Hainan-born Tan Tee Chie is a second-generation Singaporean artist known for the series of socio-political woodcut prints and paintings created in the 1950s. The late artist was trained in Western painting and Chinese ink at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), where he graduated in 1951. Mentored by Singapore’s pioneer artists, Tan became an art educator at the Academy for over 40 years. In the early 1960s, he moved from grand socio-political discourses to themes that reflect local subjects, a movement that is associated with the Chinese diaspora’s aspiration in defining their own distinct identity in Southeast Asia. Besides woodcut prints, Tan is adept in Chinese ink, seal carving and oil painting.
Inspired by flora and fauna in his surrounding environment, Tan adopts the xieyi, or freehand style, to depict the tall reed-like plants growing near the water and a school of fish. The strokes of the work are minimal, bringing a sense of tranquillity to the overall composition. The fish is symbolic in Chinese painting traditions and represents auspicious wishes for wealth and abundance. In Swimming Fish, the artist uses gestural strokes to express the movement of the fishes swimming in the water, suggesting that, like these aquatic creatures, one should remain carefree and adventurous in life.