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Visual Arts

Choy Weng Yang

One of the foremost abstract painters of post-independence Singapore


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

Try to discover your sensitivity to art—like your culture and your genes, it’s in you.

Choy Weng Yang is an artist, curator, arts writer, and educator, and one of the foremost abstract painters of post-independence Singapore. A second-generation artist who is a familiar face in arts events in Singapore, Choy has been a prominent influence on the contemporary art scene.

Born in 1936 in Singapore, Choy Weng Yang studied art in Raffles Institution, but only began to take art seriously later on when he was awarded a scholarship and attended the Hornsey College of Art in London, UK, in the ‘60s, majoring in painting. From there, he went on to the University of London Institute of Education where he graduated with an Art Teachers’ Certificate.

Choy’s years in London were beneficial to his growth as an artist as, outside of learning about art in college, he studied prominent art works—in their original form—in the permanent collections of the National Gallery and the Tate. He travelled around Europe to survey and research on the permanent collections of leading art museums in Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Oslo. This exposure to the modern art of the time would be seen in his artistic output later on in life, showing universal qualities and experimentations in transient light and colour interaction.

When Choy returned to Singapore in 1963 after his time in London, he married art with his other great passion—teaching—and joined the Teachers’ Training College as assistant lecturer in the Arts & Crafts Department. During this time, he continued to paint and exhibited at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in Australia in 1972 and the inaugural exhibition of National Museum of Singapore Art Gallery in 1976. He also exhibited at several other group exhibitions.

In 1973, Choy was awarded a UNESCO fellowship for the creative arts and toured USA extensively. He surveyed and researched the permanent art collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum. He also experimented with environmental abstract sculpture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advance Visual Studies under the mentorship of Professor Gyorgy Kepes. He also visited the studio of Josef Albers, a renowned German artist from the Bauhaus noted for his theories on colour interactions.

In 1978, Choy was appointed as a curator of art at the National Museum of Singapore, where he contributed to the design of the National Museum Art Gallery and graphic designs for the art exhibitions. As curator, Choy was responsible for the presentation in the National Museum Art Gallery in the '80s of the Singapore Pioneer Artists' Series of four exhibitions and a number of international exhibitions, including the Zao Wou-Ki solo exhibition, Paul Klee solo exhibition, Zhang Daqian solo exhibition, Henri Cartier-Bresson solo exhibition and the Modern German Sculptures exhibition. He remained in this position until 1985 when he retired to devote himself to his painting practice.

In 1979, he toured India on the invitation of the government of India, and he was invited by the government of France in 1985 for an extensive cultural tour of France. While in France, Choy visited the studio of notable Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki, known for his abstract paintings. He also studied the modern art collection at the Pompidou Centre and the Maeght Art Collection at the Maeght Foundation in the south of France.

Inspired by what he had seen, what he had studied since the ‘60s, Choy was moved to employ the visual language of Western art in its quest for modernism. In consequence, universal elements built the mental framework for his art. As a result, he was described as an avant-garde artist, alongside those in his generation who worked with similar concepts in abstract art, especially those who had gone abroad to study in a Western institution of art and returned to Singapore.

Colour was a point of investigation for Choy. His early works were arrangements of bands of colour to evoke its enigmatic visual qualities of colour interactions. Perpetually evolving, Choy’s paint works are characterised by a number of distinct phases of transition through impressionism, abstraction, colour interaction and abstract impressionism. Choy finds inspiration in the works of Monet, Cezanne, Mondrian and Albers.

Choy participated in many exhibitions in Singapore, and held his solo show in 2000. He also wrote for several publications and monographs, and was contributing writer for Singapore Artists, published by the Ministry of Culture in 1982 for the National Day Art Exhibition. Choy has written widely for the Singapore’s second-generation artists such as Thomas Yeo, Teo Eng Seng, and Anthony Poon, and also contributed to monographs of artists such as Lim Yew Kuan, Ho Chee Lik and Henry Chen KeZhan.


12 Jul 1930

Born in Singapore.

1960 to 1962

Attended Hornsey College of Art, London, UK. Graduated with a National Diploma of Art with a major in painting.

1962 to 1963

Attended Institute of Education, University of London, UK. Graduated with an Art Teachers’ Certificate.


Returned to Singapore.

1963 to 1973

Assistant lecturer, Arts & Crafts Department, Teachers’ Training College, Singapore.


Participated in Singapore Art, Adelaide Festival of Arts, Australia.


Received the UNESCO Fellowship in Creative Arts. Went on an extensive contemporary art and design tour of USA and did research on environmental sculptures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Centre for Advanced Visual Studies.


Participated in National Museum of Singapore Art Gallery inaugural exhibition.

1978 to 1985

Curator of Art, National Museum of Singapore.


Cultural tour of India at the invitation of the government of India.

Participated in Contemporaries ’79 exhibition, Alpha Gallery, Singapore.


Member, Visual Arts Advisory Committee, Ministry of Culture.

Contributing writer, Singapore Artists, published by Ministry of Culture for National Day Art Exhibition.


Cultural tour of France at the invitation of the government of France.

Participated in Singapore Artists, Salon des Artistes Francais, Grand Palais, Paris, France.

Participated in ASEAN Traveling Exhibition of Painting and Photography, Bandar Sri Begawan, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Singapore.


Participated in New Directions, National Museum of Singapore Art Gallery.


Participated in Singapore Contemporary Artists, Hong Kong Art Centre, Hong Kong.

1990 to 1991

Participated in Bru-Sin Singapore, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore.


Participated in The Figure in Art in the Singapore Context, Group 90, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Singapore.


Participated in ART of the Nude, Group 90, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Gallery, Singapore.


Participated in Art That Binds, Edmund Tie & Company, Singapore.

Participated in Art and Business, organised by Shenn's Art Gallery, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore.


Participated in Line Perceptions – Recent Drawings by 6 Artists, Cicada Gallery, Singapore.


Participated in Window - Recent Paintings by 3 Singapore Artists, Art Forum, Singapore.


Solo exhibition Ambience - Theme and Variations, DP Space, Singapore.


Participated in The Contemporary Asian Art Fair, Suntec City, Singapore.


Participated in City Inspirations, Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, Singapore.

2005 to 2007

Participated in ART Singapore, Suntec City, Singapore.


Participated in Unique 9 Exhibition, Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, Singapore.


Member, selection panel, Singapore Art Exhibition 2009.


Participated in Choy Weng Yang and Jolly Koh: A duet exhibition of master works from two modern painters, Sunjin Galleries, Singapore.

Feb 2013

Participated in Nanyang Inspirations by Cape of Good Hope Art Gallery, ION Art Gallery, Singapore.


TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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