Lee Man Fong
- Lee Man Fong
- Rojak Seller
- Signed and stamped with two seals of the artist
- Oil on Masonite board
- 122 by 60 cm; 48 by 23 1/2 in.
The present piece is a portrayal of human connections— the social interaction and intimacies between the children and woman as seen per the artist’s observation of this singular moment from village life. It is a compassionate scene where the individuals are gifted with their own characteristics, the painting acting as a visual story of their relationship as street vendor and children, or conversely as the female archetype with surrounding youth. Women played a significant role in Lee Man Fong’s oeuvre. Notably in the works dedicated to female weavers, as well as the sweeping narratives found in his Bali themed paintings that paired archetypes of island living with individuals from the artist’s own memory.
During his days in Indonesia, Lee Man Fong was awarded a scholarship from the Dutch government. In these seven years abroad in the Netherlands, Lee Man Fong fully immersed himself in studying Western art. Rembrandt and Vermeer were two artists who had an influence upon the artist’s usage of light and shadows, as well as subject matter that favored rural daily life. Rojak Seller can be seen as the Southeast Asian version of domestic livelihood. The Western comparable may be Vermeer’s painting, The Milkmaid, which is a depiction of a woman pouring milk as the sunlight illuminates her silhouette in the kitchen interior.
Stylistically Rojak Seller shares similarities with classical Chinese paintings such as Twelve Beauties in Leisure Painted for Prince Yinzhen, the women in both artworks an idealized version of their gender, their physiques adhering to Chinese aesthetics of femininity. The vertical composition adopted by Lee Man Fong also refers to the Chinese aesthetic of the Shanshui philosophy that is the hallmark of classical Chinese painting, a further testament to Lee Man Fong’s Eastern ancestry and cultural heritage. “Lee Man Fong lived in a region where the beauty of the landscape often created a compelling narcissism amongst painters to capture it. This situation demanded that the representational approach to turn landscape and reality into Art.”
While Rojak Seller focuses on the activities of one person, the artist’s other island narrative titled Bali Life presents a larger perspective on village life. That painting is an assemblage of various figures all performing different tasks, their actions and relationships propelling the narrative forward. These island themed paintings all possessed an innate respect towards the feminine spirit, celebrating the woman as the matriarch and nurturer in the local society. The present work perfectly exemplifies Lee Man Fong’s favored aesthetics and frequented motifs that populated his oeuvre. By merging together Eastern and Western artistic traditions, his collection of paintings provide a cohesive narrative of the Indonesian people and rural landscape, while making references to Chinese classical paintings and his Asian lineage. As said by the artist himself, “Paintings are the flowers of culture. They speak without words. They are not limited by time, nationality or language. They have souls of their own.”2
1 Ho Kung-Shang, Michelle Loh, The Oil Paintings of Lee Man Fong, Art Book Co. Ltd.,Singapore, 2014, p. 7
2 Ho Kung-Shang, Michelle Loh, The Oil Paintings of Lee Man Fong, Art Book Co. Ltd.,Singapore, 2014, p. 6