A Showcase of 3 Generations of Singaporean Artists
‘Modern’ In Singapore: A Way of Looking at Art
by Woo Fook Wah (Dr.) & Derelyn Chua (Ms.)
The concept of Modern may be useful to help us understand the similarities and differences between the development of Singapore Chinese art and general trends in the world of art in the 20th century. Singapore’s history in this period can be described as a crossroad between the East and the West, where both interact on a daily basis in the local marketplace, adopting and adapting different cultures. This trade of cultures have resulted in a nation-state that has a unique interpretation of life and living. The idea of Modern that began in the West in the early 19th century had become so pervasive that it was brought to the East through colonisation. The effects of those worldviews had lingered on with different degrees of acceptance. In Singapore, where the population of immigrants became ascendant and the search of an identity became urgent in a melting pot of differences, the idea of Modern became appealing. The acceptance and interpretation of Modern were further complicated by the migration of the Chinese from Mainland China. These migrants were looking for, amongst other things, an alternative solution to their national crisis. In tandem with this migration, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (“NAFA”) was formed, led by a teaching faculty, which were oftentimes well travelled and educated. This essay and exhibition are concerned with Singapore art that most Singaporeans are immersed in. We intend to explore the concept of Modern and how it applies to our art scene; as well as the successor of the idea of Modern - the Postmodern. This will help us to trace the progress of Singapore Chinese art against the evolution of worldviews that has dominated Western philosophy, which eventually found converts in Singapore. This paper and exhibition do not represent or consider art works by other races other than Chinese artists. This gap does not render this paper and/ or exhibition futile due to the dominance of Chinese artists in Singapore art history, and instead, serves as a starting point to see the difference between modernism and modernity. This discussion will also seek to distinguish modern art and postmodern art in the Singapore context, to begin a conversation of Modern in its finer aspect - which some have labelled “Singapore Modern” or “Singapore Postmodern’.
What is Modern? The dictionary meaning of the word ‘Modern’ is “… relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past”. It is a Late Middle English derived from late Latin ‘modernus’, which has its root in Latin ‘modo’, which means ‘just now’. In another definition, ‘modern’ in its nominal sense has to do with the idea that is related to or characteristic of contemporary styles of art, literature, and music etc., that reject traditionally accepted or sanctioned forms. It emphasizes individual experimentation and sensibility. It is a word that is used to describe changes in the recent times (including recent time in time past) against what is understood to be traditionally held as correct or norm. From this word, we derive the words ‘modernity’ and ‘modernism’. These two words have been often misunderstood to be interchangeable. As a result, confusion arises in the discourse of what Modern and Postmodern art is. Let us begin by elucidating the difference between modernity and modernism. These two words, in strict sense, are not interchangeable as they describe different aspects of the idea of modern.
a. Modernity Modernity is a temporal concept that an idea is relative to time and more specifically, recent times. It is not a worldview per se. It is about changes that have occurred during a time period that we have circumscribed it as ‘recent time.’ Paul Nadal described modernity in this way: “Whether conceived as a category of historical periodization, an aesthetic concept, or a form of social experience, modernity is arguably predicated on a notion of time and history. Insofar as the term “modernity” refers to the quality or character of being “modern,” it entails a judgment concerning a subject’s time and place in history. Modernity, to borrow a term from Husserl, is a form of time consciousness: it expresses a specific relation to time, where the sense of being modern is predicated on a concept of the “now” as breaking free from the bonds of tradition and pre-modern belief systems. But just as it refers to a certain consciousness of time, a sense of “newness” about the present, modernity embodies also a system of knowledge about the world. To be modern implies a manner of apprehending the world such that its present possibilities and element of change are seized upon toward fuller development.” Charles Taylor theorized that the rise of modernity could be understood in two ways. Firstly, there is a cultural theory of modernity.Citing the example of the modern West where a new culture arose and was seen as a culture (or a group of cultures that are very closely related) with its own specific definition of individuality, morality, and the nature of society. This culture can be contrasted even to its own preceding civilizations, which it obviously had very much in common with. The demise of the older traditions ushered in a development phase - rationalizing and synthesizing old values gave rise to a new dominant culture. The second method of understanding the rise of modernity is through an acultural theory. In this theory, modernity was conceived as the result of the growth of reason. The resultant transformations are not due to a specific constellation of understandings like the meaning of individuality, the concept of good and nature of society. Instead, changes can arise from any ‘inputs’ like proliferation of population mobility; exposure to increased scientific research; or even secularization of religions. Modernity in this theory is seen as a development from a rational social operation, which is culture-neutral. The logic of this theory also points to the idea of modernity as a point of convergence. In other words, the march of modernity necessarily means that all cultures will eventually become similar. Ironically, a Chinese scholar-official, Kang You-Wei, had proposed a similar idea at the end of the 19th century in his work “Da Tong Shu (大同書)”, which literally means the Book of Great Unity.
