Chen Wen Hsi was born in Guangdong, China, in 1906. At a young age, Chen showed a keen interest in art. At age 20, he left Guangdong to pursue his passion at Shanghai College of Art and later Xinhua Arts Academy. During college, he met fellow pioneer artists of Singapore, Liu Kang, Chen Ren Hao and Chen Chong Swee. In 1948, Chen moved to Singapore and became an art teacher at The Chinese High School and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts between 1949 and 1968. In 1952, with his three colleagues, Chen embarked on a landmark trip to Bali to portray the beauty of Southeast Asia.
Chen loved animals. As a child, he would relish observing the animals in his village–watching sparrows in the air and geese waddle. The artist was well-versed in Western and Chinese painting, though his forte was in Chinese brush painting. Painted in 1985, Luffa exemplifies Chen’s penchant for semi-abstract expressions in the 1980s. The spontaneous brush strokes breathe life into the work, while the tonal variations suggest contrast and imbue vibrancy. Although this painting steers away from Chen’s usual subject matter of animals, it reinforces the artist’s grasp of Western art concepts and expertise in Chinese painting.