Romance in Shangri-la
Ink Paintings by Terence Teo Chin Keong
Synthesis of Multiple Disciplines Ambition, audacity, diversity — these were the elements which characterize Teo’s early development in the realm ofarts. At 18 he plunged into photography. Three years later, captivated by the fascination of traditional Chinese Painting, he began taking lessons in the traditional art form from Tan Siow Aik, currently the president of Hua Han Art Society, who shared with Teo his enthusiasms and admiration of the masters of Chinese traditional art. Intrigued by the awe-inspiring achievements in the masterworks, Teo started collecting Chinese traditional paintings.
The years 1979 to 1989 were motivated and uninterrupted ones characterized by a professional course in graphic design and photography at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1980 and in 1989 when art galleries in Singapore were in vogue, he opened the Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery. On the surface the artist who involves himself in a cluster of arts disciplines simultaneously is bound to encounter contradictory problem.
Would not involvement in such disciplines as distinct as photography — ever going through rapid changes in technology and concepts — and Chinese Ink Painting — which continues to embrace the synthesis of tradit ion and modernity-pose an insurmountable dilemma? Would not the intentions and aspirations of art practice and art collecting be incompatible since the former is concerned with artistic creation and the latter with art appreciation and investment? Teo shares his experiences, “There are advantages in the involvement in a number of aspects in the arts. The alert artist will discover valuable combin ations. For instance, in my ink painting I explore profusely, whether it’s about composition or ink techniques or brushwork, and this useful habit i derived from my extensive photography experience Collecting artworks definitely enhances the practi of art. Years ago I acquired an ink painting by Qii Dynasty artist, Pu Hua Over time the paintinl becomes more beautiful and revealing. Such reveh tion is crucial to my ink painting.”
Sources of Inspiration In Teo’s Chinese ink painting endeavor, there is significance in his choice of Tan Siow Aik as his tutor. For Tan was a gifted student of Fan Chang Tien who was hailed from China and was a disciple of the celebrated historic momentous Ink Painting movement, the Shanghai School which daringly liberated Chinese Ink Painting from its stifling traditions thus opening it up for fresh ideas. The charismatic Wu Chuangshuo — poet, calligrapher, painter — the pioneering spirit, believed that artistic impulses and innovations were more important than the entrenched artistic canons. Teo elaborates, “I am fortunate to have been tutored in Chinese Ink Painting by Tan Siow Aik. Because of this I am aware of the Shanghai Schools tremendous impact on the development of traditional Chinese Ink Painting. It’s a thrill for me immerse in the ink paintings of the Shanghai Schools brilliant exponents — Fan Chang Tien, Wang Geyi, and, of course, Wu Changshuo. Their dazzling achievements in the Chinese Ink Painting repertoire are inspirations for me.”
Teo travelled extensively in China deliberately going beyond Beijing and Shanghai, the thriving historic metropolises, in search of nature’s grandeur and the intriguing landmarks in remote places. He was expertly guided by prominent China artist, Hong Ling. Huang Mountain’s soaring peaks and magnificent views, Lu Mountain’s mesmerizing waterfalls and evergreen pine forests, Yunnan’s rainforests and wild flora, the falling leaves of autumn, the chilly wind of winter — these myriad encounters in nature completely captivated Teo’s imagination. They were to become irresistible themes for his Chinese ink paintings. The eventual outcome: the Romance in Shangri-la Series which encompasses his memorable experiences in China. Teo responses, “What hypnotized me at the Huang Shan was the ever shifting sea of clouds and the mesmerizing ethereal misty light. In Lu Shan the awe-inspiring power of the pine forest was stunning. Encountering diverse sceneries: the lakes, waterfalls, peaks, fauna, flora and, most of all, the rainforests — north Yunnan was pure Shangri-la.”
In 2007 when Teo arrived with Hong Ling in Shangri-la for the first time, he was completely elated with its conducive ambience — its clarity of light, invigorating air, infinite space. One of his first encounters of the dazzling imageries was the rainforest which he found irresistible. Of Forest in Autumn, depicting the rainforest, he says, “The dense foliage of the forest, the random growth of the trees, the flux of the atmosphere and the raw power of the rainforest — these were the elements which captured my imagination.” Throughout his Romance in Shangri-la Series, Teo resorted to his artistic synthesis — eastern and western concepts and practices. His composition arrangements were based on western practice and his painting techniques and materials from the Chinese Ink Painting repertoire.
Mountain in Autumn is an exemplary work. He elaborates, “I found Shangri-la colorful in comparison to Huang Shan. Shangri-la ‘S autumn, surprisingly, was saturated with hues—purples, reds, yellows, violets, oranges. I wanted to capture the sense of wonder. To convey the spirit of modernity in the work, I resorted to diverse elements — movement, nuances, luminosity, energy, directness.”
In the work Harmony Mist, Teo was captivated by the place’s element of mystery. Although it was in the deep of autumn, the feeling was one of winter. A number of other elements made the place an irresistible painting theme: clarity of light, soaring space, lyrical movements, a wandering breeze, titillating foliage. Teo says, “I wanted to capture the ethereal light created by the mist which infused the whole atmosphere with its flux of air. I also wanted to capture the extreme feeling from the chill. Most of all, I strived to convey the element of romance of my experience.” There are times during a painting when the ambience of a place fluctuates constantly enabling the artist to experience unexpected tantalizing visual moments. Teo reveals, “In the painting Purity of Silence I encountered titillating images — Drifting snow, atmosphere of peace and purity, perfect silence. With the light blue tints, generous flow of fluid colors and, for contrast, movement of the trees, I attempted to depict the mood of the place.”
Painting from a high altitude poses daunting problems. Maintaining the equilibrium of the perspective, capturing the open space, evoking the atmospheric effects, rendering the near and the far — these elements are among the most crucial and elusive. Teo who painted the overview Green Summer from a hilltop in Shangri-la recalls, “I was immediately captivated by the aura of the boundless space. The dense foliage evoked a summer feeling but it was extremely cold. What made the view so intriguing was the sharp contrast between the solid mass of the rainforest’ and the flow of the ethereal atmospheric light.”
In Shangri-la, Teo encountered an unusual tree which — because of its forceful structure, entangled forms and intricate details — instantly captured his imagination. He immediately recognized the fact that it would be a painting proposition which challenged the artist’s ingenuity in observation, interpretation and innovation. Teo says, “For me, this charismatic tree depicted in the painting Singular Beauty possessed many virtues: wisdom of age, the feeling of modernity; eternal solidarity. Here, like most of the works in the Romance in Shangri-la Series, I explored fully the possibilities of Chinese Ink techniques — inventing, discovering, and expressing my intense sentimentality for the subject.” Still part of the extensive on-going Shangri-la Series, the recent paintings executed in late 2008 emerged with some surprisingly vigorous features. They were at once more rigorous, more risk-taking and more ambitious in scale. The artist appeared to have further crystallized the focus of this exciting series of endeavors.
Artist. Curator & Writer Singapore, 2009
[su_heading]Works From the Series[/su_heading]