b. Modernism Modernism, as a proper noun, is used to refer to a philosophical movement that (along with social and political changes) had contributed to wide and far-reaching transformations in the Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is difficult to define clearly and precisely what the movement encompassed, but various specific artistic and philosophical worldviews that can be included under its philosophy are: capitalism, socialism, existentialism, impressionism, cubism, symbolism, structuralism, and others. Clement Greenberg surmised that Enlightenment in the West was one that criticized from the outside, while Modernism criticized from the inside through procedures of which are being criticized. The example was given in the subject of art. Like in art, the realistic, illusionist art of the Enlightenment had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art, whereas, Modernism used art to call attention to art. The medium that constituted the limitation to paintings, such as the properties of pigments and the flat surface, were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors that could be acknowledged only implicitly or indirectly, while Modernist artists had come to acknowledge the same factors as positive traits to be addressed. For instance, the Old Masters would preserve what may be called the integrity of plane in their artworks, by creating three-dimensional illusions on the flat surface of the canvas while the Modernist artists would acknowledge the ineluctable flatness and attempt to make use of the flatness as in the cubists’ works. The influence of Modernism has been ubiquitous throughout the tumultuous path of history as various nations awakened to the need for change and progress, especially in the face of globalization. However, it is not always straightforward, and artworks that emerge during these periods of upheavals are informed by political, social, religious contexts, and acquire layers of meaning and significance. Papers have been written about the influence of Modernism investigating traces of the effects that could be found in India, China and Southeast Asia. Geeta Kapur in the concluding remarks of his essay “When Was Modernism in Indian Art?” wrote: “In India for the moment, it looks as though there is a modernism that almost never was. The more political among Indian artists may be right after all in believing that the yet unresolved national questions may account for an incomplete modernism that still possesses the radical power it had lost elsewhere… Mapping the chronological scale of realism/ modernism/ postmodernism of the lived history of our own deeply ambivalent passage through this century, it may be useful to situate modernity itself like an elegiac metaphor in the ‘new world order.’” Meanwhile, Ralph Croizier had this to say about Modern Chinese art: “In the eighties as in the thirties, modern art in China was very much a part of what Xiaomei Chen has called ‘Chinese Occidentalism’: the conscious use of western culture, values and institutions as a critique of existing culture and society and a way to break through to the future… Yet for all the abruptness with which the New Art Waves was terminated, the bold ‘No-U Turn’ logo that these would be avant-gardists, at their First Modern Art Exhibition in Beijing proved prophetic. After Tiananmen, China did not turn back to national tradition or socialist realism. Veterans of the eighties … caught the new market-driven times by adopting postmodern strategies from the West …”. While Japan underwent an imperialist modernization, most of Southeast Asia entered the modern era through colonisation. It is not surprising then that given the diversity of experiences, each nation-state in Southeast Asia responded differently to Modernization, to deal with the unique challenges of nation building.
Singapore, having been colonised by the British and at the same time with migrants coming in droves, is not spared from the influence of Modernism, especially in the arts. In a way, the influence was, at least, two-pronged: a direct Western influence and one that came from those who adopted by Modernism. When was Modernism in Singapore and what did that mean? We will develop this more below.
