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Tay Bak Koi

Tay Bak Koi (1939 - 2005) was an artist renowned for his portrayals of fishing villages, kampung scenes and urban landscapes. He specialised in oil and watercolour and his works have been exhibited extensively in Singapore and various other countries, including Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Germany and the United States. His style tended toward a blend of realism and fantasy, and he was known for his recurring stylised imagery of the buffalo. In 1970, he was commissioned to produce 300 works for the Hilton Hotel in Singapore.
 
Tay's talent for drawing was discovered by his father's friend, who subsequently enrolled him in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1957. His teacher, the late Cheong Soo Pieng, taught him to appreciate existing works of art in new ways and to challenge conventional art forms.
 
His distinctive style was largely attributable to his dexterity in merging fantasy with realism. For example, when depicting urban landscapes, he tended to disrupt the realistic mise-en-scène with fantasy and fairytale-like interjections that emphasised the crisscrossing of urban lines and subtle nuances of urban lifestyle. While he placed emphasis on the observable reality, he engaged in a process of elimination and distortion in order to reduce complex forms to their basic shapes. The result was a keen appreciation and presentation of the two-dimensional aspect of painted surfaces.
 
He also displayed a deep appreciation of colours and attention to rich textural surfaces, decorative details and acute linework. He used colours sparingly in some of his works, playing on the resonances and complexities of the main cool hues like blues and greens and punctuating them with spots of bright colours. In others, he allowed his colours to emerge in a riotous burst of vivid reds, yellows and blues. In his representations of the Singapore River, he chose to focus on muted tones of greys and browns.
 
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