Artist was a pioneer art teacher in Singapore

Foo Chee San (in black) at the Chinese New Year reunion dinner with his relatives in his hometown in Hainan recently.
Foo Chee San (in black) at the Chinese New Year reunion dinner with his relatives in his hometown in Hainan recently. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FU YONGHUANG

Second-generation Singapore artist Foo Chee San, who suffered from dementia, died in his hometown in Hainan, China, early last week. He was 89.

The China-born painter, who left home when he was nine - first to work at his uncle's coffee shop in Pahang in then-Malaya and later studied at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) here - was known for his "Nanyang-style" oil and Chinese ink paintings.

Also known as an art educator, Foo, who was single, spent the last few years in his hometown in Wenchang county where he was looked after by his relatives.

His nephew, Mr Fu Yonghuang, 51, told The Straits Times in a telephone interview that his uncle, who had suffered from dementia over the past decade, was well, but on Feb 13, he complained of breathlessness and died shortly after of heart failure at home.

"He was frail, but high-spirited and we had our Chinese New Year reunion dinner recently, during which he ate well," he added.

Foo graduated from Nafa in 1956 and taught at Ai Tong School until 1963, when he won a Colombo Plan Scholarship to the Industrial Art Institute in Tokyo to study.

He came home a year later to be a lecturer at the former Teachers' Training College. He then became an assistant inspector of schools with the Education Ministry for two years before teaching at the National Institute of Education between 1971 and 1988.

In 1984, he returned to Japan and obtained a diploma in art education at the University of Tsukuba. He started teaching at Nafa from 1989 until he retired in 2011.

Before he left Singapore to join his nephew in Hainan, Nafa staged a retrospective exhibition for him in 2012. A Tribute To Foo Chee San featured his works from the 1960s to 2004, including several woodblock prints.

Artist Lee Teck Suan, 63, said: "Foo should be remembered as a pioneer art educator in Singapore besides his outstanding works in Chinese ink."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Artist was a pioneer art teacher in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe