Lam Ka-yee, Miki
Acrylic, pencil, marker, coloured pencil and ink on paper | 2021
J: How did you begin your journey as an artist?
L: I loved drawing anime girls when I was younger, and decided to pursue my studies in arts at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity. I started teaching painting full-time after graduation, but decided to further my study at Hong Kong Art School as I felt inadequate. From Higher Diploma to Bachelor of Arts programme, I have encountered a variety of art disciplines, and set my path towards becoming an artist.
J: Why take “city” as your theme, and capture it with sketches and semi-abstract approach?
L: I realise through arts that I pay particular attention to cityscape. For example, Coca cola building is inspired by the stacked Coca Cola crates on the street, which reminded me of the living environment in Hong Kong. My early works are often based on objects that evoke thoughts on urban living. Meanwhile, my current style is developed from sketches during daily commutes, combined with different materials, including pencil, charcoal, coloured pencil, marker and acrylic, to create larger paintings.
I started to record traces of the city through sketches after a trip to Tokyo years ago – I realised that I have very similar impressions even though I am in different cities. I tried to recall what is unique about Hong Kong, but nothing definite came up except common stereotypes. Therefore, I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the city. I teach at different places and often take various types of transportation, giving me time to observe the city and to sketch. I believe that dynamic sketching is closer to how urbanites look at the city than still life sketching, as we seldom stay still. In an era when things are seen through cameras instead of our eyes, some people choose to record sceneries with photos. The visual memory and feeling of the moment, however, are more important to me. These elements cannot be captured by camera, but you can put them down directly and simply by sketching.
Sketching is also a form of research for me, as I may refer to the sketches and extract certain elements from them to complete my paintings. In fact, our understanding of the city is also based on fragmented memories, just like the vast environment is composed of smaller components. I adopted a semi-abstract approach for my painting, conveying a sweeping impression of the city instead of depicting a certain location realistically, so that it is open for imaginations, and viewers can explore or seek familiarity freely.
J: Can you share some of your observations or inspirations from sketching during commutes?
L: Seeing the city from a moving vehicle, I will take notice of details often overlooked, such as street signs, lamp posts, railings, trees and zebra crossings. There is actually a myriad of road signs in different shapes, and the streets are adorned with all kinds of plants – they all became part of my paintings. I am also drawn to the outlines and colours of buildings. For example, Ngau Chi Wan is named after a red rooftop I saw under Kowloon Peak, as I took a minibus from Sai Kung to Ngau Chi Wan. There are no people in my drawings because I am more inclined to observe the environment at large as a bystander, rather than focusing on certain people and matters.
J: How you view the relationship between city and its dwellers?
L: RTHK programme Hong Kong Connection has an episode on footbridge recently, which led me to reflect on how footbridge and flyover influence people’s lives. A footbridge may appear to be an additional option for pedestrians, but actually it could be a constraint with its designated route. Do we have a choice on which path to take, or it is all planned by the city? I also have a piece named The Flyover, which I am particularly fond of.
J: Can you share your thoughts on your works at JCCAC Festival 2021’s Feature Exhibition: THE MOMENT?
L: The ideas of this featured series One Moment came from a scene I saw on a train – of an old man staring at the fleeting scenery outside the train. And I wondered what he could see. Later, I tried to put these moving images on paper with a pencil, it felt like being a printer, performing the same action mechanically and repetitively. This also reminds me of our rapid lifestyle, and so I construct the same image with a sewing machine. Pencil and sewing machine represent people and sweatshop labour respectively. Akin to lines travelling back and forth on paper and fabric, we go through the same routine every day and work ourselves up into a lather with the “Lion Rock Spirit”, just to end up with a vague picture.
This series not only drew galleries’ interest for collaboration, but also further inspired my photography work Sneaking a leisure: Just give me a second, which satirises human reliance on machines. Another interesting thing is that I am creating my work with a sewing machine in my studio in the factory-turned JCCAC building, not unlike the female factory workers who used to work there.
J: What is the philosophy behind founding Yrellag Gallery, and your view on artist-run spaces?
L: There are not many exhibition venues to choose from in Hong Kong. Government venues are more affordable but necessitate long advance booking, while private galleries are too expensive. As fresh graduates, my schoolmates and I wanted to organise an exhibition, and we happened to find this suitable commercial space for rent in Central. Consequently, we took the dive in renting it and founded Yrellag Gallery, to provide a compact arts space for emerging artists to showcase their works. The gallery consists of an exhibition/event space and an office. In addition to exhibitions, different kinds of art workshops and classes have also been held.
Artist-run spaces usually do not operate solely on a commercial basis. We hope to establish a mutually supportive relationship with artists and facilitate ideas exchange, rather than focusing on profit and business transaction. We try not to impose limits on the format of exhibitions and activities. For example, our recent art jamming session allows participants to express themselves and paint freely on the walls of the gallery.
Lam Ka-yee, Miki
J: Any plans for the future?
L: Besides working on my own creations, I am planning to curate another exhibition at JCCAC, together with other artists from The Flipside. It will explore whether seeing is believing.