︎Choy Weng Yang (b. 1936, Singapore) is an artist, curator and educator. He received a scholarship to attend the Hornsey College of Art in London, United Kingdom (1958–62), majoring in painting and a postgraduate course at the University of London Institute of Education (1963). In 1973, he received a six-month UNESCO Fellowship to travel to United States. Choy’s experience in London (during which he travelled often to other parts of Europe) and United States was crucial to his development as an artist and educator, and subsequently as curator. He was amongst the pioneer team at National Museum Art Gallery, first joining as Head of Exhibition and Design (1976–77) and then Curator of Art (1978–85). Choy is one of the foremost abstract painters of post-independence Singapore and has been a prominent influence on the contemporary art scene. He currently focuses on his artistic practice and has participated in numerous exhibitions locally.

Transcripts of interviews between Choy Weng Yang and Teo Hui Min

  1. Student days, early career as teacher and UNESCO Fellowship
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  2. Role at National Museum Art Gallery (NMAG)
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  3. Artistic practice and the term “abstract impressionism”
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Interviewer: Teo Hui Min • Transcriber: Samantha Leong • Editors: Teo Hui Min and Samantha Leong • Sound editor: Toh Hun Ping

Teo Hui Min (THM): I’ll ask you specifically about a very interesting term, which is “abstract impressionism”. It’s not a term that I’ve seen before or encountered until I came across it in the forewords to a few of your exhibition catalogues. I am wondering how you came to this term and what it means for you?

Choy Weng Yang (CWY): “Abstract impressionism” is the essence of my work and has become increasingly intense recently. I did not come up with the term. It was Cheo Chai-Hiang that came up with this term when he saw my work. In my series of work, there’s abstraction and also impressionism. Initially, Monet’s influence was evident in my work where the objects of representation are discernable through impressionist brushstrokes. At that period, it wasn’t totally abstract yet.

Chai-Hiang was probably trying to say that I have a bit of the impressionism and I have a bit of the abstract, so mine is not abstract expressionist but abstract impressionist. I think it’s quite right. I’m more influenced by Monet than the abstract artists. Something a bit new.

THM: Yes, my thinking when I saw that term you used was similar to what you just mentioned. Taking reference from abstract impressionism, I realised that a lot of your works are very gestural and the notion of impressionism for me was coming through your use of colour. You mentioned a Monet work just now and I’ll like to ask you about this particular work of yours which is also entitled Impressionism, and it’s actually a work that was submitted to the Salon Grand Palais in 1985. Could you share a bit about how abstract impressionism is being conveyed in this particular work? Your brand of abstract impressionism. Perhaps through the use of colour, and what you were trying to convey? Was this more about an abstraction of a seaside or landscape, or was it more of an abstraction of a concept or an emotion?
CWY: First of all, this painting was done way ahead of Chai-Hiang’s observation about abstract impressionism. Although it is titled Impressionism, this one is actually painted more as an abstract piece of art. The title refers to the emotions, not so much the style of art. I remember this one was purposely done very freely to try to create a new style. I played a lot with brushstrokes. You can see the brushstrokes are very clear and very vibrant. To provide texture, I used layers and played with colours to achieve depth and intensity.

This painting, which was exhibited in the Singapore section at the Salon Grand Palais in 1985 is an important work in my overall artistic endeavour. It was an attempt to create work that directly manipulated light and colour and exploring how a powerful painting emerges without a theme relating to anything physical. I was excited by its outcome. It marked a crucial turning point for me.︎

Transcript excerpt from 3. Artistic practice and the term “abstract impressionism” ︎

About the interviewer:
Teo Hui Min is a curator at National Gallery Singapore where she contributes to the curation of ‘Siapa-Nama Kamu?’ and ‘Beyond Declarations and Dreams’, long-term exhibitions about Singapore and Southeast Asian art from the 19th Century to the present day. Her area of research covers visual art practice in Singapore (1950s–1980s), investigations into the historiography of Singapore art history, and tracing the networks of Chinese art societies in Southeast Asia. She was previously a specialist in 20th Century Southeast Asian art at an international auction house. Hui Min holds an MA in Art History from University College London, and a BA in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics.

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