The various categories of thoughts in fine art include:
They were considered radical in their time reacting against the official rules of academic paintings crafting a modernity of their time. Instead of producing details and photo-like or idealized form of images, the impressionists preferred capturing moments of time with emphasis on the shifting of lights and colours on objects. They majored in outdoor painting. There was a recognition that what the eye saw and what the brain understood can be very different and the objective was to capture the former. This was closely link to the existential worldview, where emphasis was placed on freedom and authenticity of experience. Their paintings caused a stir in academia, challenging the way that things should be seen and depicted. Impressionist artists include Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, and many others.
Post-Impressionism (different from Postmodernism)
This movement (also sometime refers as neo-impressionism) encompasses a series of reactions towards the optical definition of Impressionist art. Many stylistic expressions arose and took the art world in different directions. We will discuss some of the styles here.
Symbolism of Paul Gauguin - Gauguin studied Impressionism and having mastered the technique, he ventured out by experimenting colour theories and semi-decorative approaches to painting. He worked alongside Van Gogh when the latter was residing in the South of France. Gauguin’s art integrated mystical symbolism and rituals in the daily lives of ‘primitive’ societies of Polynesia with his own impressionist training, giving rise to a kind of mystical romanticism. The Nabis (from the Hebrew and Arabic term for “prophets,”) were a Symbolist, cult-like group founded by Paul Sérusier that grew out of the works of Gauguin.
Pointillism of Georges Seurat - Seurat was fascinated by the scientific theory of colour and form. He juxtaposed colours using dots to produce vivid and exciting tones as compared to mixing different colour pigments together. He called his technique ‘chromo-luminism’, better known as ‘Divisionism’ or ‘Pointillism’. Sharing his techniques were well-known artist like Henri Martin, Paul Signac, Jean Vollet and others.
Fauvism - Fauvism was developed by a group of 20th Century modern artists. This style of post-impressionist expression include artists such as Matisse, Derain, Albert Marquet, Kees van Dongen, Georges Rouault, Raoul Dufy, Jean Metzinger, Maurice de Vlaminck, and others. Georges Braque was with the group for a while before he explored Cubism with Picasso. A key feature of this style was to separate colours from the objects so that the interaction of colours by themselves formed a different story to the form of the object being depicted. Hence the colours need not maintain integrity to natural world. The forms are usually simplified, flat and strong. It emphasized the individuality and emotional feeling of the artist.
Cubism - Picasso and Braque pioneered this 20th Century art movement. Artists such as Andre Lhote, Robert Delaunay, Jean Metzinger, Henri Le, and Fernand Léger joined this movement. The influence of Paul Cezanne’s work, like that of ‘Biremes Quarry’ painted in oil on canvas in 1895 saw the evolution to Cubism. Perspective, which was a principle that enabled a three dimensional object to be represented on a two dimensional surface gave the illusion of reality. However, the Cubists thought that to advance the works of art, removing those rigid geometrical considerations could solve the obstacles posed by the limitations of perspective. They introduced a new way of seeing by bringing together the perception of observation and implication into an image. Analytic cubism preceded synthetic cubism. Analytic cubism depicts object from several viewpoints on a canvas in the attempt to portray space in different ways, whereas synthetic cubism attempts to re-construct the objects being portrayed by putting the original planes of the object into different positions altogether.
c. Postmodernism There has still yet to be an absolute agreement with regards to the crossover point between Modernism and Postmodernism. The term ‘Postmodern’ was first used around the 1880s, where John Watkins Chapman suggested “a Post-modern style of painting” as a way to depart from French Impressionism. It is difficult to pinpoint a precise beginning of Postmodernism. However, it is fair to say that there was overlap between the two eras of the two philosophical worldviews: Modernism and Postmodernism, and perhaps the transition is still on going today. A clear crossover between the end of Modernism and a complete entry into Postmodernism is still forthcoming. Therefore, as for now, it is about which philosophy is more dominant. Postmodernism in Western philosophy is a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad scepticism, relativism, or subjectivism, or; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. It dabbled with the ontological - querying what is real in the actual world and in fiction. The term has also been used to describe music, religion and architecture, and in the arts, popular postmodern worldviews include: Deconstructionism, Hyperrealism, Minimalism and Subjectivism among others. Influential proponents of Postmodernist worldviews include: Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard, to name a few. Many art categories have arisen with the Postmodernism. Below are some examples to illustrate what had Postmodernism brought to the world of art.
