Untitled (Puppet Maker)

Cheong Soo Pieng, born in Xiamen (Amoy), China in 1914, was accomplished in ink painting having received training in art at Xiamen Academy of Art and Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. A year after his arrival in Singapore in 1946, he started lecturing at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and stayed on till 1961. However it was a trip taken with fellow artists Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang in 1952 to Bali to seek inspiration and seek fresh subject matter that sealed his standing as a pivotal figure in Singapore’s modern art development. He was part of a group of artists that attempted to articulate a style identifiable and pertinent to post-war Singapore, then known collectively with Malaysia, as Malaya. This style, later crystallized as the Nanyang style, provided a foundation upon which future generations of artists learned and expanded on. A key element of the Nanyang style is the synthesis of Chinese pictorial elements and the diverse formalistic qualities from the School of Paris. In 1962, the Singapore government awarded Cheong with the Meritorious Service Medal. He passed away in 1983.‘Untitled (Puppet Maker)’ is one of the works produced between 1953 and 1959 which gave rise to Cheong’s new figurative forms. After the historic trip to Bali in 1952, he made further studies of the human figure, exploring and reducing the features of his subjects to angular forms. As street performers have all but vanished, this painting offers a glimpse of life in early Malaya.