Chua Ek Kay: After the Rain, National Gallery Singapore

Chua Ek Kay (1947 – 2008) was one of Singapore’s leading ink painters. After the Rain is the major works of Chua, covering over three decades of his prolific practice. This exhibtion includes works that illuminate Chua’s approaches to ink painting and underscore his contributions to its development in Singapore.

Chua Ek Kay is regarded as one of Singapore’s leading ink practitioners, celebrated for his distinctive visual vocabulary that bridges Chinese ink painting traditions and Western aesthetics. His first show, in 1988, was a success, and within two decades of becoming a full-time artist, he enjoyed a level of acclaim that few other artists in Singapore had.

After the Rain is a reflection of Chua’s artistic journey. He had a clear affinity with water, often referring to watery reflections, lotus ponds or rain in his paintings. Water also alludes to the potential for growth and renewal after adversity, which is a reflection of Chua’s artistic journey. It reminds us that although his practice has come to an end, his paintings have an afterlife, inspiring and captivating future audiences.

This exhibition commemorates the significant donation of 38 works by the artist’s family to the National Collection in 2010 – 2011.

Chua Ek Kay was a Singaporean artist hailed as the “bridge between Asian and Western art” with a unique painting style using Chinese ink on paper that demonstrated an ingenious blend of traditional Chinese painting forms with Western art theories and techniques. Most of his works were themed of Chinatown street scenes, lotuses, and abstract works inspired by Australian aboriginal cave paintings.

When Chua was under the tutelage of Fan Chang Tien, he not only learnt the four elements of the “Shanghai School” – calligraphy, classical poetry, painting and seal-carving from his master. Fan drilled him in the principles of 花鸟 (Chinese: huā niǎo, or “flower–bird”), and enforced Chua’s foundations in his art. This also intensified his interest in art, studying the aesthetics of post-Ming Dynasty masters particularly of Shih-Tao.

Fan Chang Tien also reminded Chua to be expressive in whatever subject matter he painted, for there was rhythm with each stroke. This “life” in his paintings also had to come with an understanding of “black within black”, expressing art through different gradations of ink tones to capture a “simplistic complexity” in the depiction of the subject matter.

As he explored Western ideas in his art, he found that the difference between western and eastern art lay solely in their spirits: western art was forceful, and eastern art more introspective. He also found that the emergence of “east-west art fusion” in art adopted by pioneer Singapore artists in the 1950s and 1960s was partly due to the Cultural Revolution. That Revolution not only closed China’s door from the rest of the world, it also locked away its “conventional Chinese art themes of snowy peaks and gushing rivers” that were identified with by Chinese artists overseas. Singapore artists then realized they did not really relate to these conventional art themes and they should adopt familiar subjects that they could distill through their emotion and artistry. Many artists in that period were also English-educated, and thus adopted western ideas as alternative sources of art. While Chua’s creations are infused with Western artistic spontaneity, he felt that tradition continued to play an important role in breaking new ground and generating inspirations in art.

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Chua continued to practise Han calligraphy and ink-brush painting, as he believed that while a contemporary painting had to keep up with the times and embody an artist’s temperament and the ideals he stands for, in creating art he should be rooted to certain basic rules and formats. The discipline of Chinese art helped to strengthen his lines, while western techniques helped him in the mixing of tones. These techniques formed the basis of his art.

‘After the Rain’ presents the achievements of Chua Ek Kay and commemorates the significant donation made by his family to the National Collection. It examines his artistic development through his interests in calligraphy and poetry, the Shanghai School of ink painting, and Western art. The exhibition will examine the important themes that Chua continuously revisited throughout his career.

The Gallery’s presentation will be the first historical survey of the artist’s career by a national museum, covering his most important works and artistic interests, including the Singapore cityscape and reflections on nature.

This exhibition commemorates the significant donation of 38 works by the artist’s family to the National Collection in 2010 – 2011. Some of Chua’s works include ‘After the Rain (2004)’, ‘Midnight Lotus (2002)’, ‘Dream of Borobudur (1996)’, ‘My Haunt (1991)’, ‘An Intimate Space of Stillness (1995)’ and ‘Song of Cicada (1995)’.

National Gallery Singapore
National Gallery Singapore is a leading visual arts institution which oversees the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art. Situated at the birthplace of modern Singapore, in the heart of the Civic District, the Gallery is housed in two national monuments – City Hall and former Supreme Court – that have been beautifully restored and transformed into this exciting 64,000 square metres venue. Reflecting Singapore’s unique heritage and geographical location, the Gallery aims to be a progressive museum that creates dialogues between the art of Singapore, Southeast Asia and the world to foster and inspire a creative and inclusive society. This is reflected in our collaborative research, education, long-term and special exhibitions, and innovative programming. The Gallery also works with international museums such as Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay, Tate Britain, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT) and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA), to jointly present Southeast Asian art in the global context, positioning Singapore as a key node in the global visual arts scene.

National Gallery Singapore oversees the world’s leading public collection of modern art from Singapore and Southeast Asia. It comprises over 8,000 works from the 19th and 20th centuries in all media, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography and video.

Aiming to be the centre for research, discussion and publication on the modern art of the region, the Gallery offers wide access and fresh understanding of our unique visual art heritage.

With its comprehensive collection, the Gallery presents the development of Singapore and regional cultures to tell their social, economic and political histories. The Gallery looks beyond national and regional boundaries of art to include a wider ambit of international visual arts culture, research into Asian heritage and cultural affiliations, and engage with global cultures and discourses.