Singapore Art Museum Is Proud To Be The Recipient Of A Donation Of 12 Chinese Ink Paintings From Singapore Finger Painter Artist Wu Tsai Yen


(2 August 2001) Singapore Art Museum is pleased to be the recipient of 12 Chinese ink paintings from local artist, Mr Wu Tsai Yen. The 12 works comprise of Chinese scroll paintings by the artist, executed between 1984 to 1999. The donated works was received by Minister of State for Defence and Information and The Arts, Mr David T E Lim, on behalf of the Singapore Art Museum, at the donation ceremony on 2 August 2001.

Says Minister of State for Defence and Information & The Arts, Mr David T E Lim on the significance of the donation," As an eminent finger painter, Wu Tsai Yen is a great exponent of finger painting and has been credited with having revived international interest in the art of finger painting. The donation is significant in enabling art which would otherwise be seen by a few to be available to a larger audience. Donations as such also contribute to the quality of the museum's permanent collection. Singapore Art Museum has done very well in building up its permanent collections over the years, and I'm happy to say that to date it has the world's largest public collection of 20th-century contemporary art, with over 5,500 works to its name. To build and develop the quality of the collection requires efforts and contributions from many sources, donations certainly being one important source. We hope that Singapore will see an increasing number of donors and patrons coming forward to make their collections available to a larger audience through exhibiting and donating works to museums."

Born in 1911 in the Fujian province in China, Wu Tsai Yen spent his childhood years in Indonesia and Singapore. Later, he returned to China and subsequently learnt finger painting from masters like Pan Tianshou (1898-1971) at the Xin Hua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. Having settled in Singapore by 1938, he was amongst the early traditional Chinese ink painting teachers at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts when it was founded in the same year. His numerous exhibitions and demonstrations, both local and overseas, have won him much admiration and acclaim. In addition, as founder of the San Yi Finger Painting Society in 1978, his influence on later generations of artists has been considerable.

Mr Wu was awarded a Public Service Award (Bintang Bakti Masharakat) in 1979 for his contributions to the arts. Eight years later, he was similarly honoured by the Museum of History in Taiwan with an honorary gold medal.

Flora and fauna forms the main subject matter that ranges from pine trees and lotuses to sparrows and goldfishes. Mr Wu uses the xieyi ("sketching the idea") style, where the forms are suggested by freely applied strokes ink and colour. In terms of finger painting, nails draw delicate lines whereas fingers and palms produce thick strokes and large patches respectively. Equally adept in ink as well as colour, the artist has created an atmospheric work of shades of gray in Grapes in Ink whereas Plum Blossoms and Bamboo has been rendered naturalistically.

Finger painters have traditionally held that using fingers and hands, rather than brushes, afforded them a more direct means of expression. In addition, it was believed that fingers and hands could achieve certain novel effects, not possible with the functional brush. The technique of finger painting is said to date back to the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). The 9th century Chinese text "Record of Famous Paintings of All the Dynasties" records an artist Zhang Zao (active mid to late 8th century) who "used only blunt brushes or else rubbed the silk with his hands". However, his works have not survived and it appears that the art was most developed under the Qing dynasty artist Gao Qipei (1660-1734). Subsequently, there have been and still are, artists like the late Chen Wen Hsi, who use their fingers to paint. However, Mr Wu remains one of those rare individuals who persevere solely in finger painting.

Says Mr Kwok Kian Chow, Director of Singapore Art Museum, "The Singapore Art Museum is pleased and very honoured to receive the gift of these 12 paintings from renowned Singapore artist, Mr Wu Tsai Yen. Through the museum collection, the works of Wu Tsai Yen will be made more accessible to the public. The rare and significant technique of finger painting will be sustained through Mr Wu Tsai Yen's artistic practices and range of accomplished works. These works demonstrate Mr Wu's great virtuosity as a finger painter and the donation importantly enriches SAM's holding of local Chinese paintings".