Born on Hainan Island in 1931, Aw Tee Hong was raised in Kelantan, Malaysia. In Singapore, he enrolled in and graduated from NAFA and pursued further art studies at the Central Academy of Fine Art and Craft in Beijing. His artworks visually articulate diverse cultures and communities inspired by what he learnt in school and his immediate surroundings. The quality of his artmaking resides in his robust academic rigour and his playful intent to experiment and be spontaneous through various mediums. Known to work in charcoal, pastels, oil and acrylic as well as Chinese ink, Aw also created artworks in papier-mâché, bronze and ceramic.
This artwork attests to Aw’s mastery at depicting the mood and ambience of a Wayang Kulit performance. A rush of profiles populates the backdrop, an economy of features revealing just enough for us to see the shadow puppets silhouettes marked as shadows and a touch of colour in light. The haziness probably accounts for the shadowy fray of an active dramatization, while the fully fleshed out figure and the horse at the forefront inject the scene with high tension. Similarly, the Balinese dancer is clearly defined against a skyline of pura pagodas. Her straight-lined body exaggerated to mimic the stylized quality of a legong dancer in action. Usually crisp in gesture and marked in movement, the ceremonial dances of Bali are a ritual that is spiritually profound, warmed like the reddish hues in Aw’s painting. The artist employed subtle but skilful layering, with textures to build the atmosphere of the performances to a point you can almost hear the sounds and engage in the lively drama before you.