I have no wish to align the two as rivals for attention but to point out that Yat-Chuan was a formative teacher who inculcated in students the importance of drawing for systematically developing capacities for visual thinking. He devised drawings as studio demonstrations of technical and cognitive processes for seeing, analyzing and realizing forms and imagery.
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For instance a figure was studied as wholes, as fragments and partially, as seen from multiple and shifting viewpoints; these were graphically registered on a single sheet of paper enabling the seeing of processes by which pictorial units or entities are formed and for seeing them collectively and comparatively.
Nee Cheong absorbed and employed it fervently. Conceived and continually tested as a method, it endures in his practice of drawing and distinguishes it. Remembrance and esteem of his teacher may be gleaned from a photograph of the two, illustrated in a book titled Nee Cheong. Those the Gods Love Grow Mightier , published in The two appear convivial and at ease with one another Ill 1.
Cheo Chai-Hiang and Cecily Cheo, who conceptualized and curated this show, tell me that Yat-Chuan conveyed to them his high regard for Nee Cheong, especially his graphic works. Interests in this exhibition and the publication are in drawing the human figure. It is unrivalled. As a subject, a motif, as imagery, the figure is represented continually, ambitiously and consummately as no other.
The body, female and male, is shown in his developed drawings preponderantly as nude. Lindy Poh is absolutely right.
Embodiment and Teaching
What she says, though, is prompted by seeing figural drawings that are highly advanced in an art practice made up of years of looking at models and compressing bodies as graphic forms on flat paper surfaces, and from gauging a studio regime that had been firmly established. These resolutions did not materialize all at once; neither were they determined completely all of the time.
Drawings produced in the early s illustrate varied interests when dealing with figures. These spring from familial, social and institutional milieus as well as from examining the self. Such a range is not exceptional. Artists often begin informal and formal studies by depicting family members, friends and acquaintances, fellow students and teachers, bodies at work and disposed in leisure, and so on.
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Imagery is registered when seeing them as pictorial subjects, at times in unrehearsed, un-staged situations and at other times by consolidating them formally as consciously posed and selectively positioned. They may be regarded as portraits in the sense that the subject is known and named, relationships with the artist are deep and emotionally binding, and the imagery bears traits that are closely observed and specific. In Ill2a she is shown virtually full length in bed, propped on pillows; a four-legged table with bowls is placed close by the bed.
She is presented in profile. Her head is modeled quite firmly; eyes are closed and the mouth is slack and opened. Her knuckles and wrist-joints are prominently registered, indicating ageing, infirmity and the depletion of bone and muscle formations.
The entire left side of the figure is in shadow, enabling Nee Cheong to render this portion as asserting weight and density. Deep shadows are registered when the body leans, presses against the pillows; charcoal is compressed firmly, thickly and intensely on the paper surface. Her left arm is underscored by repeated, thick linear formations, laid one on another.
The body is undeniably ageing; Madame Dien as a grandmother, though, is presented as asserting a visible presence — pictorially at least. In Ill 2b Madam Dien reappears; she is treated with radically altered interests. She is presented partially, as only her upper body is visible; apart from her head which is, as in the earlier drawing, modeled confidently, the remainder of her upper body is faintly rendered, with traces of broken lines suggesting a severely bent arthritic? She is fast asleep. The focus is on the head. The head of Madam Dien is represented severally on the sheet of paper; each consists of a summary configuration cast in profile and occasionally frontally.
Interspersed among them is imagery of hands, similar to their depiction noted earlier. In these regards Nee Cheong is employing schemes devised and demonstrated by Ng Yat-Chuan while teaching drawing in the academy. Ills 3a and b are drawings featuring the self; there are a number that survive, a few bearing the date It is probable that all such pictures were executed in or approximating that year. As images they are presented as bust-length and head representations, conforming to sub-sets in the portrait genre.
It is customary to refer to relationships between artist and sitter in conventions for making portraits. Such a nexus is immensely complicated, even nullified in self-portraits where the artist is not easily, stably seeing the self simultaneously as a sitter and an artist. This generates sustained tensions, often transmitted to the creation of such images. In Ill 3a , Nee Cheong the subject hovers into view, effectively as a disembodied entity as the representation is not discernibly located in pictorial space; the image is seen as a form that condenses on the paper surface.
