Remembering Tan Choon Ghee in Ink and Watercolour

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Penang State Art Gallery receives its largest bequest ever from his widow, Madam Kam.

A rare 1961 self-portrait captures Penang’s legendary watercolourist Tan Choon Ghee (Chen Cun-yi) as a strapping 31-year-old, his gaze intent and his eyes beady. He shows a nondescript steely resolve, as if he were facing phantom imponderables.

The work, perhaps his only self-portrait, was honed after the rigours of the Slade School of Art, London (1957-1959), and the locally skewed curriculum of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA), Singapore (1949-1951). Perhaps the three-month participation in a West German exchange programme also left its mark.

Unbeknown to him then, he was at the crossroads of a bifurcating career. He was to take up a Colombo Plan scholarship in 1962-1963 to study television set design at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) in Sydney, paving the switch to television set and costumes design and illustrations.


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