Chua Ek Kay

b. 1945, Guangdong, China
d. 2008, Singapore

Chua Ek Kay was a Singaporean artist hailed as the bridge between Asian and Western art, with a unique painting style using Chinese ink on paper that demonstrated an ingenious blend of traditional Chinese painting forms with Western art theories and techniques. Most of his works were themed of Chinatown Street scenes, lotuses, and abstract works inspired by Australian aboriginal cave paintings.

Though he was deeply passionate about art, Chua continued to make his living by taking on a variety of jobs. Finally, in 1985, he resigned his post as a manager of a garment factory to become a full-time artist. At the age of 38 he embarked on his artistic journey, supplementing his income as a lecturer with the Extramural Studies Department of the National University of Singapore.

As he explored new expressions in art, he found similarities between the Shanghai School style and the works of Western artists like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock in terms of artistic spontaneity. This new-found interest in Western art led him to study the subject at the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts (now the LASALLE College of the Arts) in 1990. He was also to spend several more years engaged in a comparative study of eastern and western concepts in painting in Australia, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from the University of Tasmania and a Master of Arts (MA (Hons)) from the University of Western Sydney. Nevertheless, the Chinese brush style which he had picked up earlier never left him, and its influence continued to flow in his paintings.

On 21 August 2006, Chua launched his ‘Street Scenes Collection’ series of paintings at the Singapore Management University (SMU). Valued at S$302,000, these 30 works depict scenes of old shop houses, narrow alleyways, historic sites and other memories portraying Singapore’s heritage, in his signature brush styles – a legacy of 20 years of artistic practice. He officially donated this collection to the University on 18 October 2006, in support of the University’s ‘Visual Arts Initiative’ launched earlier in the year. SMU subsequently published a book entitled ‘Chua Ek Kay: Singapore Street Scenes, Evoking Memories’.

On 8 February 2008, Chua died at the age of 61 after having battled nasal cancer since 2004.

“With Chua’s passing,” said Edmund Cheng, the Chairman of the National Arts Council, “Singapore has lost a great artist and a towering talent… To his friends and fellow artists, Ek Kay was a man of few words, and was always respected for his quiet confidence and humility despite his outstanding international success. Ek Kay was an exemplary artist who had left us at his peak”.

Country: Singapore