How did you two meet?
C: We met while taking the same painting course at Brush Castle de Studio (L4-09-10) in secondary school.
L: Although our style in painting and creative concepts could not be more different, we actually like similar things and often exchange ideas while developing our works.
The significance of arts and how it influenced you…
L: I was very quiet and reserved as a child (resonating with my Chinese name which means “demure in speech”). Arts gives me self-confidence and strengthens my ability to express myself.
C: Painting allows me to open up and convey my emotions. My works therefore serve to express and chronicle my inner feelings or personal experiences. On a bad day, painting is my kind of self-help.
Chau Chung-man | Mixed media on canvas | 2020
Lee Yuen-suet | Oil on canvas | 2019
Are you particularly interested in a certain art discipline or medium? Had there been any changes to your preference?
L: I majored in Set and Costume Design, however, design projects usually require collaboration with different people and therefore have more constraints. I yearn for freedom in creative expression, and since I have gained a solid foundation in painting, I chose to become a painting tutor and artist after graduation.
To improve myself after practising Western painting for many years, I went on to study Chinese painting under the tutelage of the maestro of Lingnan School of Painting, Lai Ming. I now focus on both Chinese ink painting and oil painting.
C: Painting has been my main hobby since a young age, I like to visualise complex concepts with my works, thus I have stuck to Western painting and conceptual art all along.
How do you integrate the techniques of Chinese and Western painting with the aesthetics of set design? Do they share any common characteristics?
L: There are certain differences between set design and fine arts. However, the drawing techniques and aesthetic sensibility gained from set design could be applied to painting. Take the set design of Cantonese opera as an example, it is basically a three-dimensional Chinese painting. And just like Chinese paintings, “negative space” is important for set design, which is created via stage lighting.
Western painting pays more attention to the use of colours, whereas Chinese painting focuses on lines with less variations in colours. Shaped by both influences, I incorporate the juxtaposition of colours inherent in Western and Japanese arts to my Chinese paintings, with touches of traditional Chinese painting in Western style.
Why did your works revolve around the element of water? How do you present themes like life and death?
C: I like observing water in its different forms and find that it inspires my philosophical thoughts. My work for the graduation exhibition, for example, was an expression of continuity of life through a long stretch of bones and water. The canvas, however, resembles a coffin in its length and proportion. Even for themes that are heavy, I would present them in vivid colours, as life contains more than one colour. I do this with the thought to overturn the traditional gloomy notions people have towards bones and death.
Chau Chung-man | Mixed media on canvas | 2019
Could you tell us more about “Walking in Water and Stone”, the upcoming joint exhibition at PMQ?
L: Taking reference from property advertisements, one of the series in this exhibition combines ornamental stones in Chinese painting with reality, to form a compound of “building and stone”, with vibrant colours and extravagant names (e.g. Peaceful Flow, Sunrise Heaven, and Precipice Palace – another piece of work from the same series). Human figurines are discreetly included in the works, to echo property advertisements that like to highlight people and family as the selling point. I attempted to draw the architectural features in details, so that the buildings in the paintings look more realistic. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition will also feature models created from them.
C: My series of works integrates the different forms of bones and water through a variety of formats. The imageries are vivid, hovering between natural and unnatural states. I hope my paintings are not overly abstract, and the audience will find them appealing.
What prompts you to marry Chinese ornamental stones, bonsai and Hong Kong real estate in your creations?
L: I like collecting knickknacks when I was young, and have always dreamed of designing my own home. I studied set design later on, and learned to build models through which ideal sceneries could be created. When I worked as a set designer for Chinese opera, I drew reference from Chinese landscape architecture, as Chinese gardens and bonsai are often miniature representations of nature. Our ancestors expressed their longing for nature in their creation of landscape paintings and bonsai. In a similar vein, I wish to embody the desires of urbanites in my works. By juxtaposing traditional ornamental stones and modern buildings, I challenge the traditional perception of the former by injecting them with a new image of urbanisation and materialism.
In your mind, what relationship does bones and water represent?
C: Bones represent the basic and immutable form of the human species, while water is volatile in nature. Reflections on the water change constantly. Through bones and water, I wish to show the relationship between man and the external world. Is it the environment that shapes a person’s character or vice versa? Can we really change the world or must we resign to compromises? These are questions worth exploring.
Any challenges you would like to dare yourselves in the near future?
L: Although painting is the medium that I am most familiar with, some of my creative concepts are better shown in three-dimensional forms. Therefore, I would like to work on sculpture in the future.
C: I would like to challenge myself to create works of larger scale, for their bigger impact and the breadth of space in which I can freely express myself.
Lee Yuen-suet | Pencil on paper | 2017