Octogenarian trades medicine men for construction workers

Octogenarian trades medicine men for construction workers
Singaporean artist Chen Cheng Mei with some of her oil paintings and sketches of her travels.

SINGAPORE - In an art career that has spanned the 1950s right up to the present, Singaporean artist Chen Cheng Mei has painted Kashmiri mountains, Mexican villages and Amazonian medicine men.

Now 86, however, she has trained her paintbrush homewards.

Chen, a founding member of the Ten-Men Art Group, which journeyed through South-east Asia in the 1960s to sketch and paint, says: "Now I don't go travelling, I'm too old already. When I was young, I could move about, I could travel. But now, I have to paint what's nearby."

The second-generation artist's latest solo exhibition, Joie De Vivre: Chen Cheng Mei, at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), features more than 40 oil paintings and sketches done between 1954 and 2005.

Some of the paintings on display include oil-on-canvas depictions of Indian towns and Sri Lankan markets, as well as bumboats on the Singapore River.

Ms Bridget Tracy Tan, director of the Institute of South-east Asian Arts & Art Galleries at Nafa, who curated the exhibition, says: "What I tried to do was find an interesting combination of some of her older pieces, some figurative, abstract and some natural landscapes, and find a way to contrast them so they can tell their own story."

Chen enrolled at Nafa in 1949 under the tutelage of luminaries such as Cheong Soo Pieng, who pioneered the Nanyang art style; Lim Hak Tai, Nafa's founding principal; and Chinese painter See Hiang Toh. There, she worked on oil painting and print- making while studying Chinese calligraphy.

After graduating, she worked for more than 20 years as a French translator in the telegraph communications department of the Bank of China.

She had to find time in her busy schedule to do art. "After getting home, I'd just draw after dinner. Draw, draw, draw until midnight."

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