Choong Kam Kow's Art Transcending Cultures And Time

Last update: 20/01/2015

By Kurniawati Kamarudin

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- The challenge for any artist is expressing their thoughts and observations through the best visual effects and this is where veteran artist Dr Choong Kam Kow has done remarkably well over the last six decades.

As for this octogenarian, it has been a long journey where he not only illustrated his observation and mind through colours, shapes and pictures on the canvas but also introduced profound innovations in his visual language.

Choong's works clearly reflect the only thing constant in this world, change. Be it in the cultural, philosophical, nature or social realm, his works highlight the changing time and aspirations that Malaysians have been undergoing.


The Ipoh born Choong has divided his works into 15 series with each made up of a comprehensive range of paintings based on his observation, feedback and reaction to the ever changing time and surroundings.

In fact Choong's works reflect the journey of his life, with many of his composition reflecting the landscape and society that he grew up with.

His works are now on display at the National Visual Arts Museum here, exhibited under the theme "Retrospective Dr Choong Kaw Kow - Cross Culture, Trans Era'.

The exhibition that started on November 2014 will be on until 31 March and was recently launched by Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah of Perak.

When met recently, the vivid Choong detailed to Bernama all his works from the 1950s up to now.

"Each of my 268 work of art on display here has its own story to tell," said Choong who earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the National Taiwan Normal University in 1965.

His Kinta series, provides the narrative on how he started as a serious artist in the 1960s. The works using water colour, oil paint and Chinese ink creatively highlights the Kinta Valley landscape then, the place where he grew up.

His four-year sojourn in Taiwan also influenced his works where he started adopting a more modern approach and took up bold brush strokes in his landscape paintings with the outcome appearing rather abstract.

"Even during the formative years, I tried my hands on more innovative techniques to better express myself and seek ideas to look for my own identity and characteristic for my works," he said.

After completing his studies in Taiwan in 1965, he became the first Malaysian to receive a Fulbright scholarship to pursue modern arts in the United States and this is where he honed further his creativity with a masters degree in fine arts from the Pratt Institute in New York in 1968.


His stay in New York, a modern metropolis, also influenced his works where upon his return home in, from 1968-1972, he created the Shaped Canvas series.

It was also the turning point as he started moving away from landscape depictions to abstract forms that would become his hallmark in the future.

"This work of art combines two elements - geometric and non-geometric - in a single composition in representing the conservative traditions of Malaysia and the development and modernity of New York," he said.

The series on shapes depicts his own feedback on the efforts taken by the government to bolster science and technology a decade after achieving independence.

"The composition of colours and shapes depict the character of the industry then," he said.

With the passage of time Choong adopted a more modern approach and the testament to this is the SEA-THru series where he produced abstract arts using mixed media creating a bass relief effect.

The Kungfu series depicts the numerous moves in the martial arts, and the Dragon series depicts the mythical creature associated with power and strength.

Interestingly, the festival series puts forth the traditional values and the spirit of unity among Malaysians. This is clearly conveyed through the shapes of the local kuih like the "pulut panggang", "ketupat", "otak-otak" and the Chinese delicacy "zhingzi" (kuih chang).

Meanwhile, the series on nature includes paintings on mushrooms and the beauty of the rock formations that he had observed in the Endau-Rompin National Park and Bako National Park in Sarawak during his visits there in the 1980s.


Choong who has a honorary doctorate degree in arts from Robert Gordon University, in Scotland has also won several prizes including first prize for drawing and second price for water colour art at the Virginia Art Exhibition in the United States.

He also won a prize for his landscape art in the art competition organised by Perbadanan Nasional Berhad and the third prize in a competition organised by Association of Banks.

In so far he has held more than 100 exhibitions on his work, both locally and internationally, including 18 solo exhibitions at numerous museums and art galleries. Among them the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan, Guangdong Museum of Art, China, Taipei Fine Arts Museum and National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.

When speaking of arts in Malaysia, Choong who is also the chairman of the Asian Artists Association's Malaysian Chapter is certainly disappointed with the indifference shown by Malaysians towards arts.

The poor public appreciation for arts in the country is a cause of concern, especially when compared with nations like Japan, Korea and Taiwan where people are more appreciative of the subject.

"Though things maybe slightly better now compared previously, we are still far behind when compared with other societies," he said adding that the situation could only be reversed if arts education is introduced right from primary school.

And this is the best way to create a creative and knowledgeable Malaysian society in arts.