Chen Cheng Mei (also known as Tan Seah Boey) was born in 1927. She studied Western Painting at NAFA and graduated in 1954. Chen practised in a variety of mediums, including oil and ink painting, printmaking and Chinese calligraphy and was mentored by highly regarded artists Cheong Soo Pieng, Lim Hak Tai and See Hiang Toh. After graduation, she worked as a French translator for a bank and travelled to places such as Tahiti, Papua New Guinea and Mexico during her vacations. Even as an artist, Chen maintained a low profile and was regaled as one of the pioneers and a female member of the Ten-Men Art Group, an informal gathering of Singapore-based artists in the 1960s that actively travelled around Southeast Asia and the wider Asia continent in search of inspiration that would fuel their art practice. Long House is a work from this period.
Here, Chen’s draughtsmanship is visible, outlining clear swathes of sky, sand, land and sea. The central image features fishing nets, likely being dried out, cleaned and repaired on the beach, as was often the tradition of the fishing and boat-building folk in Terengganu. Using the highly challenging oil medium, Chen creates clear colour fields that do not mix. The brown fishing net appears like a pool around the workers. The smooth, fluid form mirrors the natural blonde beach and blue sea line, itself reflected in the horizon of an outlying, green island ahead. The figures, vertical prow, and stern of the perahu boats create vertical lines that draw our eye into perspective near and far. Lastly, the sun hats give a geometric grounding to the entire work, a triangular form that reflects this meeting place of land, sky and sea.