Nostalgic yet dreamy, nimble yet intimate, modest yet instantly engaging — the stuff of legends in the local lore of modern art.
Imagine if the great cellist Pablo Casals had not ventured into a second-hand sheet music store in Barcelona one afternoon and discovered a tattered copy of Bach’s complete six cello suites. The world would have been bereft of one of the defining moments in composition and music. One could draw a parallel of such ‘fortuitous finds’ with Tan Choon Ghee’s 86 sketchbooks, discovered three years after his death in 2010, through a chance encounter between the Penang State Art Gallery’s board member Lee Khai with Tan’s widow. It was learnt after several meetings, to Lee’s wonderment, that Tan left behind a treasure trove of hitherto unheard of sketches. Indeed, by such fine and fragile threads hang the fate of undiscovered masterpieces!
A Lifetime of Drawing showcases these ‘new’ drawings thematically – nudes, postures, streetscapes, interiors etc – as close as possible to their historical and artistic context. Essential notes on techniques and themes are included as well. The sketchbooks, which contained over 12,000 sketches executed over five decades, were kept by his family. Put together, these sketches open a window into the genius behind Tan’s fertile and creative mind. The earliest ones were those he did during his time at the London Slade School of Fine Art in 1957, but it is his sketches of Penang that have made Tan a household name synonymous with street and harbour scenes and darling of Penangites.
The Penang State Art Gallery paid tribute to Tan recently in a high profile exhibition featuring portions of the sketchbooks (now part of the PSAG Permanent Collection) and ensured their place in the pantheon of sublime art.
A Lifetime of Drawing is now available at Areca.