As a result of the Sino-Japanese war and the effects that it had upon his artistic education, Cheong Soo Pieng initially studied watercolours for oil and similar materials were difficult to obtain. Paired together with the classical “Shan Shui” aesthetic that coloured traditional Chinese landscape paintings, Cheong Soo Pieng’s foray into art was largely governed by his cultural heritage, and Chinese ancestry. When he had relocated with his family to Singapore in the mid-forties, Cheong Soo Pieng had already received a sound education in classical Chinese painting.
Nature I is an important piece in the artist’s oeuvre, for it is demonstrative of Cheong Soo Pieng’s divorce from his classical education, with the artwork appropriating Western ideologies into what may be perceived as an Asian landscape. Similar themes are evident in the artist’s earlier works, such as Studies in Abstract Composition (Fig. 1) and Solemnity (Fig. 2), created a few years prior to the present painting. Within these two works, he has already begun to redefine the landscape as a series of abstract shapes within the narratives. The present painting ultimately represents a period in Cheong Soo Pieng’s career that reveals the emergence of his favoured styles that would come to populate the later works.
A keen traveller, Cheong Soo Pieng was inspired by his many sojourns, and incorporated these experiences into his works. Notable destinations that greatly influenced the artist were Indonesia and Europe. The former featured prominently within the paintings, for he was fascinated by Indonesia’s local traditions, and vibrant landscapes. His oeuvre is reflective of the lifelong relationship that he had with the country.
It was the artist’s travels to Europe, however, that had a transformative impact on his techniques, and exploration with different genres. The artist had originally visited England in 1955 with his fellow Nanyang artists to participate in a group exhibition of their works. However, 1962 marked the artist’s first solo visit to Europe to participate in numerous shows, and share his artworks with a foreign audience.
It was in London where he exhibited his paintings at famous galleries including Frost and Reed and Redfern, that the artist was exposed to the works of European masters like Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Paul Klee, and Braque. Amongst this group of painters, it was Klee who Cheong Soo Pieng admired the most, captivated by the painter’s application of light and shadows in his abstract landscape paintings.
The present painting further demonstrates Cheong Soo Pieng’s interest to experiment with abstract forms, and creative nuances. As seen in the artist’s earlier works, Studies in Abstract Composition and Solemnity, Nature I reflects an evolution in his maturation as a painter. The expressive brushstrokes in the present painting, alludes to his classical training with watercolours as a young artist. By embracing vivid colours and textures as means to intensify the mood of the nocturnal landscape, Cheong Soo Pieng succeeds in capturing the subtle poetic feeling of space and depth that exists within the narrative.
Nature I was created a few years after the artist’s solo visit to Europe, evident of the influences that he brought back with him to Asia. Therefore it may be said that while Indonesia inspired the artist visually, it was his experiences in Europe that had a direct influence upon his techniques, and confidence as an artist.
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