Patrick Teo may be considered a revolutionary artist who is able to illustrate traditional subjects in a novel way, his ability to reinvent the cooliemen, Samsui Women, men and women from the 50s and 60s in a unique contemporary style; is a testament to his visualisation and artistic skills.
Teo deploys the linear technique engulfed in expressionistic hues. The colours are subtle, he reflects the fading precious memories of old Singapore. He eschews the conventions of rendering nostalgic-themed subjects and reinvents them in an expressionistic style. Conventions of expressionism include distortion, exaggeration, and bold and vivid colours.
The “Satay Seller”. “Storyteller” and pioneer immigrants in his paintings have intensely animated expressions. The dramatic expressions combined with the bold linear hues result in an “electrifying” experience.
In the painting “Queuing for Water” villagers of different races, namely, Malay, Chinese and Indians, take turns collecting water in their neighbourhood. The faces and gestures of the characters reveal their idiosyncrasies. The effect is dramatic and hilarious, making this painting an interesting social narrative. Having lived in a tumultuous era of Singapore's history and survive the Second World War, Teo has a radically different perspective on life. He chooses to look inwards to discover a form of “self-expression” that offered him an individual voice in a world he once felt hostile and insecure about. By dramatizing his paintings, his approach to art-making reflects his unique personal vision that explores the inner landscape of the soul.
From the happy faces of the children, the candyman and the joyful samsui women, it is evident that Teo chooses to celebrate life. What emerges clearly from the collective artistic expression in this exhibition is Teo’s testimony of the trials and triumphs of the tenacious human spirit.
In “Candyman” the sight of the candy seller raising his stick and twirling the sticky candy around it, set the children’s heart soaring and faces beaming in anticipation of their delicious treat. Despite their poverty and desperate circumstances, they can enjoy moments of happiness and hope.
“It was the worst of times, it was the best of times” Charles Dickens: “Hard Times” –
This seemingly contradictory and ambivalent proclamation best characterises Teo’s paintings.
The samsui women toiled thousands of miles away from their homeland during the 1950s in search of construction and industrial jobs. Teo chooses to illustrate the iconic samsui women of early Singapore in a light-hearted style while imbuing them with the values of sharing, comradeship, hard work and resilience. Their faces are seen smiling in every painting in spite of their back-breaking labour.
Teo sees the samsui women as an exemplary social figure who triumphs against all odds. The manifestation of the human spirit is most acute under the harshest and trying social circumstances.
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