Repository 155: Betrayal of Tradition | Chua Ek Kay

“Tradition has been created by serious people who considered life a serious business and that it was necessary to produce serious things so that serious posterity would understand everything that these people, serious for their epoch, had done. I wanted to get rid of that …” – Marcel Duchamp

A short sunset post for the week reflecting on the importance and challenges of betraying tradition. Chua Ek Key (1947-2008) was a Chinese ink painter from Singapore. Chinese ink painting is one of the more restrictive traditional mediums one could choose to play in. He also has an awesomely checkered work history, and was a late bloomer as an artist. After several random jobs, and ultimately a manager of a garment factory, he quit at age 38 to begin working full time as an artist. He taught at a local university to supplement his income, and focused on making work.

He tried to mix the Eastern way of representation (observe nature, digest, then make a drawing), with a Western sensibility which included the notion of feeling and the self. Needless to say his work was not embraced in the traditional Chinese ink painting circles.

Thanks to his tenacity and braveness he created, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful drawings I’ve seen. Beautiful in that it encompasses space in all of its dimensions: The work hovers in musical space, aesthetic space and psychological space. So to end this week, and to mark the end of a long and warm summer, please enjoy Chua Ek Kay’s “Songs of Cicada”:

Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum, Chua Ek Kay, "Song of Cicada", 1995, Chinese ink and color on paper

Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum, Chua Ek Kay, “Song of Cicada”, 1995, Chinese ink and color on paper

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