Cheong Soo Pieng (1917 – 1983)
Cheong Soo Pieng was born in 1917, Xiamen, Fujian, China. At 16, Cheong attended the Xiamen Fine Art Academy, where he first learnt art under Lim Hak Tai. In 1936, Cheong went to Shanghai to further his studies at the Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts. Unfortunately, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the academy was demolished merely six months into his enrollment. Nevertheless, Cheong returned to his alma mater to teach. Cheong left for Hong Kong in 1945 and settled in Singapore a year later, where he crossed paths with his former tutor, Lim Hak Tai. The reunion led to Cheong’s employment as an art teacher at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore’s pioneer arts education institution headed by Lim. Cheong remained in the academy for 14 years while serving as a part-time teacher at the Chinese High School before he retired in 1961 to pursue art-making full-time. Cheong was among the five artists who embarked on the iconic five-month-long field trip to Bali, Indonesia, in 1952, searching for a unique Southeast Asian artistic expression.
Cheong was a multi-faceted artist who experimented with different art styles. Mostly known for his paintings of human figures depicted with elongated limbs and almond-shaped eyes, Cheong’s distinctive style of rhythmic and fluid lines was born after a visit to the Dayak longhouse in Borneo in 1959. In 1962, Cheong was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Singaporean government for his artistic contributions. In 1977, his oil painting entitled Daughter and Mother was made into a UNESCO first-day cover, the first for a Singaporean artist. Cheong was also the first Singaporean artist to hold a solo exhibition in London. Cheong passed away in 1983.