Often capturing what is beyond the surface, Singaporean artist Chua Mia Tee’s strength is his ability to precisely encapsulate the spirit of his subject matter onto the canvas. Born in Shantou, China, Chua moved to Singapore in 1937 and enrolled at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts to train in Western mediums and Chinese ink painting. Chua was under the tutelage of the founding principal of the academy, Lim Hak Tai, and was mentored by pioneer artists Cheong Soo Pieng and See Hiang To. Influenced by the ingenious spirit of his mentors, Chua also experimented with sculptural forms and is an exceptionally skilful portraitist.
Inspired by contemporary society and subjects of everyday life, Chua seeks to deliver historical and social discourses in his body of work, which defines his social realism style. Singapore River captures the changing urban cityscape of Singapore. The depiction of workers unloading goods from bumboats on the river offers a nostalgic reference to scenes from the earlier days of Singapore. The Singapore River is a source of national pride and carries the indomitable spirit of immigrants who endured many hardships prior to the nation’s independence. While Chua executes his works mostly in oils, this sketch is a rare piece which offers a revelation of his exceptional draughtsmanship.