What do trees, as an oft-used totem in your creation, mean to you? What do you feel about them?
I love natural landscapes; hiking is one of my favorite pastimes and I find creative inspiration from it. Taking photographs to document the experience is what I do every time I go hiking or visit new places. Later on when I pore over the photo albums, I realise that trees are a recurring image and in fact actually they are often the focus. That’s how trees developed as a motif in my work. I find a sense of serenity, mystery and spirituality in trees. While on a residency programme in Beijing, I stumbled upon an oasis of a forest within the city, with various household objects like bed, blanket, wheel and sofa all scattered at the base of the tall trees. The trees seem to share a bond with the man-made objects and each becomes equally important to the other. Through my artwork, I hope to convey this ethereal and bizarre feeling, so that no matter where they are, viewers of my work can feel the companionship of trees.
Compared with painting on paper and canvas, do you use a different set of techniques for painting murals? Which one do you enjoy more as a creative medium?
Personally, I find that working on canvas or paper offers a more spontaneous experience. In terms of approach, you can draw over your sketch as many times as you need, base your creation on photos you take of the life and views around you, and experiment with a single media or combinations of mixed-media. In terms of execution, there’s a high degree of freedom to what colours or brush technique you could use on paper or canvas, and how you want to compose the painting. Stylistically you could even mix figurative and abstract styles if you like.
On the other hand, murals are often commissioned works designed to meet the client’s own requirements. The artistic style and execution method of the mural are the first things to be decided together, as well as the theme of the mural. Painting takes place only after the most suitable draft has been chosen for the mural and, more often than not, the chosen design will not be one that’s representative of the artist’s own style or technique. Mural painting is not a vehicle for artistic individually and sometimes the artist would merely be asked to copy an existing painting; it is the client who calls the shots. The mural artist has other challenges though, with special knowledge and skills required for prepping wall surfaces and working with different building material, scaffolding, lifting platform and other equipment. Also, murals can be very large-scaled, even spanning the entire length of an overpass along the motorway. Just putting up the draft is an arduous process which takes a lot of time, physical effort, and requires the support of many tools and equipment.
Conventional painting is of course a much more enjoyable experience in terms of creature comforts; you can do your work in a peaceful environment with music playing in the background. Mural painting is immensely more challenging, but the reward and sense of achievement upon completion of the work is also in direct proportion to the effort made.
Image courtesy: the Artist
Do you enjoy experimenting with different painting techniques? Do you do that often and are there any memorable experiences you could share with us?
I do not limit my creative medium and execution method to only canvas and acrylic paints. Even when drafting or sketching I try to experiment with various media, material, technique and brushstrokes. I’ve tried frottage with parchment paper, digital colour mixing, photographic decoupage, and using unconventional mixers (diluent, volatile mixer or even sand) in my paint. Beside using brushes, I also use palette knife and spray bottle as painting equipment, and draw reference from the works of artists like Peter Diog, David Hockney and Yeung Tong Lung. When visiting art exhibitions, I take note of unique styles and artworks by taking photographs of them.
When looking for inspiration while painting, I often start from things that have made deep impressions on me. Going through the images I have recorded over and over to access my most profound inner feelings – that for me is how art-making becomes a memorable process.
What do you think is unique about local mural paintings? What separates them from the creation of overseas artists?
Murals in Hong Kong are unique in terms of how they connect different people and even entire communities. Due to limited space in Hong Kong and the dense population, mural painting actually becomes a space-saving way to project local culture, revitalise and renovate old buildings, and beautify public areas. You get a sense of belonging and resonate with murals themed on the neighbourhood when you see them in eateries, along motorways and on the external walls of buildings. I imagine artists in other places where graffiti is tolerated that they will have more freedom to paint wherever they want and to express whatever they want about issues that bother them, but their freedom of expression is short lived as the work will quickly get painted over by the next graffiti artist. In Hong Kong, you need to obtain permission to paint murals in public places, as graffiti is against the law.
How do you think about public art and how it is developing in Hong Kong?
My understanding of public art includes sculpture, installation, mural, performance art, etc, which are all created by group effort and collaboration, and crisscrosses between different forms, media, or materials to express artistic concepts and intrinsic values. By doing so, it runs congruent with the course of historical development of a society. Therefore, public art should be accessible to everyone so that people of all ages and social background can be involved and be a part of it. In Hong Kong, a devoted group of artists across different generations had been integrating art into the community by telling stories through their artworks.
Since artists are not state-supported in Hong Kong, most have to juggle multiple jobs to make a living – it is challenging and tantalising for artists to support themselves through full-time creation. We see so many high-quality artworks at graduation shows every year, yet the tough reality for artists is that if they want to create top-notch work, they must first find the financial means and resources to support it. My opinion on the current course of public art development in Hong Kong is that challenges are greater than ever for artists to survive and to be discovered. There ostensibly are outstanding artworks that impressed many, but few would remember who their talented creators are.
Image courtesy: the Artist