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"Chew Fang Chin is boldly making his own way, seeing his own vision, telling his own tale."

Heidi Munan-Oettli

  • Sarawak Author with more than fifty years researching the material culture, folklore and history of Sarawak. Book Author of “The Sartorial Heritage of Sarawak”, “Beads of Borneo”, “Sarawak Historical Landmarks”, “Food Heritage of Sarawak” and “Sarawak Folk Tales”Honorary Curator of Beads for the Sarawak Museum.

Chew Fang Chin started his artistic career as a school boy, by copying jars. The lad’s father was a discerning collector of antique porcelain, many of the pieces featuring delicately drawn classical Chinese landscapes.

While still a school boy, Chew Fang Chin spent his free time sketching, developing confidence and technical knowledge as he went. He contributed paintings to group exhibitions, and benefited from the company and advice of older local artists.

After completing his secondary education in Kuching, Chew Fang Chin went to Taiwan for university studies. He made full use of the opportunities offered there for furthering his artistic interests too, reading widely on the subject and taking tuition from recognized masters.

Chew Fang Chin considers the classical Chinese style a very good base for an artist’s education, and has great respect for the strict discipline it imposes on eye and hand. But he does not regard it as the last word in Art.

Studying the pictures of the French impressionists helped him to channel his own energies and talents. Returning to Sarawak after an absence of several years allowed him to see the formerly familiar landscape with new eyes. Like many local artist, Chew Fang Chin explores his homeland with brush and paint. But he paints very few landscapes – his vision of Sarawak is distilled into serene, elongated figures.

The State’s ulu people fascinate Mr. Chew; their natural elegance of bearing and the style of their now disappearing costumes both strike him as eminently artistic. But he does not produce textbook-illustrations of the various indigenous tribes, neatly catalogued. His paintings of them are a very sensitive mind’s impressions of beauty.

Mr. Chew does not consider it his duty to faithfully render whatever is visible. He chooses, arranges, eliminates. His aim is not photographic accuracy, it is artistic authenticity. More than most artist of his age, he has learnt the difficult craft of Leaving Out.

Many of these pictures show that Mr. Chew finds the half-figure challenging. Eliminating the hair and a possibly spectacular head- dress brings the viewer into immediate eye-contact with the subject. This direct approach, the excision of anything that could distract from the main theme, it typical of many of this artist’s works.

Mr. Chew handles paint as if it was a live substance. Softly brushed on very tough-textured paper, outlines swim and blend into each other. He sees a figure not as a series of lines but as planes, protruding and receding with the subtleties of a very restricted palette. Lines and tints merge in curves, in rhythms reminiscent of poetry.

The Impressionist traces are still there; lingering memories of the classical Chinese landscapes he copied lovingly as a boy have not quite vanished. But Chew Fang Chin is boldly making his own way, seeing his own vision, telling his own tale. He is a worthy representative of Sarawak among the younger group of Malaysia’s artists.

Source: “Chew Fang Chin Art Exhibition”. 1986. Published by Sarawak Taiwan Graduates’ Association, Sarawak, Malaysia.


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