Datuk Tay Hooi Keat was born in Nibong Tebal in 1910. He married a fellow art teacher, Tan Gek Khean in 1931. In 1936,he met Yong Mun Sen and went on painting excursions together. Hooi Keat's earliest watercolour clearly showed the influence of Mun Sen.

He was a founder member and treasurer of the Penang Chinese Art Club in 1936 and exhibited works with Mun Sen, Kuo Ju Ping, Lim Cheng Ean and others in shows organised by the club until 1939 when the club disbanded. He held his first solo exhibition at the Penang Library in 1948. That same year, he became the first Malaysian to be awarded a Ministry of Education scholarship to study art at the Camberwell School of Art in England.

He returned in 1952 with an intermediate Certificate in Art and Craft and a National Diploma in Design. He taught at the St. Georges Girls' School until 1954 when he was appointed Penang Superintendent of Art.In 1957,he was appointed to the Federal Inspectorate of the Ministry of Education until his retirement in 1969.

Soon after his return from England, Hooi Keat formed the Penang Art Teaches' Council as the initial chairman. He actively shared with his fellow teachers, the new art movement in the West and instilled in them the ideas of art education for school children based on free self-expression. One of his favourite handouts was his "Ten Commandments of Art Teaching" which was full of wisdom and humour to guide the art teachers. His messianic zeal and tireless attempt to effect changes in art-teaching approaches was legendary earned him the nickname of 'Lau Hor' (Hokkien for 'tiger').

He held his second one-man show in 1955 and his third in 1968 at the British Council - Penang Library Hall. His art through the years runs the gamut of academic realism, impressionism, post-impressionism, cubism and abstract expressionism. However his enthusiasm for art education seemed to have eclipsed his love for painting as he did not exhibit extensively. In addition, he was busy as the Chairman of Penang Museum's Art Gallery, a post he held from 1964 till his death in January 1989.

His multifarious roles as an art educationist, artist and art activist did not go unnoticed. In 1974, the USM Museum and Art Gallery honoured him with a solo exhibition. In 1980, the Penang Museum and Art Gallery celebrated his achievements with a retrospective exhibition entitled 'A tribute to Tay Hooi Keat'. In 1983 the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur honoured him with a retrospective exhibition, featuring 213 works of his art, in a variety of media, including pen and ink, gouache, linocut, oil and terracotta.

He was awarded the Darjah Yang Mulia Pangkuan Negara Negara (DPMN) by the Governor of Penang in 1986, and became the first and only visual artist to have awarded a datukship for his many significant contributions to the nation.

He had always been a deeply religious man. In the last few years of his life, he painted a series of oil paintings centred on the life of Jesus Christ. After his death, he left behind an impressive collection of major paintings that will very easily survive the reappraisals of time and safeguard his stature as a major painter in the context of modern Malaysian paintings.   

 
 

Tay Hooi Keat

 
 

The Cross  
Oil on Canvas
 

 

In The Garden  
Water Colour
 

 
 

 

 
 

Fishermen Village   Oil   1956

 

House4s on Stilts   Water Colour

 

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