NATIONAL MUSEUM ART RETROSPECTIVE SINGAPORE
“The Story of Yeh Chi Wei” at the National Art Gallery, Singapore celebrates the life and times of pioneering artist Yeh Chi Wei, a critical current in the shaping of a unique Southeast Asian style of painting in the 1960s and 70s.
Born and educated in China, Yeh became a well-known artist and educator in Singapore. He is most remembered for his role as the leader of the influential Ten Men group – a group of artists and art educators that would later take on the form of the seminal Southeast Asian Art Association.
Credited with defining the course of the Singapore arts scene in the early days of the 1960s and 70s, Yeh became famous with his unique style that drew from his interests in Chinese woodblock print, Han dynasty carvings, decorations on bronze vessels and oracle and stone drum inscriptions. In his paintings,varied Southeast Asian painting traditions achieve an unlikely unity, evoking a monumentality in both figurative and non-figurative works.
Yeh took influence from his travels across the Southeast Asian subcontinent with the Ten Men group. Imbibing local painting styles, flavors and colors, Yeh’s works move from representational to an investment in abstraction during his career as an artist.
In the heyday of Yeh’s popularity as an artist, educator and part of the Ten Men group, Yeh moved to a village in Malaysia where his career took a downward turn. A lot of his works never made it out of Malaysia and the artist fell into obscurity. In an article in The New York Times, Southeast Asian curator Ong Zhen Min said,
It was not until we delved into the archives that we realized how interesting and innovative this artist was, and understood the uniqueness of his art. Most of his paintings were in his Malaysian studio and were not widely circulated beyond that point, so his name faded into obscurity. We hope this exhibition would be able to reintroduce audiences to his art works.
A lot of Yeh’s work stands out for its choice of palette. Of the artist’s unique selection and application of color, Ms Ong says,
Yeh was probably one of the most daring artists of his generation in his use of black. Most artists use black to highlight things, but he actually used black and its different shades as a color. From a distance, it almost looks like a cave drawing, which I think is an effect he was trying to achieve.
Yeh taught art for 22 years at different schools around Singapore and Malaya and passed away in 1981. This exhibition is the first survey show since his passing, and is an overview of his artistic career and his contributions to the Singapore art scene.
“The Story of Yeh Chi Wei” is on at the National Art Gallery, Singapore until 12 September, 2010.
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