Singapore painter Fan Chang Tien deserves more recognition

Speakers at symposium on the late Fan Chang Tien say he was an extraordinary artist

Painter Fan Chang Tien's daughter, Mrs Teresa Yao (left), is showing 60 of the artist's paintings.
Painter Fan Chang Tien's daughter, Mrs Teresa Yao (above), is showing 60 of the artist's paintings.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The legacy and works of Singapore pioneer Chinese ink painter Fan Chang Tien, a prominent practitioner of the Shanghai school of painting here between the 1950s and 1980s, deserves greater recognition and promotion.

This view was raised by veteran art writer Choy Weng Yang at a symposium on the late artist held last Saturday at The Arts House in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist's works.

Choy, who is also a second-generation Singapore artist, said: "Whenever we mention Fan Chang Tien, we talk about the marvellous second-generation Singapore ink painters he produced more than his own works.

"He didn't just produce those students, but was also an extraordinary artist himself."

His students include the late Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Ek Kay and Ling Cher Eng, as well as outstanding Chinese ink painters such as Nai Swee Leng, Henri Chen, Lim Kay Hiong, Lee Soo Chee, Tan Oe Pang and Low Eng.

Choy considers Fan to be a part of the Shanghai school lineage as he studied under students of the school's founder Wu Changshuo (1844-1927) before moving from China to Singapore in the early 1950s. He was also instrumental in passing on the artistic traditions of the Shanghai school of painting to a new generation of artists here.

Choy said: "Singapore is lucky to have had a direct descendant of Wu Changshuo, who changed the course of Chinese ink painting history and promoted the notion of the literati artist, someone who is not only good in painting, but also poetry, calligraphy and seal-carving, in addition to being a good person or gentleman."


  • WHERE: The Arts House Gallery 1, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: Till Friday, daily from 10am to 8pm


To promote Fan's works and legacy, he felt that national institutions such as the National Gallery Singapore could do more by collecting more of his works and making them accessible to the public.

Choy was among a six-member panel at the symposium. The other speakers were art writers K. C. Low and Teo Han Wue, Fan's former students Nai Swee Leng and Teo Yew Yap, and president of the Federation of Art Societies (Singapore) Stephen Leong.

Low, 74, expressed hope that Fan's students and future generations of the Shanghai school painters here will move away from subjects such as the mountains and flowers in China to local ones.

Teo, 70, spoke on the bamboo as a popular motif in Fan's paintings, which he used to symbolise values such as resilience, humility and integrity.

Artist Nai, 69, who was taught by Fan when he was a student at Whampoa Secondary School in the 1960s, shared his experience as a student of the ink master and spoke of how Fan had encouraged him to pursue his passion for painting.

Mrs Teresa Yao, one of Fan's four adopted daughters who is now in her early 70s, is showing 60 of the artist's paintings of bamboo and orchids, birds and flowers as well as fish and crabs at the current exhibition. This is the artist's fifth posthumous exhibition since he died at the age of 80 in 1987.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Painter deserves more recognition'. Subscribe