Avant-garde artist Cheong Laitong dies aged 90

Avant-garde artist Cheong Laitong dies aged 90

He was best known for an immense mural that adorns the outer walls of Muzium Negara

MALAYSIAN avant-garde artist and a leading voice in the local artistic landscape, Cheong Laitong, died at the age of 90 on November 4 in Kuala Lumpur. News of his death was confirmed by a family member.

Laitong as he was endearingly known, was born in Guangzhou, China in 1932 and moved to Malaysia in 1937 during the mass emigration of Chinese and Indians in this country. Growing up in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur, Laitong has always shown an affinity towards art.

Gian elephants, trees and landscapes were his earliest subjects of interest. As he matured in his artistic practise, he would return to themes concerning the environment and nature.

“When you start to paint, the painting will tell you what to do, you just carry on painting. Painting will develop your mind and dictate to you which direction you go.

“Sometimes, the painting would just stop halfway and say, ‘I don’t want to talk to you anymore, and you can’t paint this anymore. All paintings have life,” he said in an interview with The Star in July 2007.

Laitong’s mural still adorns the National Museum building to this day. – Pic courtesy of KLIA2.info

The budding artist who grew up pre-Merdeka was among the few who benefited from the Wednesday Art Group in the 1950s founded by Englishman Peter Harris.

In 1961, he was granted a year-long scholarship to pursue further studies in his art education at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, United States and then later on at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.

“A painting must always extend beyond the boundaries of its frame. One must be able to imagine everything that exists beyond that. If a painting does not evoke the need to suppose a world that continues, then it has failed,” Laitong said in an interview with The Star back in August 1995.

In 1962, he became a known figure within the local community when he won a competition to design a mural for the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur. The mural was commissioned by Tunku Abdul Rahman and funded by rubber magnate and philanthropist Datuk Lee Kong Chiang.

The mural is one of Malaysia’s most important public artworks which is still proudly displayed on the outer walls of the building.

“I was working at the Malayan Film Unit and I followed the cameraman to the East Coast where they made films about batik and songket weaving factories, and I remember vividly how these works were created.

“In my early period as an artist, I was influenced by the East Coast Malay craftsmen who were making kites, songket, batik, fabrics, weaving, basketry, pots and silver.

“Those were my favourite painting subjects, so it fitted in nicely when I tried to design the murals,” Laitong was quoted as saying in Building Merdeka: Independence Architecture in Kuala Lumpur, 1957 – 1966.

He became a leading voice and played a more active role during the potent nation-building years of the 60s, alongside other pioneers of Malaysian art such as Syed Ahmad Jamal, Ibrahim Hussein, Yeoh Jin Leng and Abdul Latiff Mohidin. His work began to be exhibited in the country and abroad.

“It was a kinship that was forged by similar education backgrounds, preferred methods of work and shared aesthetic values.

“The approach adopted by these artists as to the purpose of art and methods of work, established the avant-garde position of the 1960s in the context of modern art activity in Malaysia,” wrote art critic T.K. Sabapathy.

He would go on to have a career in the advertising industry, but always kept his love for art alive. His legacy remains alive today through retrospective exhibits that show his many decades of dedication to the art form.

Film critic Hassan Muthalib posted a set of photographs and a loving tribute to him on social media page with the caption, “Cheong Laitong in 1953 at age 20 when he was a titling artist making Chinese titles for the Malayan Film Unit’s documentary films.

“Not long after, he was poached by Rothmans to be their art director. He designed the horse for the White Horse cigarettes. I never met him but talked with him over the phone. He was reluctant to be interviewed in his early days at MFU.

“He did the earliest animation line tests for Malaysia’s first animated short, Hikayat Sang Kancil, which was later finished by his colleague, set designer A Xavier in 1978.”

Film producer Haris Sulong wrote: “I had an opportunity to work with him when he was the creative director of Dunhill. We had meetings in Jakarta and shot the Dunhill Jakarta TVC in London. We walked [in] Hyde Park together and chatted.

“He was like a father figure. He let me handle the project on my own till we wrapped in Australia. Such a kindhearted man. May he rest in peace.”

Laitong is survived by his wife and four children.

source – The Vibes


Share This


Wordpress (0)
Disqus (0 )