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.
The historic Church of St Paul in present-day Malacca was built in 1521 by a Portuguese sailor to express his gratitude to Virgin Mary for ensuring his safety during a storm at sea. The building bore witness to several historical events in the city of Malacca, which was occupied by different nations over the centuries. Chen’s Church of St Paul’s Malacca presents the interior of the building. The composition was carefully considered, as demonstrated by the artist’s play with colours to create light and shadows reflecting the midday sunshine. Looking through dome-shaped walls is like looking through a portal that transports one back in time to a place of rumination and contemplation that was once before.