Liu Kang: An Overview


If Chen Chong Swee represented the Realist end of the stylistic spectrum, Liu Kang was the Post-impressionist end. Liu Kang graduated from the Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts three years earlier than Chen Chong Swee. He continued his studies in Paris between 1928 and 1933 and was president of the Society of Chinese Artists from 1946 to 1958.

Autumn Colours, Farmer's House and Breakfast, works from Liu's Paris period in the early 1930s, show the influence of Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin in aspects of the Post-impressionist pictorial interests - expressiveness of brush strokes, imposing presence of and flattening and merging of planes to construct colour blocks. Autumn Colours is a picture permeated with the warm glow of scattered greens, reds, yellows and browns, capturing the shimmering mood of autumn. Farmer's House moves towards the presentation of pictorial and composition interest in which the rambling structure of the house dominates the entire picture plane. Breakfast, painted in 1932, two years later than the other two works, manifests Fauvist sensitivity towards colour, form and design although the basic approach appears to be narrative: the laid out meal, the open book and the perspective which invites the participation of the viewer. The three works also show, in the order listed, a gradual thickening of outlines in defining object and spaces -- suggesting an affiliation with the linear brush quality of Chinese ink painting.

In Artist and Model which shows Chen Wen Hsi sketching a Balinese woman, Liu Kang's dark outlines have become white - an innovation which could have been inspired by batik painting. Painted in 1954, this work may be based on a sketch made during the artists' field trip to Bali two years earlier. Chen is seated, working on a sketching board propped on another rattan chair. This rhythmic repetition of chairs, further echoed by the number and arrangement of tea pot and cups on the round table makes the entire painting delightfully casual and whimsical.

Life by the River, a 1975 work, shows a viIlage scene with busy human activity. Liu Kang is a master of composition. Depth in this painting is achieved more by the arrangement of shapes than by perspective, suggesting a pictorial sensitivity more in tune with the Chinese landscape tradition. The yellow walkway on the left and the river on the right not only echo each other, but also lead the viewer's attention to the houses in the distance.

-- Kwok Kian Chow, Channells and Confluences, chapter 12.



Kwok Kian Chow. Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art. Singapore: National Heritage Board/Singapore Art Museum, 1996

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Last updated: May 2000