The Artist Profile of Chuah Seow Teng

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I found meeting the Teng family to be an illuminating new experience. What a warm and lovely family they are! This is a four generation family of exquisitely skilled and inherently talented artists starting with the matriarch of the Teng family in late 19th century China who created and fashioned top end shoes for ladies. Her son, Chuah Thean Teng, internationally known as Teng, was born in 1914 in central China and emigrated to Penang after gaining a diploma at the highly renowned Amoy Art Institute. He recently passed away at the age of 96 but what a vast and valuable legacy he left for all of us to enjoy!

Teng is recognized as the pioneer and premier earliest artist of batik painting and is venerated for his contribution to elevating batik to an art form beginning in the mid-1940’s. Teng is credited as the creator of the batik art form that had its roots in this popular decorative craft native to Malaysia. It was he who took the practice of batik dyeing and elevated it to a form of .ne art having elements in common with the greatest exponents of classical art “pure” art, be they realists, expressionists, impressionists or Picasso. By 1959, he was invited to do one man shows in London and Singapore all to much enthusiasm and acclaim. He was an artist who enjoyed exaggeration in his art: heads tilted to the right angle, small heads set on big and muscular bodies with distorted limbs and elongated bodies writhing in movement. His colours blended expertly into his compositions, bathing the .gures in exotic hues. Yet he executed these colourful and poignant .gures with a style distinctively his own, all the while enticing the viewer to escape into his world of imagination.

His son, Chuah Seow Teng, born in Kelantan in 1945, is recognized as one of Malaysia’s leading artists and is internationally known for his batik and watercolour paintings. He is professionally trained though in one of the most dif.cult art mediums as a .breglass sculptor. I had the great pleasure and honour of meeting with him and as we talked he described being born into the world of art with father’s passion and already well established reputation. He showed me large portfolios of old newspaper clippings dating from the 1950’s through 80’s of remarkable articles on his father and his work as it progressed within a historical context of local culture to its international acclaim. His own creativity is something too, to be savoured. Seow Keng’s depictions of the Malaysian culture in batik paintings portrays his style in a more contemporary manner; the elegance of the paintings demonstrates his versatile and diverse abilities since working with batik is a very tedious and dif.cult process. You must dye wax 16 or more times in your preferred colours and then ensure it is set properly within your composition. And you must also be adept and dexterous with minute details of the process.

Seow Teng integrates the serenity, harmony and gentle way of life of the local Malaysians in addition to the peaceful beauty of the countryside around him together in masterful and glowing works of art that really cannot be fully appreciated unless seen. Seow Teng also employs exciting contrasts in a myriad of urban activities which appear to occur independently yet are interwoven with a strong thread of commonality re.ecting the Malaysian way of life. His batik paintings are of simple, daily life; and his harmonic scenes reveal his perceptive treatment of colours and light. And most striking to me is his ability to combine a rich, harmonic blend of colours into bold, rhythmical patterns demonstrating an appreciation and understanding of spatial depth and vertical perspective.

Seow Teng’s son Chuah Seong Teng, a 1999 graduate of Deakin University in Australia is the fourth generation artist in the Teng family. He also works in batik having been immersed in that world from birth and fortunate enough to be taught by two masters; his grandfather and father. He has opened a branch gallery of their famous Yahong Art Gallery, a landmark in Penang, called Y H Art Gallery. In it he showcases not only his works but those of his brilliantly talented family. If you would like to view the paintings of truly legendary local artists, they warmly invite you to drop in. It is located on the upper .oor of BB Park.

If you are interested in purchasing any of  Seow Teng’s paintings, as he lives in Penang, please email me at [email protected] or call 017.211 6404.

Source: The Expat April 2011 
This article has been edited for
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