Wong Keen was born in Singapore in 1942 and at an early age developed an interest in art under the tutelage of veterans Liu Kang and Chen Wen Hsi, and became accomplished in the art of calligraphy and Chinese ink painting. He was also influenced by the Shanghai School’s combination of brush expression with compositional innovation. In 1961, he arrived in New York to study at the Art Students League and subsequently won in 1965 the prestigious Edward G McDowell Travelling Scholarship which enabled him to study at St Martin’s School of Art, London.
In New York, he met and interacted with leading American Expressionists and was especially influenced by Willem de Kooning and Dong Kingman. He also drew inspiration from British artist Francis Bacon. Wong Keen has imbibed these influences resulting in his own stunning compositions.
He held his first solo exhibition at the National Library in Singapore in 1961 prior to setting out for New York. The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) commemorated him with an exhibition entitled “A Singapore Abstract Expressionist” in 2007. The Museum has sixty-three of his works in its Permanent Collection. In October 2007, The National Art Museum of China, Beijing exhibited his works in a landmark exhibition, “Encounters and Journeys”.
Galerie Belvedere presented “Expressions by Wong Keen” in 2007 at The Arts House, Singapore. In June 2010, Wong Keen participated together with leading artists from China in the much lauded “Ex-change 2010-China-Singapore Art Showcase” at Yinggu Mansion, Beijing. In 2011, Wong Keen was featured prominently in the “Grand Masters of Art Exhibition” presented by Galerie Belvedere in Singapore. In 2012, Wong Keen participated in the “Contemporary Chinese Paintings” exhibition at The National Art Museum of China in Beijing.
He has won critical acclaim for his brilliant abstract expressionist compositions in the US, China and Singapore. His style infuses the grace of Chinese calligraphy with the energetic, individualistic brushwork of the New York School.
The familiar motifs of the lotus and the female nude are rendered in the deft strokes of a mature painter. The lotus flower, which is symbolic and of spiritual value in Asian art and in particular the Chinese tradition, blooms and survives in diverse conditions. His study of the lotus flower is an experimentation of form, influenced by Western Expressionism. He speaks of the complete freedom of expression that the lotus allows and how effortlessly it lends to imaginative experimentation.
“The shape of the lotus leaf changes constantly with the slight touch of a breeze, and transforms into hundreds of different shapes and forms when light falls on it”.
Wong Keen’s art has an international dimension, synthesizing Asian tradition with American individualism. He was Ai Weiwei’s Mentor in New York in the 1980’s.