Watercolourist Calvin Chua Cheng Koon translates his love for dancing onto canvas

The artist moves his brush to music and dance while retaining the splashes of tropical greenery he is known for.

Chua capturing the movements of the Dua Space dancers at the opening of Dance on Canvas (All photos: Calvin Chua/Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery)

Watercolourist Calvin Chua Cheng Koon was into dancing in his younger days. In fact, he met his wife, May Chan, during a dance festival in Penang in 1979 and they became pen pals after that. As art creation started to take up his time and focus in the early 1980s, dance was relegated to the back seat and slowly dropped out of the picture.

In March last year, Chua had the chance to meet Anthony Meh, founder and managing director of Dua Space Dance Theatre, during the company’s show at Fo Guang Shan Art Museum in Jenjarom, Selangor. Watching the dancers perform and chatting with Meh after that, the artist was deeply moved and “creative inspiration sparkled within me”.

“I, who once enjoyed dancing in my youth, found a renewed connection to the art form,” Chua says. It was then that he knew he had to capture the graceful lines and fleeting beauty of the dance on his canvas.


Musicality, acrylic on canvas

Well, he lost little time doing so. In November 2022, Chua held Dancing Hues of an Untold Tale, a solo exhibition featuring his first works on dance, at G13 Gallery. The second time he put out such pieces was at the recent Telur Pecah 3.0, a contemporary show for local independent artists organised by GMBB, Kuala Lumpur, in collaboration with Core Design Gallery.

On Dec 9, Chua’s 13th solo exhibition, Dance on Canvas, opened at Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery in Jenjarom with a dance performance choreographed and presented by Meh and his Dua Space team. The new series is inspired by their stage work, and the artist, true to form, captured the dancers in action as they moved around him.

Art enthusiasts would be familiar with Chua’s River Series, in which he captures kampung life and the innocence and joy of childhood. Scenes of fruit farms and of children splashing in rivers or at play are a reflection of his childhood in Kedah, where he was born in 1961.

Despite Chua’s shift in focus, his dance paintings retain Malaysian elements such as the lush rainforest with dabs of green, yellow and red. A notable difference, he says, is his choice of a semi-abstract approach and the influence of Wassily Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane theory.


Rainforest II, acrylic on canvas

In his book Point and Line to Plane, published in 1926, the Russian artist explores the idea of point as the “proto-element” of painting and its role in nature, music and other art.

“The essence of art can be seen as an accumulation of countless points and lines, whether in abstract or figurative forms, composed of elements such as dots, lines and planes,” Chua explains.

“Employing this approach to depict musical notes enables me to convey a heightened sense of musicality, making it particularly fitting for my dance series. It enables me to craft an image that is both simple and refined, using visual language to transport viewers into a personal realm, just like what music does for me. This encapsulates the spirit of Kandinsky’s art.”


Rainforest III, acrylic on canvas

Chua paints every day, for experimentation. Artistic creation stems from life, urging him to pay more attention to his surroundings. “Every detail, unexpectedly, conceals a story or delightful surprise,” he finds.

After more than 40 years of working with paint and brushes, he believes that “art creation requires a sincere heart and an expansive mind. I cherish every new experience and experiment, merging them with genuine emotions within me”.

'Dance on Canvas' is on show until Jan 28 at Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery, PT2297, Jalan Sungai Buaya, Jenjarom, Selangor. For more information, call Shireen Lee at (019) 233 2565.

This article first appeared on Dec 18, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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