A conversation with Cheong Kiet Cheng feels like a journey into one of her paintings – colourful and gossamer light, a warm breeze ever present in the revolving wheel of life.
Cheong’s third solo show, Between Two Hills –The Chorus of Life, is her first since the birth of her daughter, marking a new adventure that is intensely personal and inevitably forged by familial relationships and kinship.
This artist, known for her deft crafting of whimsical worlds where animals and humans roam in a fantasy wonderland, sees these paintings as a continuation of her earlier work in Sing To The Land Of My Heart (2015), also held at Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
“This show has a slightly different emphasis,” she says.
“It has a renewed focus on life, meditation and nature. It is perhaps a little more spiritual, no doubt influenced by my life experiences and changes that have happened.”
A recent relocation from Kuala Lumpur to Pulau Ketam, off the coast of Port Klang in Selangor, has been rejuvenating, to say the least. Fishing villages and mangroves aplenty, with houses on stilts and bicycles dominating the local landscape, Cheong, 35, feels at home here, describing the environment as “a good match with her soul”.
“It is a simple life here, a new life. It is the ocean, the island, the back to basics that is a good fit for my family and I, and of course, my painting as well,” she says.
After completing her diploma in fine art at the Dasein Academy of Art in Kuala Lumpur, Cheong dabbled in journalism, photography and acting. Between Two Hills – The Chorus of Life is partially borne out of her reflections on first-time motherhood, although it is overall very much informed by her other interests such as meditation, contemplation, poetry and philosophy. It is a wide arc that she embraces both in daily routine and in her artistic pursuits, reinforcing meaning behind variety being the spice of life.
“It often does look like it from the outside, but I believe everyone in this world is connected. I can feel them, and they can feel me,” she says.
But there is also a certain degree of distinction, even detachment, embedded within such tightly- linked bonds.
“Everyone comes into the world alone and in solitude,” she says, mulling over the birth of her daughter.
“And so in life it shall continue as such. You can surround yourself with friends and family, but there will always be a part of you that remains separate from the rest. We enter the world with nothing, and so we shall bring nothing with us when we leave.”
The paintings in Between Two Hills – The Chorus Of Life are mostly colourful symbolism of her charting of experiences and her thoughts on the everyday, but two stand out as different from the rest. When I Was Here is firmly rooted in sepia and nostalgia, a snapshot of her young self riding on a bicycle with her late father, a clock that is a forever part of the family home she grew up in ticking in the background, and old family photographs.
Bathed in the same kind of light, hopes and dreams, Solitude Is A Person’s Carnival is of her daughter, then a tiny three-day old baby, captured first in a photograph, then in this acrylic on canvas work.
The “hills” in Between Two Hills – The Chorus Of Life references the flow and ebb of life. To Cheong, what we experience is “a series of time”, where the cycles go on with or without you.
“The most important thing is to enjoy life as long as you are here on earth,” she says.
“Find pleasures in the simple things, because even small things like kicking back with a cup of tea on a quiet afternoon can be fulfilling.”
Behind Two Hills – The Chorus Of Life is on at Wei-Ling Gallery, 8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields in KL till Feb 28. For more info, call 03-2260 1106 or visit weiling-gallery.com. Opening hours 10am-6pm (Monday-Friday), 10am-5pm (Saturday). Closed on Sunday and public holidays.