ABOUT 50 years ago, Choo Keng Kwang's paintings sold for just $150 each at pasar malams (night markets). He was an unknown artist then, eager to sell his art to any interested buyer.
Today, his larger canvases can easily command six-figure sums. The most expensive work to be shown at tomorrow's solo exhibition is World Peace 1, a 100cm by 200cm painting of doves priced at $280,000. There will also be 19 other works for sale, tagged at $28,000 and above.
Prices, however, aren't something that concern the 81-year-old artist. Having toiled through the difficult early years, he understands the value of hard work and humility. The first-generation artist prefers instead to discuss his oil works at the exhibition, which are centred on the theme of "harmony".
He explains: "I often use different colours in some of my paintings to promote harmony among the races. We need harmony to maintain stability in our society. So I wanted the exhibition to remind people about the importance of peace in Singapore."
A contemporary of the late Liu Kang and Georgette Chen, Choo remains popular among collectors as he is adept at combining Western impressionism and rules of perspective with traditional Chinese brushwork.
Former president Ong Teng Cheong counts as one of Choo's fans, and the Singapore government has commissioned his paintings as state gifts to foreign dignitaries.
Choo says he's very concerned about the struggles of younger artists. He says: "Young artists these days have a much broader focus in their art and not so much a specific theme. Most of them do art as a part-time job because it's a difficult job. It's not easy to make a living if they did it full-time.
"I know many of them go to countries like China or Malaysia to sell and promote their works because it's not easy to do so here. I sincerely hope that the people of Singapore will be more supportive of local art and buy local art."
Throughout the years, Choo has remained committed to philanthropic causes. Several of his paintings have been donated to charitable causes, the proceeds of which have benefited hospitals, community centres, schools and even the ASEAN Secretariat office in Jakarta.
Presented by DaTang Fine Arts Gallery and I.M Gateway, the exhibition tomorrow will be opened by former Olympian sprinter C Kunalan, who is a friend of Choo's and a former mentor of DaTang's director Howard Yu.
Says Mr Yu: "Our aim is to increase the awareness of local art in Singapore. We want to reach out to the masses using exhibitions like this."
Choo Keng Kwang's solo exhibition opens tomorrow at 3pm at the Malaysia Brand Outlet at the Vertex, 33 Ubi Avenue 3, #01-27. It will run till March 25. Opening hours are 11am to 7pm (Mon - Sat) and 2pm to 7pm (Sundays). Admission is free.
For details, call +65 8268-5299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org