ink on wood | 2014
J: Why did you choose to study fine arts?
L: When I was younger, I used to be a self-abased chap who lived under the shadow of my elder sister, a straight-A pupil who attended the same school as I did. The only thing I liked about school is doodling on my textbooks. It caught the eye of my visual arts teacher, who enlightened and encouraged me in my creative pursuits. I also built up my self-assurance and self-worth in the process.
This teacher once took us on a field trip to Choi Yuen Village during the height of anti-Hong Kong Express Rail Link movement. From there, we learnt that art is not born out of pure imagination. Rather, we need to open our eyes to observe our surroundings, and soak up things around us so that they can be used to nourish our artistic creations. My creative bug was probably planted then. He set an example of himself and helped me appreciate the importance of arts education in broadening our vision and preserving and passing on our heritage. This is why I combine artistic pursuits with part-time teaching in the hope of influencing other’s lives with arts.
What makes arts fun is its ability to cross over into different disciplines and connect people. I was most struck by a question raised by one of my students during a fine brush painting workshop, “What distinguishes a line drawn with a pencil from one with a fine brush?” This question nudged me into contemplating the meaning of different mediums: the entire system of Chinese painting was developed around ink brushes, the only tools available in the olden days. But as time progresses, are they really indispensable? You can just trace an outline with pencil as you do with a fine brush, before filling it in with Chinese pigments. That said, you will have to grasp how best to use each material and the academic knowledge that comes with it. Digest it, simplify the complicated and keep pushing the envelope – this is what arts education is about.
J: The qualities that draw you to ink painting are…?
L: I did not like ink painting back in my secondary school days – that is, until my tutor at university introduced me to the many possibilities and facets of this art form. It can be black-and-white monochromatic or colourful as a rainbow, it can also meld different mediums. Watercolour painting and printmaking of the West share similar techniques with ink painting, while the array of inkstones and ink brushes are guided by their own set of principles and characteristics. It is essentially the abundance of potentials in understanding different mediums’ unique features and introducing dialogues between them that mesmerise me so.
I am pretty green when it comes to teaching and thus occasionally doubted by some. However, I do not see ink painting as something exclusive to masters nor would I let traditions lead us by the nose. New ink painting can itself be a host of interpretations, new visions and variations. I, for one, have attempted to apply it to animation.
ink and color on wood | 2018
J: Why are you particularly fond of the Buraiha (or Decadent School) of post-war Japanese literature? In what ways do you incorporate it into your creative work?
L: After graduation, I went through a period of depression triggered by family and work pressures. In those days, Dazai Osamu’s literary works spoke to me, and inspired me to take on this decadent, twisted and eerie painting style, to release tension and negative emotions.
My early artworks from that period were all painted in black-and-white. It was only after I quitted my job and picked up teaching painting to children did I start appreciating the merits of colours in ink painting. I have grown adept at tempering heavy subject matters and my state of mind with colours. It is an excellent form of arts therapy.
As someone with a penchant for analysis and history, I always clap my eyes on text before visuals. I also take a page out of literature and draw on the Japanese art form Ukiyo-e for inspiration. For my choice of materials, a wooden canvas is favoured over paper as the former carries a sense of weight that cannot be found in the latter. When your brush presses against a wooden surface, it creates a friction that brings heavy subject matters to the fore.
ink and color on wood | 2018
J: What makes you want to delve into the morbid relationship between individuals and society? What do you think of our society now?
L: Growing up, I have had my finger on the pulse of social events, whether big or small. My empathy with the deep-seated social injustice and suppression has carried me away and inspired my creations speaking of the social pathology. It also explains why my works tend to shy away from showing the pretty side of life. I am less concerned about finding an appreciative audience than giving expression to my feelings. After all, you are your first audience.
Politics would not come knocking on our doors in the past, but these days there is no escaping it. I believe that many of these disputes sprang from certain social injustice and deep structural conflicts. Rather than ad hominem, much of our social discourse addresses the substance of the argument itself, but has in doing so, left “the people” out of the discussion, which in turn tears asunder and sensitises them amid the events unfolding in the city. I like to gauge a society by its people and the expressions they wear on their faces. Facial expressions are tell-tale signs of the times. The increasing flow of people going about their business with a long face in Hong Kong is a testament to that.
In my opinion, the reason Hong Kongers have taken to the streets is to express their wish for a more democratic, freer and fairer society for our younger generations. The recent buzzword has it that, “We fight on, each in our own way.” We should all strive to be a positive influence in our own capacity and I believe I should continue my commitment to painting.
J: Tell us a bit more about your upcoming exhibition at PMQ, Swimming on the Ground.
L: Again, this exhibition takes “social pathology” as the theme, referencing the dual narrative structure of Intersection (a novella by Hong Kong’s veteran literary writer Liu Yichang). Intercutting between “the advocate” and “the bystander”, my works portray the social milieu and absurdity of life in Hong Kong, both literally and metaphorically. Much of my previous works revolve around the exploitation of individuals by society. However, circumstances have changed and these changes alone are worth recording for posterity.
J: As a young artist holding down a full-time job alongside your artistic pursuits, how do you strike a balance between the two?
L: My identity is unique in that I work full-time as an arts administrator at a government organisation while teaching and making art in my spare time. Someone once asked if it is worth investing my income and leisure time in the arts? True, it might yield no economic returns but not everything can be measured in monetary value. The sense of satisfaction is priceless when you are able to trade on and invest in your interests. Teaching painting can be hard work, but through sharing my knowledge, it helps my students cultivate an aesthetic sensibility and empower them with a new means of self-expression. It will do both artists and the art community at large a lot of good in the long run. So I would say, working, demonstrating, teaching and making art, not one less in my current life.
ink and color on wood | 2015