Tan Chiang Kiang began drawing by copying during his primary school days. He copied landscapes from magazines and books using coloured pencils. He drew imageries with pencil. During his secondary school days, he started using the medium of watercolour. The owner of a bookstore he frequented introduced him to the Chinese Brush Paintings of Qi Baishi and Xu Beihong.
Until that point in his life he was just groping. After Junior Middle School and because of his passion and talent in art, he was invited to be an art teacher in Mah Hua Primary School, Tasek Gelugor. While teaching, he attended the Teacher’s Training Course and qualified as a teacher. In 195 7 a scholarship gave him the opportunity to further his Teacher Training studies at the National Taiwan Normal University. As luck would have it, after three months, he was able to switch courses to pursue a Fine Arts Degree.
Here, he discovered himself and the intimate world of art. Here, his intellect and talent were sharpened by learning the various disciplines such as sketching, Chinese brush painting, oil, watercolour, printmaking, calligraphy, history of Eastern and Western art. Such disciplines had an enormous impact on his artistic creations in his later years. Many of his lecturers inspired and developed his talent to greater heights.
They included Ma PaiTsui :1 7k), Huang Chun-Pi (Efififi), Lin Yushan (PF/MU l Liao ChiChun Until today, Tan credits and attributes his success to them. He returned to Malaysia in 1961 and started teaching at the Keat Hwa Secondary School in Alor Setar and Cheng Chong Private School in Penang in 1963. Cheng Chong Private School was eventually closed due to low enrolment. In 1964 he started
teaching at the Chung Ling Private School and has stayed there ever since.
In the 1960s, he began painting profusely. His expressionist creations were fresh, bold, spontaneous and sanguine. The bold and vibrant colours remind us of Matisse’s Fauvist paintings. The blue and orange colours were very obvious in his Fruits and Flowers, so were the purple and yellow colours in Playing Scrabble.
He did not conform to realistic or naturalistic representations. As in Cezanne’s presentation of the material world, he distinguished his subject matter into shapes and lines with liveliness in his two paintings, Penang General Post Office I and Traditional
He was very daring and used superimposed techniques on many of his paintings in the 1960s such as I want to Be Free, Fruits and Flowers, The Beauty of Geese and Ideal Home. Shapes of objects and lines were overlapping each other.
His exploratory and experimental spirit started in the 196os. This is clearly depicted in his Penang General Post Office I and Penang General post Office II. He had already begun looking for new dimensions in the same subject matter that he had painted. The same subject matter viewed from the same angle was presented through different techniques. In General Post Office I, the influence of Cezanne was obvious.
The subject matter was dissected into geometrical shapes while the outlines were clear and harsh. In contrast, the colours applied were fluid and gave a softer effect in Penang General Post Office II.
In the 1980s, he matured. The infusion of both western art and the essence of Chinese art in his paintings brought forth his own unique style. Although his study in Chinese art in Taiwan had a great influence on him, there was no trace of the physical form of Chinese art in his paintings. He successfully practiced the true concept of Chinese art, to paint not the subject as it is (realistically) but to paint the subject as he sees it (with his feeling from the heart). This is portrayed in the paintings of the 1980s, especially in his Forest, Zenith and Flower series.
He produced a wealth of masterful paintings using various media, techniques and styles. They included outdoor scenes of Penang town, seaside and villages. These paintings were realistic in style, some with basic watercolour techniques, others with
masking fluid and sprinkled salt to enhance special effects.
Now that he is 81 years old (at the time this book was written),his creativity does not seem to be waning. He still teach and test new boundaries.