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 paper-mâché, bronze and ceramic.
Cowherd is an example of Aw’s sensitive draughtsmanship, stylized to form. In Chinese ink conventions, buffalo or oxen are usually accompanied by a young male or children tasked to tend to these domesticated draft animals. They symbolize submissiveness and benevolence, as well as strength. The youthful female here imparts the painting with a different complexion. The idyllic landscape is shrouded in luscious, moist acrylic layers, with the buffalo coloured in an almost bronzed hue, whose head is slightly bowed in repose. The curves and distinctive lines found on the profile of the figure and the animal are almost sculptural, as they stand out clearly against the softening and mist-like edges of the landscape in the background.