Ling Cher Eng @ Feng Qiang is known in the fine art and educational circles in Singapore. He was an industrious and tireless painter and an excellent school teacher.
When the famous painter Fang Changqian held his Chinese brush painting exhibition in November 1956, Cher Eng greatly admired Fang’s paintings. Fang Changqian was engaged as an art teacher at Chung Cheng High School and Whampoa Secondary School in 1957. Being a Chung Cheng student then, Cher Eng learnt painting from Fang as a private student until the latter passed away in 1987. Within 30 years, Cher Eng inherited the best of his teacher in the techniques of mastering the brush, ink and water. His eagerness and piety in the 2,000-odd years of traditional Chinese brush painting, respect for his teacher and his persistence in the pursuit of art were incomparable.
Having mastered the art of painting, Cher Eng, together with his fellow painters, founded the Hwa Han Art Society for the purpose of exchanging experiences among fellow painters to seek further improvement. The society was registered under the Societies Act and became a legal art organization, the aims of which are to promote cultural exchanges, propagate oriental fine art and raise the appreciation of calligraphy and painting among Singaporeans, thereby popularizing their teacher’s school of painting.
The easy, rustic style of Fang was derived from Wang Geyi who in turn derived his style from Wu Changshuo. Wu Changshuo inherited Zhao Zhiqian’s style, but he made use of seal character’s calligraphy in painting, thereby creating an air of ruggedness and solidity.
Together with Ren Bonian, Wu Changshuo forged the well-known ‘Shanghai School’ of painting. Free from strictly following their respective teacher, Wu and Ren created their own styles according to their feelings, ideas and self-expressions, and became great masters in their own right. Cher Eng inherited the best of Wu and Ren. It has become a tradition among critics of Chinese painting to comment on a painter’s skill and art according to his ‘parentage’. Cher Eng’s unique skill derived from his ‘parentage’ stood him in good stead in his paintings.
Cher Eng’s teacher Changqian specialized in painting orchids and bamboos which are imbued with real feelings. The ‘Four Gentlemen’ in Chinese painting are plum blossom, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo which symbolize nobility of character. Cher Eng specialized in plum blossoms which are in full bloom during deep, snowy winter, symbolizing a man’s unyielding struggle against adversity. Changqian was fond of painting mynahs after his arrival and settlement in Singapore. Besides excelling in painting, Changqian was also a master of poetry and calligraphy. In all these aspects, Cher Eng inherited from his teacher. He shifted to painting landscapes during the 80s and visited the numberous grand mountains and scenery in China, seeking inspiration and materials for his landscapes and the spiritual unity between Man and Nature.
The early 90s saw Cher Eng’s landscapes entering a new dimension — he used acrylic in his landscapes, flowers and birds. Acrylic is more permeable and adhesive than ochre, cinnabar, azurite and malachite traditionally used in Chinese paintings. It is difficult to apply acrylic onto Xuan paper to attain a unison of colours, but Cher Eng was able to do so with ease and liveliness. Since early 90s, Cher Eng had been applying green, red and white acrylic to enliven his plum blossoms and landscapes, which made him stand out in the fine art circles in Singapore.
Cher Eng was active in Singapore’s fine art circle for 30 years. He participated in various individual and joint painting activities. He was several times the president and vice-president of Hwa Han Art Society, committee member of The Society of Chinese Artists and an organizer of the Youth Festival’s art exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education. Once accepting a job, he would see it through without fail. He was departmental head of art at New Town Primary School for many years. His pupils often scored good results in art exhibitions, rewarding his serious and devoted teaching.
Cher Eng’s paintings of flowers and birds are profound. He was familiar with different species of flowers. He studied them with fellow painters and photographed them for future reference. He was upright, candid and generous. Besides painting, he was an avid collector. He collected stones, calligraphy, paintings, woodcuts, ceramics, etc. He often roamed among potted flowers, particularly peony and daffodils, and took them home, regardless of their prices, on Chinese New Year’s Eve. In the 80s, he frequently toured China and other countries with some of his friends, visiting mountains and rivers, scenic and historic spots to widen his horizon.
In December 1995, together with some of his friends in the fine art circles, he toured West Lake (Zhejiang Province), Huangshan Mountain (Anhui Province) and the Loess Plateau in Taiyuan (Shanxi Province). Among the towering mountains and deep gorges, under a freezing temperature of -18°C, Cher Eng walked briskly and sang loudly and cheerfully. On the night of December 9, returning to Taiyuan Hotel from Yanmeng Pass, he felt a back pain which disabled him from painting, a nightly habit he had kept during his tour. The pain grew so intense that his companions had to send for a chiropractor who diagnosed that he had strained his tendon and that massage would relieve the pain.
The next day, he went on his tour as usual and did not experience any pain that night.
Everybody was happy over his speedy recovery. But on the morning of December 11, while boarding a plane to Beijing from Taiyuan he suddenly collapsed on the plane. A doctor on the same plane tried to resuscitate him. Someone even applied mouth-to-mouth respiration, but in vain. Half an hour later, an ambulance arrived and took him to Taiyuan Hospital. After his companions had arrived in Beijing and checked into the hotel, they learnt to their sorrow that Cher Eng had passed away. Thus was the premature death of an outstanding painter.
This posthumous exhibition and publication of Cher Eng’s works is held by his friends and fellow painters in his memory. They have decided that his excellent works must not go unnoticed.
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