Installation Art- This is a genre of three-dimensional artwork that is site-specific and it transforms the perception of space. It can be permanent or moveable. The key importance of the subjective point of view when experiencing installation art is a challenge to the traditional Platonic image theory, disregarding the distinction between the “imagining reality” (which is perceptible but unintelligible) and the “reality imagination” (which is imperceptible but intelligible). Installation art works within the realm of sensory perception of the viewer. It brings the viewers into an artificial system by appealing to the viewer’s subjective faculties and letting the viewers experience a subjective flight, like in a simulator.
Conceptual Art - Conceptual art involves a concept or idea taking precedence over traditional aesthetic, and can also be staged as an installation. The idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. It is a form of a progressive reduction to the essence. When a conceptual artist conceives his artwork, his planning and decisions of the message in the artwork is made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea is what drives the make of the artwork. Ideas explored in conceptual art include the idea of Deconstructionism, Hyperrealism, and others.
Pop Art - This late 1950s art movement challenged the fine art tradition via incorporation of mass culture and other popular images into the artworks. Using irony, subversion, mockery, or other similar strategies, they bring to fore the banal that are present in our daily lives. They also take popular images from advertising like the Campbell soup can and reproduce it through mechanical means like silk-screening and collages. This genre of art is characterized by a sense of optimism brought about by the consumer boom of the fifties and sixties, after the two catastrophic world wars. It also coincides with the rise of the pop cultures of the time. Artists of this movement include Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Roy Hamilton, and others.is late 1950s art movement challenged the fine art tradition via incorporation of mass culture and other popular images into the artworks. Using irony, subversion, mockery, or other similar strategies, they bring to fore the banal that are present in our daily lives. They also take popular images from advertising like the Campbell soup can and reproduce it through mechanical means like silk-screening and collages. This genre of art is characterized by a sense of optimism brought about by the consumer boom of the fifties and sixties, after the two catastrophic world wars. It also coincides with the rise of the pop cultures of the time. Artists of this movement include Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Roy Hamilton, and others.
Performance Art - This is a performance presented within a fine art context. The performance can be spontaneous or scripted; with or without an audience; and not restricted by space or time. Simply put, it can happen in any setting. Performance art is an antithesis to theatre by challenging traditional art forms such as utility and meaning. It emphasizes ephemeral experiences and authenticity for both the performer and the audience. It may also be referred to as a conceptual art form.
Digital Art - This art form has been also called multi-media art or computer art. Digital Art uses digital technology to produce artistic works. The extent of this art form can be as large as a digital art installation covering an entire building; or pixel works on an A4 size paper; or just virtual reality. The fact is that these new digital skills have diminished the importance of traditional art-making skills like drawing and painting, and hence, the question of whether is should be look upon as part of fine art in the traditional sense.
