One day, I hope to find my own version of light,” says Choy Weng Yang. At 77, he is still seeking it. But Choy, one of Singapore’s most prominent abstract painters, has found plenty beyond the ethereal. A former curator at the National Museum of Singapore from 1978 to 1985, Choy is a second-generation Singaporean artist that not only wields the brush, but also the pen as an art writer who has written for fellow second-generation artists such as Teo Eng Seng and Anthony Poon. First and foremost a painter, Choy continues to spin colour on canvas. His painting ‘Horizontals I’ was recently exhibited at A Changed World — an exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore exploring the development of Singapore art after World War II.
How would you describe your work?
My painting is characterised by its perpetual evolution. It has gone through many transitions including the following distinct transitions: impressionism, abstraction, colour-interaction, and colour field. And now, I’ve arrived at what my friend calls “abstract-impressionism”.
Tell us more about your work — Horizontals I?
When I was in America, I got to know more about Josef Albers. I was fascinated to discover one of his experimentations, which was, to put it simply – the concept of colour-interaction. Josef built on the idea that colour interacts with colour. A lot of his paintings are based on colour interactions. The series this painting belongs to is inspired by the colour theory of Josef Albers and that of Paul Klee. My painting concerns the sensibilities of colour – colour elements beyond the surface.
How would you like viewers to engage with the piece?
I hope the viewer will be intrigued. The piece leads you on a discovery from one level to another. It gets across the idea that colour in a painting is something alive. When you put on a colour, you have to think about what other colours there are. Colours interact. They affect each other. I also like having an element of mystery in my work.
You received your arts education in London. How did this experience shape you as a painter?
The five years I spent in London was extremely valuable. London itself is an education. I learnt a lot from the museums and exhibitions. You become quite critical. I was advised by a friend older than me that if I studied in London, I must go to Europe. And I did. Every summer. I went to Paris, to the Louvre. I remember my first visit: it was to the Impressionist section, which at that time, was still housed there. There, I saw a series of cathedrals. I did not truly understand it, but I found it to be very beautiful. Sometimes art is like that. You don’t need to explain it. It is just an intuition. These cathedrals, I later discovered, were by Monet.
As an artist, you have always been fascinated by colour. Why?
Many of the artists I like happen to emphasis colour in their works. Van Gogh was one of them. To Van Gogh, colour brings out one’s feelings and emotions.
In the 1990s, your work began to reflect the influence of Chinese ink and wash paintings. What changed?
One’s culture is very important. When I was a student, I tried very hard to emulate Cezanne. I found that it was very difficult to do so simply because I was not French. I have this idea that being French or being Chinese has a bearing on the art you create. After returning to Singapore, and working at the museums, I learnt more about Chinese artists, and I’ll say my future probably lies in Chinese ink. I would like to explore it further — it is then that I would have my culture behind me.
You’ve said that the process of creating art is more important than the finished artwork. Can you explain?
The artist begins the painting with a tentative idea. During the process, he would develop the painting through exploration, chance-taking, and let the painting grow by itself — each step of the process would provide a clue for the next. The ultimate goal: intriguing visual surprises.