His head is slightly inclined, resting on his right hand, which cups his ear and cheek firmly, protectively. Facial features are rendered with near-sculptural firmness and weight. His wrist and fingers are drawn with anatomical precision. His appearance is tangibly formed; his demeanour, however, is recessed and distant.
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His eyes are opened and deemed as nominally seeing; they are cast in deep shadow and not fixedly connecting with the world beyond the picture. In Ill 3b he is shown assertively; the image nearly fills the page. The head, positioned firmly on his shoulders, dominates; it extends almost to the top edge of the paper. The neck is tensed as it emerges from an open-collared shirt. The remainder of the upper body fades from view. As in Ill 3a , here too the hand is prominently represented. It is cupped, poised and alert. The impact of its formation as a gesture is not easily decidable although it is compelling visually.
He is watchful, turned outward to the world. Yet his raised hand wards off any presumed tendencies for gaining access or entry into his image, and to his-self. Portraits and portraiture are short-lived; they are visible with recognizable frequency in the early s, are glimpsed intermittently in the middle of that decade — often interspersed with other notations of partial figures on a single sheet — and slip out of view during the closing years of the seventies.
This is not to say that the human figure is abandoned. Not at all! It is henceforth cultivated to satisfy different interests and goals; figural drawing increasingly features the human figure in its entirety or fully, without bearing overt symbolic and personalized significance; the human figure is also represented as nude. The nude is installed in his practice of drawing as the unrivalled topic in the s and continues to reign until the end of his artistic life.
Such a destiny or resolution was secured over time; it was consolidated by seeing models with sustained concentration and graphically transforming perceptions of them as bodies, inscribing them with charcoal on paper. Quite an extensive range of early drawings of the human figure survives; in all likelihood executed in the decade when Nee Cheong represented his grandmother and the self as portraits, i.
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When examining these we discern the progressive emergence of the figure as a topic in his art and of its dominance. They are studies made in charcoal set on modestly sized, irregularly formatted paper. Representations are of figures that are full length, partial and fragmented. At times a number of notations are registered on a single sheet, probably at different times.
Nee Cheong deals with figures that are seated, standing, reclining and in active positions; he views them from the front, the rear, in profile and as made up of mixed viewpoints; it is at times partial. Infrequently a figure is seen from a raised perch looking down on a body lying on a ground, Ill 4 ; it is an occasion for displaying abilities to visually conjure a sense of seeing a three-dimensional object on a flat surface as inhabiting in space. In this drawing a body, rendered as tangible, is aligned diagonally and seen as receding into space when viewed from its head towards the feet.
Drawing is employed as a formative, enduring medium. From time to time in these explorations the figure appears as nude; it is female and male. Ill 5a shows a seated female nude in three-quarter view, in a pose customary in figure studies.
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Her arms are raised and held behind her head while her torso is presented in full view. Her legs are folded and set in a direction opposite to the placement of her torso. Her upper and lower sections of her body are set at right angles to one another. She is located towards the top edge of the picture surface, removed to an elevated viewing level. Her body is drawn with tentative, light, infirm contours; cross-hatching faintly suggests the mass of her abdomen and breasts.
In Ill 5b the nude is standing and shown to knee length; her head is turned towards her right and inclined downwards and partially out of view; her arms are folded over and cover her breasts. The figure is enclosed, turned within itself even as the body is nude and in view. In each of Ills 6a,b is a male figure, seated and differently posed; one appears as nude. These are among conventions for studying the academy nude.
He never abandons the body.
Its appeal is lodged early in his artistic life. The drawings examined here demonstrate these stages of his practice. In Ill 6b the figure is presented complicatedly and demandingly. He meets these tasks confidently and consistently.
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This is a physically consolidated, sensually inflected representation of a male body. Its genitals are rendered clearly and are just as clearly in view. The figures in these illustrations are represented firmly, concretely — setting them apart from drawings of the female nudes discussed earlier. From the s onwards Nee Cheong professionalizes his practice by securing and establishing a studio and by recruiting models professionally.
Drawings of the nude are studio-based enterprises; the nude is seen in the studio — its birthplace and locus. The studio is the birthing site for his drawings. Nee Cheong is not exceptional in this regard, although in dealing with the body as nude such a location is especially pertinent and is a defining environment.
Ills 6a and b indicate their place of creation by featuring props for staging the figure.
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