CHIA YU CHIAN
b. Johor, 1936 - d. Kuala Lumpur, 1991
CALLIGRAPHER AT WORK, 1970
Signed and dated ‘Yu Chian ‘70’ lower left
Oil on board
70cm x 52cm
Private collection, Penang.
ESTIMATE RM 18,000 - 30,000
PRICE REALISED RM 39,600
Roadside petition-writers creating auspicious colophons were popular during the 1960s and 1970s because of the low literacy rate then. The tradition may have its roots in the parable of Wang Xizhi (307-365), the patron saint of Chinese calligraphy, whose masterful writings helped an elderly woman sell off her stocks of unwanted fans. In return, he was given her geese. The Chinese have a mark of respect for the literate. This soapbox calligrapher had an air of eruditeness with his spectacles, moustache and goatee and a slightly greyish mane. With his right hand holding the brush in a traditional manner, left hand on the table for support, attention focused solely on the calligraphy, he is treating each word like it is his first, undistracted by passers-by. The artist has cleverly chosen this composition and perspective, transporting the viewers to his roadside calligraphy stall to witness a calligrapher at work.
The inscriptions in the background are blessings of wealth and health that are particularly popular during auspicious occasions such as the Chinese New Year. These calligraphies written in black and gold ink on red coloured paper are often placed at the entrance of houses where guests are welcomed. After all, calligraphy is often regarded as a sign of scholastic accomplishments.
Chia Yu Chian went under personal tutorship of Singapore art pioneer Chen Wen Hsi. He was the first artist in Malaysia to be awarded a French Government scholarship to study at the famed Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris (1959 - 1962). He had the distinction of his works being accepted 15 times in prestigious Salon exhibitions in Paris and receiving Honourable Mentions in the Salon des Independent and Societe des Artistes Francaise – a rare honour for a non-French artist. He was commissioned to do a mural Life in Malaysia for the Malaysian High Commission in Paris. He returned to Malaysia in February 1962 and held a solo exhibition at the British Council in Penang where all 110 displayed works were sold! A memorial exhibition was held at the Creative Centre, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur in 2002.
Chia Yu Chian Memorial Exhibition, Creative Centre, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 2002.
Contemporary Artists of Malaysia, Dolores D. Wharton, 1971.
Chinese Art of the 20th Century, Dr. Michael Sullivan, England, 1965.
Who’s Who in Malaysia, Victor Morais, 1975 -1976.
Modern Artists of Malaysia, T.K. Sabapathy and Redza Piyadasa, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1983.
Chia Yu Chian in Nanyang, Lim Hak Tai Gallery, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, 2009.