Lot 001

b. Penang, 1930 - 2010


Signed and dated 'Choon Ghee 1982' (lower left)
Watercolour on paper
50cm x 62cm

Private collection, Kuala Lumpur.

ESTIMATE RM 7,500 - 12,500

There can be found at least three versions of different activities in front of this façade of three century-old terraced Straits-Eclectic colonial buildings in Penang, with minor artistic feature changes on the top louvred-window casements, although all were painted in the same year. The image of one of these works adorned the desk calendar of the Malaysia Smelting Corp Bhd. This work was shown at his solo in the Australian High Commission in 1983. The main ‘attraction’ is the Chinese barber-shop with a canvas canopy instead of the old bamboo-chick blinds, and with inscriptions of the shop name on the stone pillars. On top, a flag is propped up but it looks strangely bearing the Thai emblem. The neighbouring lot seems busy with three seated figures in front, the ones outside enjoying a smoke. In the pillar separating the next house, there is a glaring hole in the drain footing next to the familiar column. A hawker tricycle, shown partly, on the left, adds another talking point. Choon Ghee liked to paint on the spot. In an interview, he confided to art-writer Ooi Kok Chuen (New Sunday Times, Style, May 29, 1988): “One has to work quick, with instinctive colour sense and colour feeling. It’s like frying ‘koay teow,’ just the right amount of sauce. How much, can’t tell, just enough! Mood is important, so is peace of mind. An artist has to be free from worries.”

Unlike most who graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art in Singapore who made a bee-line to Paris to further their studies, Tan Choon Ghee opted for Britain, the Slade School of Fine Art in London, in 1957-1959. He had his first solo exhibition at the Hooi Ann Association makeshift gallery in Penang in 1956, but his prospective art career was put on hold when he was given a German and an Australian government scholarship to study television set design. TV was only introduced then, terrestrial and in black-and-white. He worked for TV Singapore and TVB Hong Kong, but was unhappy and decided to go fulltime into art instead. Choon Ghee, already a legend watercolourist in his lifetime, was given two Retrospectives in his honour, by the Penang State Art Gallery (PSAG) in 1996 and 2000, a tribute show in Kuala Lumpur in 2009, and a posthumous show of his sketchbooks and paper works organised by the PSAG in 2014 titled ‘A Lifetime of Drawings.