Born on Hainan Island in 1931, Aw Tee Hong was raised in Kelantan, Malaysia. In Singapore, he enrolled in and graduated from NAFA and pursued further art studies at the Central Academy of Fine Art and Craft in Beijing. His artworks visually articulate diverse cultures and communities inspired by what he learnt in school and his immediate surroundings. The quality of his artmaking resides in his robust academic rigour and his playful intent to experiment and be spontaneous through various mediums. Known to work in charcoal, pastels, oil and acrylic as well as Chinese ink, Aw also created artworks in paper-mâché, bronze and ceramic.
This critical junction of Smith Street and Trengganu Street in Singapore has been recreated in paintings on numerous occasions by many local artists. Predominantly a paved pedestrian walkway with one way traffic, the most common perspective is looking towards Temple Street, featuring Smith Street on the left, capturing the corner of shophouses and an outcrop of umbrellas for seating and stalls in the open marketplace. Aw’s version, however, looks toward Sago Street in the opposite direction, with Smith Street on the right. The density of the junction is marked by 35 Smith Street that bisects Trengganu Street at the Chinatown Complex building which has a single-storey curve and seems to fade gradually to the top right. The umbrellas here are a must – providing a singular pattern to this aerial perspective of the busiest cross junction in the area. At almost 150cm square, this large work is a monumental tribute to Chinatown’s spirit and form. Executed in acrylic, the colours remain vibrant with visceral touches on the crowds and vitality through texture and layered pigments. The white on the walls are illuminated by sunshine, receding towards a warm horizon of indistinct, tall cosmopolitan buildings that disappear in the largesse of this old world.