Chen Chong Swee, also 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 pioneer artists, Chen was also an influential art educator and writer passionate about the state of the arts in Singapore. He spent his early years in Singapore teaching at Tuan Mong High School and Chung Cheng High School before heading the Chinese Painting Department at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), where he remained for over 20 years. Proficient in various mediums, including watercolour, oil, and Chinese ink, Chen was best known for his realist works and application of Chinese ink painting techniques. Mixing Chinese and Western pictorial traditions, Chen was one of the first to capture the Southeast Asian landscape and people in the Chinese ink and brush landscape format.
In 1952, together with fellow artists Liu Kang, Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee visited Bali and was mesmerised by the island’s landscape and people. The refreshing experience spurred the group to popularise a unique style of documenting Southeast Asia, known as the Nanyang Style marking a significant point in Singapore’s art history. Bali Landscape presents two Balinese women doing their chores at a paddy field. Chen was fascinated by the strength and vivacity of Balinese women, who were essential to Balinese society. The artist effortlessly blended the colours and captured the splendid panorama of rice fields tended by the locals, a true sight to behold.