Modernism and Postmodernism in Singapore
Modernism in art arrived in Singapore, largely through the efforts of NAFA, as founded by Lim Hak Tai and like-minded artists. The vision of artist Huang Sui Heng, who was founder of the Xiamen Art Academy in Fujian, had encouraged Lim Hak Tai, who was then teaching in Xiamen to establish an art school in Singapore. Coincidentally, sometime in 1937, Yong Mun Sen, then vice-president of The Society of Chinese Artists (“SCA”), wanted to set up a fine arts academy in Singapore. Accordingly, Lim Hak Tai and a group of art teachers migrated to Singapore that same year to undertake the challenges of setting up a formal art school in Singapore. This new school was to share a space with SCA, and the curriculum included a balance of Western and Chinese art traditions. NAFA and SCA would co-organize activities, such as inviting guest artists like Xu Beihong and Liu Haisu to speak. One of the guidelines that Lim established was the fusion of Eastern and Western art forms. Many Chinese migrant artists arrived after, including Chen Wen Hsi, Cheng Chong Swee, Cheong Soo Pieng, Lui Kang and Georgette Chen. They brought with them their wealth of art knowledge and made a deep impression in the local art scene. While Modernism had entered Singapore via many other channels, it is also important to acknowledge the role of politics in Mainland China. In early 20th century, China was struggling with its own modernity in the wake of its political upheavals. Many Chinese artists had gone to the West and Japan in search of the meaning and way of progress, and they brought modernism back to China. Others were influenced through their association with modern art schools in China, like the Xinhua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai, which taught Western Modernism in its curriculum. When some of these artists migrated to Singapore, they brought along their education, to the benefit of the Singapore art scene. Lim was one of these migrants who had studied Chinese and Western Paintings in the Amoy Art Teacher’s College. He inspired the idea of a Nanyang Style Art Form and persuaded his peers, Liu Kang, Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi and Chen Chong Swee, to seek inspiration from the well-known Bali Excursion in 1952, establishing the Nanyang Style Art Form, which has certainly made its mark in Southeast Asia’s art history. Liu Kang had his art education at the Shanghai College of Fine Arts (later known as the Xinhua Art Academy), and then travelled to Paris and studied in the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. He also presided over SCA, which had a numerous members and far-reaching influence in Southeast Asia. He was also a founding member of the Singapore Art Society, and was the President for 11 years. His artworks reveal influences by Impressionists and Post-Impression Fauvism. He uses bright colours and colours that are separate from original objects so that the colours interact on their own to form a different story to the object being depicted. Chen Wen Hsi studied in the Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai where he met Chen Chong Swee and Liu Kang. His artworks show influences from Analytic Cubism and Fauvism. In Analytic Cubism, solid masses as seen Braque’s and Picasso’s early paintings were transformed composition where form of objects depicted were fragmented into planes and plates, set in low relief against each other. The edges of the planes were allowed to run into each other, thus, giving the illusion that their contents flow into one another. Chen combined the technique with the colour concept of Fauvism and traditional Chinese art practices resulting in a non-naturalistic, colourful and vibrant art piece in his Western paintings. Cheong Soo Pieng was educated in the Xiamen Academy of Fine Art. After he graduated, he furthered his studies in the Xinhua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai. His focus was mainly on the early form of Cubism. He experimented with diverse materials, mediums, and ideas, for instance, copper and aluminium relief, painting on Masonite board, mixed media and abstractionism, and early ideas of Postmodernism. His untiring efforts to push the boundaries of art brought about much excitement and anticipation from his supporters, who were always looking forward to his new works at art shows. Chen Chong Swee also graduated from Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts. His training in Xinhua firmly grounded him in traditional principles of Chinese painting. However, he saw that the traditions of Chinese painting were ready to be reformed in Shanghai, and also in the greater China, where artists were already synthesising modernism with conventional principles of Chinese paintings. Besides co-founding SCA, he also co-founded Singapore Watercolour Society with Lim Cheng Hoe and Loy Chye Chuan. Chen was a realist artist and he strived to represent the subject matter accurately. He thought that everyone should have access to the arts instead of only being confined to the elites, which is a basic tenet of modernism, should easily understand a painting. Georgette Chen attended high school in America, and studied art at the Art Students League of New York in 1926. The following year she returned to Paris where her family lived, to study at