy Weng Yang (left) and Wong Keen in front of their pieces Radiant Lotuses and Lotus XX.
Choy Weng Yang (left) and Wong Keen in front of their pieces Radiant Lotuses and Lotus XX.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Local artist Wong Keen says there is no such thing as purely original and creative art.

Gesturing to his painting mounted on the adjacent wall, he says: "Most of my work has a bit of Bada and a bit of de Kooning. Every artist has a certain line and mine has led to this."

The 1999 piece, titled Lotus XX, is one of 20 artworks that will be on display at an exhibition called Singapore Artists In The States.

Held at Artcommune Gallery in Bras Basah Complex, the exhibition highlights the influence of New York art movements in moulding the stylistic expressions of four Singaporean artists, including Choy Weng Yang, Goh Beng Kwan and Zhuang Sheng Tao.

Wong, 75, who is based in California and Singapore, pursued his art education at the Art Student League in New York in 1961.

During this time, he was exposed to many renowned masters, including Willem de Kooning, a Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist, whose works reflected the prevailing art movement then.

  • VIEW IT/ SINGAPORE ARTISTS IN THE STATES

  • WHERE: Artcommune Gallery, 03-39 Bras Basah Complex, 231 Bain Street

    WHEN: May 19 to 31

    ADMISSION: Free

    ARTISTS' FORUM AT ARTCOMMUNE GALLERY

    WHERE: Artcommune Gallery WHEN: May 20, 2.30pm

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.facebook.com/events/252978881836630/

"Being in New York opened up my mind. I entered a world where art was already established in the culture and history and I began to have a broader idea of what was possible as an artist."

Before his departure for the US, Wong studied under pioneer artists Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang, who he says cultivated in him a deep reverence for Chinese ink painting.

Following his return to Singapore, Wong decided to explore the niche intersection between Eastern and Western styles.

Choy had a similar experience in the Big Apple when he moved there in 1973 under the Unesco fellowship.

Incidentally, it was Wong who helped him settle in and introduced him to one of his biggest artistic influences, Josef Albers.

On his personal development as an abstract painter, the Singapore-based Choy says: "I went through a period of liberation. As a result, I am much more open to evolving my art and you can see that from the transitions in my style."

The 86-year-old, who is known for his interpretations of natural elements, says his works are inspired by three components, namely light, colour and abstraction.

"After America, I had a change in my own perception of art, but particularly the realisation that art is boundless."

In conjunction with the exhibition, Artcommune will host an Artists' Forum, where Choy and Wong will discuss how the New York scene transformed their artistic identity and practice.

Ms Ma Peiyi, who curated the exhibition, says: "In the 1960s, the Singapore artists who travelled abroad for art education mostly headed for Paris or the United Kingdom. The few who ventured to New York, which was then the most avant-garde art scene in the world, absorbed the manifold influences of Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field painting into their artistic identity.

"This exhibition brings to the fore some of the formal aestheticisms experimented by these Singapore artists who developed their practice in connection with the New York School."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore artists who took a bite of the Big Apple'. Print Edition | Subscribe