Cheong Soo Pieng

1917 - 1983


Cheong Soo Pieng | 钟泗滨 (b. 1917, Amoy, China; d. 1983, Singapore) was one of the first artists to give primary significance to the cultural landscape of Singapore. His work is often set alongside his peers Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Liu Kang and Georgette Chen. These artists are prominent amongst the first generation of Singapore artists, working between the 1940s to the 1990s. As an outstanding member of the Singapore Art Society, and designated by scholars as a leader of the Nanyang style, Soo Pieng (as he is popularly called) created artworks that cover many genres, mediums and expressions. Perhaps amongst his most important contributions are the personification of the people of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia; and his development of abstraction in a local context. 

The Nanyang style of painting was mainly developed by Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng, Georgette Chen and Liu Kang. In search of visual expression that reflected Southeast Asia, the Nanyang style incorporated elements of traditional Chinese painting and Western art, in particular the School of Paris (1880 - 1910). It was widely regarded as the first modern art achievement in Singapore.

Cheong studied at the Xiamen Academy of Fine Arts from 1933 to 1936, and then at the Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. He returned to Xiamen where he taught from 1938 to 1945. In 1945, he left China for Hong Kong and then relocated to Singapore in 1946. In Singapore, he taught at the Chinese High School and at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts from 1947 to 1961. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Award in 1962.

He exhibited at the Gallery Schoninger, Munich in 1962, the Redfern Gallery, London in 1963, and at the Commonwealth Arts Festival, 1965, in Dublin and Glasgow. Soo Pieng received much recognition, receiving artwork commissions from the Cathay Organisation under Datuk Loke Wan Tho, the Singapore Telephone Board, the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, and the Shell Company, Singapore. In 1967 the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, held a solo exhibition to mark his fiftieth birthday. In 1983, in the course of major exhibition preparations, the artist died from heart failure. The former National Museum Art Gallery in Singapore held the retrospective exhibition posthumously in October 1983.