the Académie Colarossi and Académie Biloul in Paris. Her paintings are representative of Post-Impressionism, in particular, Cezanne’s. She approached her paintings with an analytical carefulness. She was careful how the various items in her work blended together to ensure a harmonious aesthetic, instead of merely focusing on light and shadow contrast. Hence, there is a kind of balance that she purported to achieve in terms of contrast in the tonal and lighting aspects of her paintings. Fang Chang-Tien was instrumental in the training of several renowned artists in Singapore. Fan Chang-Tien studied art under Wang Geyi, Wang Yiting, Pan Tianshou and others, who were in turn disciples of Wu Changshuo, a renowned master of the Shanghai School of Painting. From the paintings of his students like Chua Ek Kay, Tan Oe Pang, Nai Swee Leng and others, it is clear that his approach to teaching art inspired a new direction and development of Chinese paintings, with the wave of modernism hitting the shores of our land. His contribution to art in Singapore indeed deserves more attention and greater recognition. The above-mentioned artists were instrumental in contributing to and promoting Modernism in Singapore. They were also able to adapt Modernism into a lively form of art style in combination with their Chinese painting skills to capture the spirit of Nanyang, giving rise to a Modernism that is specific to Singapore and Southeast Asia. It is also noteworthy that the Nanyang School of Art is not a stereotype copy of 19th and 20th century Western art but, in its own right, a painting art style that can also be considered as Nanyang post-impressionism. While Postmodernism has also arrived Singapore shores, it had yet to sweep this nation. Its influence in the art scene is still considered to be in its infancy stages. Installation works, performance arts, conceptual paintings are practiced by many of the younger artists, but the tenets of postmodernism are not always clear - Tan Oe Pang’s series of work in deconstructionism is something that ought to be noticed; and Tang Da-Wu’s artwork, ‘Tiger’s Whip’ is equally interesting.
Looking at Paintings by Singapore Artists since World War II
Having surveyed a history of Singapore’s Chinese art from a modern perspective, it is time now to take a look at several paintings by the other Singaporean Chinese artists that came after these pioneers. Instead of just looking at them from an aesthetic viewpoint, we will attempt to also examine the underlying intellectual contemplation of artists as they transform the blank canvases into works of art. The excitement in Ang Ah Tee’s painting is often felt in the tension he creates by his use of a strong colour in a very subtle way to generate that feeling of suddenness, surprise, mystery, or even friction amidst a general mood of calmness. Such tension adds visual interest and energy to the painting. Look at this piece entitled ‘Garden by the Bay’ - the relaxed way in which he renders the painting gives the impression of calmness, quietness, and even stillness, yet tight and certain. Suddenly, a concentrated bright red blotch appears at a particular spot on the canvas amidst the calmness and quietness; and a tension is felt there, a mystery of some sort. In this work, he also demonstrates the use of the hierarchy of colour tension. The two blue blotches at the periphery of the dominant area of the painting surrounds the red, leading the viewers’ eyes gradually to the mystery he was suggesting. His successful use of colour psychology is a salient features in most of his paintings. Ling Yang Chang’s artworks are highly conversational from the angle of the common men on the street. Using his well-honed Chinese painting skill, he put on papers the observation of daily things. In this painting entitled ‘Old Town’, we see the contrast of the old and new buildings and how cluttered they are - a portrayal of the reality of progress. His works provoke discussions at a very down to earth level. His ideas are existential. Unlike traditional Chinese painting, he fills the empty spaces with colour like western paintings but at the same time the Chinese-ness in the brush strokes that he uses are vivid and unmistakably Chinese. Lim Tze Peng’s painting entitled ‘Delivery” is reminiscent of a time in Singapore when the Singapore River was bustling with trading activities that was the mainstay of the economy. The moored bumboats set against the backdrop of warehouses along the river’s bank have been the subjects of many pieces of Lim’s artworks. These works explore the various aspects of river life during the days leading to the nation’s independence. Like the Fauvists in the early 20th century, Lim did not find that faithfulness to the colour of the original objects was important. Instead, colour harmony, tonal management, and the skilful use of line-works from his Chinese painting background were his focus to produce the mood that he desired for his works. Goh Beng Kwan’s “Lotus Under the Moonlight” is an exciting piece of work that borders on Postmodernism. Using broad-brush strokes and translucent colours, he lights up the subject by painting against a dark background. Here, we see that the artist’s emphasis on the use of colour contrast and symbolic forms (instead of depicting realistic images) to express his emotive view of the