Georgette Chen 張荔英: At Home in the World

Low Sok Leng Low Sok Leng
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Georgette Chen: At Home in the World art exhibition at the Singapore National Gallery.

What I love about Georgette Chen 張荔英 is summarised in this quote from her:


“Art to me is a labour of love and like such labours expects neither gain nor reward and brings meaning into one’s life.”


This was what she taught her students too, at Singapore’s first art school, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts


While the “Georgette Chen 張荔英: At Home in the World” art exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore featured many of her works including landscapes, portraits and still life, I was most drawn to her charming paintings of still life. 


It is simply refreshing to see still life that is our own; rambutans, Chinese lanterns, pineapples, woven baskets.  Paintings that capture the daily life of the Singapore that my grandfather lived in.


Take for example, this oil painting from 1962 titled “Still Life (Moon Festival Table)”.  

Chen's 1962 painting titled Still Life (Moon Festival Table)


While the items in this painting have been carefully arranged by Chen to facilitate her own artistic and drawing requirements, the fish and rooster lanterns, the pomelos with stickers of auspicious characters and the wide variety of traditional moon cakes gave me a glimpse of how my father used to celebrate Mid Autumn Festival when he was young.


This is easier to relate to, than the still life paintings from the western world from history. 


Chen’s still life paintings are colourful, reflecting the colours of the still life subject, but yet there is a muted tone and mood to the overall painting.  


Perhaps this is how things look like in bright and sunny Singapore, that earthy tone. Or maybe this is how still life works, to create that mood of quiet reflection. 


Chen also carefully and clearly makes out the details of her subjects in her still life paintings.  In this 1969 oil on canvas painting, “Tropical Fruits”, the hairy rambutans, spiky pineapples and realistic woven baskets are meticulously drawn.  

Chen's still life painting titled Tropical Fruits


From Georgette Chen’s still life paintings, there is a sense of gracefulness and elegance, which is how her students described her too, a delicate and petite lady.  

But her students will also share that she is a tough teacher, requiring exacting standards from them and herself.

And that’s exactly what I love about Georgette Chen.

“Georgette Chen 張荔英: At Home in the World” art exhibition ran from 27 November 2020 to 28 September 2021 at the National Gallery in Singapore. 

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