Chen Chong Swee (1910 – 1985)
Chen Chong Swee, otherwise known as Chen Khai, was born in 1910, Chenghai County, Guangdong, China. He graduated from the Xinhua Arts Academy in Shanghai and Union High School in Shantou, China, before settling in Singapore in 1934. Known as one of Singapore’s pioneering first-generation artists, Chen was also an influential art educator and writer passionate about the state of arts in Singapore. Chen spent his early years in Singapore teaching at Tuan Mong High School and Chung Cheng High School before leading the Chinese Painting Department at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), where he remained for more than 20 years. In 1952, Chen embarked on a five-month-long field trip to Bali, Indonesia, with the other Nanyang artists searching for a unique Southeast Asian artistic expression. Upon his return from Bali, Chen created one of his most famous works, Balinese Women. Proficient in a variety of mediums, including watercolour, oil, and Chinese ink, Chen was best known for his realist style and application of Chinese ink painting techniques. Combining Chinese and Western pictorial traditions, Chen was one of the first to capture the Southeast Asian landscape and its people in the Chinese ink and brush landscape format.
Chen was a Selection Committee Member for the National Day Art Exhibitions, Advisor for the San Yi Finger Painting Society, Life Art Society and NAFA from the 1960s–1980s. He was also a founding member of the Singapore Society of Chinese Artists and the Singapore Watercolour Society. In 1965, Chen was conferred the Meritorious Public Service Star by Yusof Ishak, the first president of Singapore, for his artistic and cultural contributions to Singapore. He passed away in 1985. In 2018, National Gallery Singapore produced a posthumous exhibition of Chen’s paintings.