lotus under the moonlight. This piece of intellectual artwork would make a good centrepiece in the discussion of what is modernism and postmodernism. Koeh Sia Yong has a keen eye for capturing light. Unlike other depictions of Bali’s Tanah Lot, this particular artwork captures the Impressionists’ light and the reflections through the depiction of the crashing waves and the masterful use of cold colours. The lighting creates a mood of mystery and untidiness, to convey to the audience the sacredness of the moment for the procession of worshippers. Lim Yew Kuan’s ability as a realist artist is clearly exemplified in this artwork. Beyond realism, this piece is noteworthy in that he attempts to synthesize the appearance of the natural forms with his subjective emotions; and also to give due regard to aesthetic consideration of lines, forms and colours. The varied forms of the lotuses portray a feeling of exuberance and life amidst the quietness of the surrounding background. There is a blend of modernism and social realism. The artist commands the immediate attention of the audience to two boats in the foreground through the use of bright colours. Drooping branches help to frame the painting, further enhancing the focus to the foreground. Warehouses in the background were painted with brief strokes, to give the painting an intense depth of view, resulting in a photograph-like image, suggesting atmospheric Nanyang Sentiments | 情系南洋 21 perspective. Forms are emphasized over lines - a basic consideration in Impressionist artists. The complementary contrast of red and green highlights the subject, a technique often used by impressionists. Nai Swee Leng’s ‘Carol of Dawn’ combines the Shanghai School style of painting with the Lingnan style in the South. The detailed depiction of the birds is masterfully contrasted against the broader strokes of the Shanghai School, to create an aesthetically balanced artwork that is pleasing to the eyes. The artist pays close attention to the movement of the birds, and by painting the different movements, a viewer feels that he can hear the excitement and carol of the sparrows. Ong Kim Seng’s ‘Sunset in Singapore’ shows his ability to manage the complicated lights of a sunset. With the colours of the setting sun being casted on the buildings’ facades, and reflected onto the water surface of the bay area, the image exudes a feeling of warmth and rest. There is sufficient empty space provided for the busy painting to breathe amidst the unending energy of city life, as indicated by the lighted-up windows of those skyscrapers. In this painting ‘Galaxy Series- Red’, Thang Kiang How expresses his perspective of the galaxy in a series of fascinating post-modernist art. The ‘inexplicable’ and ‘mystery’ of the galaxy give both space and depth for his imagination to roam free. The colours, tones and borderless forms are all important elements that help him explain the unseen and unheard, while the mood and the sensation are unmistakably present. The skilful management of light and shade in a monochromatic artwork requires a good understanding of how light and shade works, the very elements that give the subject volume. Tung Yue Nang achieves this by using Chinese ink on rice paper, blending his Chinese painting skills with Western ideas of painting. In his work ‘Morning Market,’ Tung captures the hustle and bustle of the morning market with all the signboards calling out for attention. The way he manages the light and shade to give the volume to the subject is thought provoking, as he uses subtle shades to suggest contrast, instead of casting full shadows. Tan Choh Tee, in ‘Simple Life’ uses representative forms to replace the details of each of the objects in the painting. This new way of looking and representing an object on a canvas was the philosophical truth that modernism was advocating. The fact is that when an artist painted en plein air, the distance will blur out the details, and the forms are what stand out. The use of complementary and tertiary colours to bring out the light and shade of his painting bear characteristics of impressionism. For what is lost in linear details, the artist chose to highlight by using the same colour theory colours. In this artwork, the two groups of clothing in the foreground (one group in red and yellow next to each other, and the other blue and orange) are typical use of complementary colours and the contrast to bring these objects to the fore. Some viewers have described Terence Teo’s style of painting as having a similar feel to that of Post-Modernist artist Jackson Pollock. However, while Pollock abstract Expressionism was influenced by Surrealist automatism, Terence’s painting style is a conscious effort to express his feelings of his surrounding. This style of painting is fascinating as it lies in the transition of modernism to postmodernism - there is much to be discussed as we await the further development of postmodernism, as a survey of entire oeuvre is needed to properly understand the underlying statement. In his painting ‘Vigour’, he attempts to represent energy visually, painting with ink and colour pigments on rice paper. We see his expression of energy via the colours and lively lines via a thriving bough. The colourful foliage exudes a feeling of energy and hope, which is atypical traditional Chinese painting.
