The late Singaporean artist Tan Kian Por was formally trained in Western painting and learnt Chinese brush painting under the mentorship of pioneer artists See Hiang To and Chen Chong Swee at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts from 1968 to 1970. Born in Chaozhou, China, Tan’s passion and interest were Chinese painting, calligraphy and seal carving. Upon his graduation from the Academy, Tan continued to focus on Chinese art and literature. He was an active member of the Siaw Tao Chinese Seal-Carving, Calligraphy & Painting Society, where he furthered his practice and gained knowledge in traditional Chinese art. Tan established himself as an artist known for incorporating abstract expressionist features in his Chinese ink paintings.
In Strive to Advance, Tan depicted tropical fishes, one of his favourite subjects. On the right side of the vertical scroll, Tan inscribed the idiom “力争上游”, which means to strive for mastery or to achieve the best results. The shoal of fishes of various species swimming in the same direction perhaps stands as a visual metaphor for this colophon. This ink painting attests to the complementary nature of Chinese literature and ink painting.