Born in Singapore in 1942, Wong Keen’s prodigious talent in painting was evident since childhood. At age 19, Wong Keen held his first solo exhibition at the then National Library of Singapore and moved to America in that same year after being accepted by the prestigious Art Students League of New York. When Wong Keen departed in 1961, he was the first Singaporean to pursue art education in New York and the first Asian and Singaporean to have won the Edward G. McDowell Travelling Scholarship (1965) in the history of Art Students League.
After the 2nd World War, New York flourished as the world centre for arts. By the 1950s, what became collectively appraised as Abstract Expressionism had taken the world by storm. It was against this progressive backdrop in the early 1960s that the young Wong Keen developed his artistic sensibility. During his time at the Art Students League of New York, Wong Keen studied under influential Abstract Expressionist artists such as Morris Kantor, Sidney Gross, Vaclav Vytlacil and Hans Hoffman, gaining first-hand insights into the Colour-field theory (an essential strand in Abstract Expressionism), which emphasizes strategic placements of colours and their effective dramatization to achieve form and balance.
Some may expect fifty years in America to have demolished Wong Keen’s Chinese roots; quite on the contrary, being schooled in the Art Students League (1961 – 65) and years of living in the West in fact heightened Wong Keen’s sensitivity toward his Chinese heritage and culture. Brought up in a Chinese scholar-artist environment, a deep reverence for Chinese ink and brushwork was instilled in Wong Keen since young. At the age of 13, his creative mind was already penetrated by the idiosyncratic, gestural style of Bada Shanren, which continues to follow and shape his visual poetics across varying mediums today.
Having lived and worked in America for over fifty years, Wong Keen’s artistic style is an embodiment of cross-cultural confluences: inspired by the elegance and expressiveness of Chinese ink painting and calligraphy, as well as Abstract Expressionism. In 2007, the Singapore Art Museum celebrated his masterful repertoire with a solo exhibition. In addition to private patronage from around the world, his works are also collected by the Singapore Art Museum, The National Museum of China, Resorts World Sentosa and The Fullerton Hotel.