Tay Chee Toh
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Tay Chee Toh (b. 1941, Johor, Malaysia -) is a second-generation Singapore artist. His works, which range from paintings to sculptures and prints, have been associated with figurative and abstract art, and draw on a diverse range of influences including batik painting, industrial objects and the surreal. In 1985, Tay received the Cultural Medallion. He has also won the United Overseas Bank (UOB) Painting of the Year competition.
Tay studied in a Chinese school in Johor before moving to Singapore in 1958 to train at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), where one of his mentors was Nanyang style pioneer Cheong Soo Pieng. He studied at NAFA for two years.
Tay held his first group show at the National Library in 1960. The show, titled 4 Man Joint Exhibition, and Tay’s works in particular received critical attention in the 1963 book, A Brief History of Malayan Art. He followed that exhibition with another group show, Modern Art Exhibition, in 1963. Tay became a founding member of the Modern Art Society the following year and remained an active participant in the society’s exhibitions into the 1990s.
In 1966, Tay held his first solo exhibition at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Kuching, Sarawak. He studied the indigenous Dayaks, which gave rise to fresh thematic and stylistic ventures featuring Dayak women with elongated figures and limbs. He debuted these new artistic expressions in his second solo exhibition at the British Council in Singapore in 1967. Beginning an association with the Alpha Gallery in the 1970s, Tay held solo exhibitions at the gallery in 1972 and 1973. He also participated in several of the gallery’s group shows including its inaugural exhibition in 1971. Tay then won first prize at the Singapore Innovations in Art competition sponsored by Singapore Airlines in 1981, and second prize at the inaugural UOB Painting of the Year competition the following year.
Tay was conferred the Cultural Medallion in 1985, and won the UOB Painting of the Year competition the same year. Two years later, he debuted his sculptural practice with Tay Chee Toh’s 1st Sculpture Exhibition at the National Museum Art Gallery. Tay then completed the hanging mobile Flowers In Blossom, which was commissioned by the Land Transport Authority for the Orchard Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station. The mobile was dismantled during construction of the ION Orchard shopping mall and ruined by mishandling, which greatly upset Tay. Another version of the work was re-commissioned for the Marina Bay MRT station.
In 1993, Tay took first prize at the Real Estate Association of Singapore Building Sculpture Competition with his entry Rustling, for the Orchid Park Project. His work then took a new direction in figurative sculptures in 2001, when he held a retrospective titled Body Lines at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. An image from Body Lines was featured in the Celebrating Singapore Art series of stamps in 2009. By 2012, Tay had held ten solo shows, the latest of which was an exhibition of woodblock prints on gold and silver fabric. Some of the prints spanned 4.5m in length, and returned to the theme of the daily lives of Dayak women.
Style and media
Tay’s artistic practice has taken paths in varied media and modes of visual expression. One of the founding members of the Modern Art Society, he forged directions in figuration and abstraction, and his body of work, while registering formal sensibilities, has revealed surreal expressions that have their origins in the fantastical.
His early Dayak Women series, which emerged after a trip to Sarawak in 1966, features elongated lines and flattened forms reminiscent of the works of his mentor, pioneer artist Cheong Soo Pieng. Tay appropriated abstract motifs from tribal textiles and body ornamentation to produce decorative surfaces that underscored his vision of the exotic. He began working in batik in the late 1960s, and with the exploration of the medium came the use of batik motifs that, like his use of Dayak motifs, would undergo stylisation in his abstract and figurative works.
In the late 1970s, Tay steered his attention towards abstraction, producing the Aqua and Windows series of paintings that juxtaposed geometric with organic forms that floated gracefully in fields of flat and intense colours. Later developments in abstraction in the 1980s saw his earlier organic forms becoming increasingly structured, which Tay attributed to the influence of industrial objects and their physical materiality. This influence was apparent in his three-dimensional sculptural works in the 1980s, which included raised abstract forms on totemic supports and hanging mobiles that evoked the imagery of floating structures.
Tay continued to advance formal trajectories in the early 2000s, weaving past abstract and decorative devices in fresh articulations of figurative compositions in painting and sculpture. In his free-standing Body Lines sculptural series, the figure is articulated in fractured and contorted forms where curvilinear plans fold with languid sensuality.
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(Call no.: RSING 709.5957 CRO)
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(Call no.: RSING English q704.942 TAY)
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The information in this article is valid as at 2012 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Tay, Chee Toh, 1941-