Modernism has taken root in this city-state both in the arts and in the artists’ worldview. In the arts, the influence of Chinese artists from China mainland has played a major role in promoting a particular worldview. The uniqueness of this experience is that our local Chinese artists have been able to integrate their abilities, such as their skills in Chinese painting techniques, with the local flavours and peculiarities, to create a distinctive modern oeuvre, which can be called a form of Singapore art. While the Nanyang style (as underscored by modernism) has been dominant in Singapore art history, new ideas in art are finding their places in the local art scene either within modernism or otherwise. Post-impressionism is gaining momentum in Singapore, with a younger generation experimenting with different art forms like performance art, graffiti art, installation and the like. The idea of subjectivity and how to handle that less than predictable paradigm is still finding its place in this society. Though some of the worldviews behind these emerging ideas may not always find acceptance in a conservative society like Singapore, these new ideas continually push the envelope, and in turn allow for lively discussions. Will Postmodernism find a role here in Singapore? It is not clear yet. However, issues that our society faced change quickly, and a new paradigm beyond Postmodernism need to evolve urgently to address the needs of a new generation. Yes, a new global paradigm that is beyond Postmodernism could well be evolving, which the art world will and must respond to. This discussion will not be complete without mentioning what contemporary art is. In short, contemporary art can be defined as the art of today. Contemporary artworks bear the mark of influence by global ideas, cultural diversity (including eclectic choices) and advanced technology in a temporal sense. The materials being used, concepts adopted, the subject matters and ideologies in the artworks reflect the contemporaneous. The difficulty in approaching contemporary art is that it lacks an organised ideology or principles that we see in movements, art periods and philosophies such as modernism, postmodernism, impressionism, cubism, and the like. Contemporary art is multifaceted, reflecting the complexity and diversity of today’s world. It can even be contradictory and open-ended. On the other hand, a number of themes have appeared in contemporary art. Themes like: politics and identities, globalisation and migration, society and culture, etc. have been explored and contemporary theories of art are being developed. It could well be that through discussions and development of these themes; we might find a worldview that provides answers to the gaps in Postmodernism. We are living in a very dynamic environment, and new problems emerge daily that require new solutions. Worldviews are likened to lenses through which people in a society views their world (the issues they faced, the opportunities and threats and the way they assumed issues are resolved.) Those lenses are the assumptions that a society has subscribed to as being the values, norm and the way to look at things in life. Examining art through Modernism and Postmodernism perspectives is helpful as the content of these artworks are informed by the society in which they are created. This means that we are able to use such artworks to better understand a society. It also helps us to understand a little more of the world we live in and how societies look at issues and propose to solve them. Accordingly, worldviews assist to appreciate art beyond its aesthetic appeal. We emphasise that this is one of the many ways to examine art. Countries that have a more homogeneous culture and value system with a long art history may have a different approach to art. Their approaches to art history and art appreciation call for a different methodology to comprehend the underlying significance in their worldviews and their art. Their worldviews may be expressed through depiction of the religious beliefs, political convictions and definitions, social expressions and even cultural norms. There are other universal topics in art that are being currently the subject of discussions that can deepen our appreciation of artworks as connoisseurs and collectors. These are some questions that have been discussed: Is there a difference between art and aesthetics? What is art? In recent art history, we saw artworks like Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (which is basically a urinal bowl) and Lui Wei “Indigestion” (which is an installation piece showcasing a lump human faeces). These iconic artworks beg the question Must art be beautiful aesthetically; Why are some artworks not so nice looking aesthetically but are fetching astronomical prices? Is it just because there was a speculative interest? Why is it that some artworks are aesthetically pleasing but it is slow in term of price appreciation? What makes art? Are there any factors that are inherent in art that determines the value of the artworks of an artist? These are very stimulating questions with many varied opinions. There may be no single definitive answer to any of these questions, but we can start by looking at art with an open and informed mind, to enjoy art beyond the visual-emotional aspect.