Lot 086

b. China, 1932


Signed and dated ‘Laitong 68’ (lower right)
Oil on board
80cm x 243cm; diptych, 80cm x 120cm each

Private Collection, Kuala Lumpur;
acquired directly from the artist.

Cheong Laitong, NN Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 2006;
illustrated on page 72 and 73.

ESTIMATE  RM 70,000 - 100,000
As one of the earliest contributors in Malaysian modern art, Cheong Laitong alongside his contemporaries (Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Yeoh Jin Leng, Abdul Latiff Mohidin, Jolly Koh, Lee Joo For, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, Anthony Lau and Ismail Zain) established themselves as the “avant-garde” artists within the Kuala Lumpur art circle of the 1960s. His exposure in the West resulted in his inclination towards Abstract Expressionism, as reflected in his works. In an essay by Redza Piyadasa titled The Treatment of the Local Landscape in Modern Malaysian Art, 1930 – 1981, he wrote that this group of artists seeks inspiration from the local landscape. An excerpt from the writing reads:

“A common feature discernible in the works of most of these artists was the conscious involvement with the aspects of the local landscape. This direct involvement with the place certainly reconfirmed their sense of identity. It may be suggested that their preference for organic motifs derived from the landscape was also prompted by aesthetic considerations. Abstract Expressionism emphasised a vitalistic approach and hence, the involvement with biomorphic forms was most conducive to the aims of these artists. It is worth noting that their artistic attitude was influenced by a notion of the creative process as constituting a “heroic” undertaking. The artist viewed himself as a “unique agent” responding emotively to his environment and these “feelings” needed to be transferred onto a canvas in a direct and spontaneous manner. The dependence on “gestural” marks only reiterated an essentially cathartic approach towards creativity. The paintings produced were, as such, highly personalised emotive statements.”

Piyadasa’s observation encapsulated the characteristics of Laitong’s works exemplified in this unparalleled early masterpiece. Executed in oil on board, Laitong’s swift red brush marks suggest bold, instinctive gestures. His choice of cool hues of blue and green, filled in thoughtfully in the segmented areas against a white space creating an impression of familiarity - stripped of any details, reduced to the minimal – intensifying an imagery seen in the subconscious mind. The deliberate use of white borders aimed to frame both landscapes accomplishes an ultimate viewing pleasure, unattainable if displayed separately.

Laitong was a member turned President of the Wednesday Art Group, an art club founded by Peter Harris in 1952. Amongst the members were Patrick Ng Kah Onn, Ismail Mustam, Dzulkifli Buyong and Ho Khay Beng, to name a few. His most significant contribution towards Malaysian art is the epic mosaic murals adorning the exterior walls of National Museum, Kuala Lumpur. An emblematic narrative of national history, the murals titled A Brief History From 1643-1945 and Malaysian Handicrafts were made in 1962 and assembled in Venetian glass mosaic.

Cheong Laitong participated in the USIS Exchange of Scholarship Skowhegan School of Art, USA in 1960 followed by a stint at the LCC Central Art School London, England in 1961. Between 1963 and 1992, he was appointed Creative Director, Rothmans of Pall Mall (Malaysia) and rose to become the Regional Creative Director, Rothmans International (Asia-Pacific) from 1992 to 1995. His first few solo shows were held in Kuala Lumpur at Balai Ampang (1966), Samat Gallery (1968), and Galeri II (1969) before a long hiatus and later emerged in the art scene again briefly in 1981 with a one-man show at University of Malaya. A decade later, he appeared with another show at Galeriwan in 1991 and 1995. He also exhibited at NN Gallery from 1998 to most recently in 2011. A new solo exhibition is in plan to be held later this year. Among his group exhibitions abroad were Commonwealth Art Today, London, England (1962 - 1963), Malaysian Art Touring Europe (1965 - 1966), First Triennale of Contemporary World Art, New Delhi, India (1968), Tenth Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil (1969), and Man and His World, Montreal, Canada (1970). He has also won major awards in competitions that included Mural for Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, Kuala Lumpur (1962) and First prize in the oil and acrylic section at Salon Malaysia (1969 and 1979).

Imagining Identities: Narratives in Malaysian Art Volume 1,
RogueArt, 2012.