ART lovers have long lamented the lack of comprehensive documentation on Singapore artists, especially visual - that is, in terms of films and documentaries. This was something that Britain-based Singaporean Jin Theng Craven felt acutely, as she was dealing with contemporary Asian art in Britain and represented a few Singapore artists there.
So much so that when the opportunity arose, she decided to do something about it - especially given her background in broadcasting. What began as a germ of an idea in 2009 successfully got seed funding from Hi2p, the funding arm of the Singapore National Heritage Board.
The result is a heartful and enlightening documentary on the art and life of the late Chua Ek Kay - one of Singapore's national treasures, whose black ink brush works of Singapore shophouses and river scenes can be seen by MRT commuters passing through Clarke Quay station.
The documentary is the first production from new specialist Asian art and culture film company, Second Avenue Productions - which is helmed by Ms Craven, who also happens to be the daughter of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
On her choice of Chua, Ms Craven says that she was drawn to his story because he strongly echoes Singapore's own culture with its fusion of East and West, traditional and modernity.
Chua had established his work in Singapore in the 1980s and 90s - when both the economy and built environment were rapidly changing - before he passed away from nasal cancer in 2008, at the age of 61.
Ms Craven contacted his widow in 2009 to discuss the idea of a documentary and got her blessing. Ms Craven then explored funding avenues, and started connecting with people who could give an insight into the artist's world.
"Mrs Chua was incredibly supportive and keen that his legacy should survive," she says. And into the picture came another Chinese ink painter; Chua's only son, Benson; as well as his gallerist Marjorie Chu; and academics and arts personnel such as Kwok Kian Chow and Ian Woo.
Ms Craven roped in friends whom she knew from her previous job in broadcasting, including a former BBC producer and an upcoming British cinematographer. Her production assistants were based in Singapore, along with an intern who was passionate about his job, but it was a tight team of four who pulled the documentary together in just under a year, on a six-figure budget.
The result is a very watchable documentary with high quality production values that goes beyond giving a chronological view of Chua's life to juxtaposing his techniques and inspirations with present-day Singapore scenes. One of the more notable special effects is the layering and seguing of Chua's paintings of local scenes to images of the same locations in present-day Singapore.
It was very much an international team who put this together, says Ms Craven, adding that it this was her intention. The music scoring for the film was also done by Britain-based musicians who could interpret the plaintive erhu sounds into something contemporary. "Not overtly oriental, but to bring out the emotional texture of the documentary," she adds.
The documentary shows that Chua learnt his craft from Shanghai master Fan Chang Tien, while Western art influences included Australian Aboriginal art. The only thing lacking is of course an interview with Chua himself, who died at the peak of his career.
Being and Becoming Chua Ek Kay will be screened at various art venues, and the DVD will also be available for sale. The documentary is being flagged to film festivals, and Ms Craven also hopes to look at other funding sources to feature other Asian artists, especially in the region.
"There is a lot of scope for Asian artists, who are so much lesser known than their Western counterparts," she points out, adding that she will focus on her two strengths, which is the arts and film-making.
DVDs of 'Being and Becoming Chua Ek Kay' are on sale at www.chuaekkayfilm.com
A limited number are available at Objectifs Films (56 Arab St) and museum shops at the Singapore Art Museum, National Museum and Asian Civilisations Museum