I think about songwriting a lot when I plan my work. However, I cannot sing. My mother suggested that I should take singing lessons because it would help to strengthen my lungs and perhaps to achieve this unrealistic ambition of mine.
很諷刺，因為我害怕自己在倫敦大學金匠學院畢業後，會遺忘或完全停止創作，所以便買了一本書《What Artists Do》作為送給自己的畢業禮物。我回到長大但有些疏離的香港，希望重新喚起我亞洲人的根。這個城市著名於中西文化匯聚，但亦因此帶來混淆與模糊之感。坦白說，我對自己回到亞洲的前途又憂心又興奮。
Somewhat ironically, I bought What Artists Do as a gift to myself when I graduated from Goldsmiths for fear that I would become forgetful, if not, stop making at all. I returned to Hong Kong hoping to reconnect with my Asian roots that I had grown distant from. The city’s convergence of East and West culture is famous, but brings with its feelings of confusion. In truth, I was equally bemused and excited by the prospects of my return to the East.
Throughout history, the “Pearl of the Orient” has been a land of golden opportunity, marked by its success as a financial hub. Growing up in Hong Kong I was aware of it as a transitional space, with many social and political contradictions. Since my return, I have lived through a period of unprecedented civil unrest, and observed the painful conversations at their core. I threw myself into painting, spending most days in the studio.
My paintings primarily draw on the allure of robbery. The act of stealing is most readily associated with crime, but it plays a crucial and often-celebrated role in the history of painting and the creative process at large. I was initially attracted to the complex confusion and shame provoked by theft as I had experienced an enormous amount of loss not so long ago. The question I continually return to is, how can we justify stealing? Is there good and bad stealing? Is it ethically defensible?
The fine line between innocence and guilt is blurring for me as I reinterpret stealing as an act of love. In the process of creating this new body of work, I ask myself: Why do we steal and what do we steal? Depicting events that reflect the problematic role of thieves, the paintings confront viewers with particular scenarios that indicate a complicated relationship between the robber and the victim. Identity plays a huge role in this new series both emotionally and intellectually. The tension is something I wanted to explore.
Coming home to the heartbreaking reality that Hong Kong is caught in crossfire between world powers, it occurred me that it is business as usual no more. Public rage and fear, first triggered by the extradition bill last June, have since escalated. It is during this period when I began to question when is the truth enough? I saw my work as an attempt to bargain with transgressed boundaries, offering a second chance and negotiation for the sidelined in an attempt to reconcile with these upsetting circumstances.
A typical day in the studio involves a lot of thinking, looking and waiting. The meditative part often takes longer than the actual execution. My studio habits have not changed and my process has more or less stayed the same. I alternate between taking the bus and the MTR (the local underground system) to the studio so I could practise people watching, during which little details that I picked up on route sometimes make their way into my paintings. I often start with titles that I have previously come up with and pair them up with source materials that are significant to my personal and local history. My archive of images continues to be an important source for all my work.
Recently, I have been experimenting with different priming techniques to better understand the fabric quality of linen canvases. I began priming them with two layers of rabbit skin glue before applying another thin layer or two of gesso. Small changes like this keep me entertained in the studio.
I took a trip to the Alps in late February, as COVID-19 infections spiraled across Europe. I was lucky to have caught shows before galleries and museums closed their doors and bought supplies in bulk. At the same time I was anxious about catching this deadly respiratory disease, but the vast stretch of Alpine hills acted like a shield. Physical distance on the Jungfraujoch offered me comfort as I grappled with employment, commitment and artistic merit in my chosen field.
I was beating myself up for not improving quickly enough or that I would stop improving altogether. I was also worried that I would lose my drive to paint because we were advised not to leave the house, and I cannot paint without my studio. For a long time, I was feeling unsatisfied about my progress as I was always pushing myself to develop my work beyond what I was capable of doing at the time. The disappointment was sweet and intense. My extreme dependency on my production as a validation of my identity as an artist is problematic, but moments like this are valuable.
With extended social distancing measures, I became increasingly invested in online relationships. The internet has enabled access to shows and collections that would otherwise not have been available. In the search for tactility in the internet world, we are all driven to attach ourselves to a virtual community. I never really stopped going to the studio, and I am grateful that I could go. I follow a rigid schedule and I intend to keep it that way. New societal habits reaffirmed my solitary lifestyle and allowed me to come to terms with myself. I have to say though, this online thing is really no match for what we used to have.
My subject has not changed during this period of crisis. Currently, I am working on bigger paintings. I am trying to go up in scale so I could learn to paint faster and stop being overly obsessive with small corners. I am very particular about the brand of paint I use for specific colours. For example, Winsor & Newton’s Student Grade Oil for titanium white and flake white hue, Michael Harding for indian brown, Daler Rowney’s Georgian Oil for cobalt blue, Artist Grade for cobalt violet, Rembrandt Oil for cold grey, Williamsburg for dianthus pink and so on. I am not sure how this would directly affect the consistency of paint but I learnt to distinguish the different makes through my shopping hauls.
Funnily enough, I start to read my references in a different light thinking about the genesis of human relationships through recognising theft as a bond. Relationships are dismantled and reassembled as one struggles to keep and enjoy what is rightfully theirs. From a moralistic point of view, we should never steal. But some people engage in petty crime to survive or to provide, which raises the question of whether stealing out of love and duty could free us from conviction. The paradoxical qualities of such act reassess truth and trust that are so central to participation in a social system.
As I continue to explore stealing as the sincerest form of flattery through my paintings during this Covid season, I find myself counting down my time in Hong Kong again. Feelings of distraught and discontent are amplified by the newly proposed national security law, which many argue to be the end of Hong Kong. I worry I’d give into the pleasure of solitude time and time again, as an escape. This legislation could severely undermine Hong Kong’s status as the global economic gateway to China and the biggest arts hub in Asia. It seems improbable that the creative community could continue to thrive when self-censorship is likely.
The unfortunate development of events have not been entirely unexpected. The question is what will and can happen now. My education, background and career once again put me in the in-between. When I began this body of work, it was largely out of fervor, a personal endeavor of navigating through this new season in life. There is a particular flavour to the caprices of rapidly changing circumstances, treading on greed and anger, blind love and the unforgivable. And as protests resumed and we continue to gamble on uncertainty, my mind begins to wonder about those who have stayed, left, and returned as we embark a new week.
Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening and Good night.
Many things came to mind over the seven days as I try to gather my thoughts for this piece. I thought about a different time, a time well before this feature came about. But I would be lying if I told you it was a better time. The revelation of grief and loss evoked by the act of stealing that I so obsessively dismissed made me deeply apologetic for my already dysfunctional rapport. In fact the trouble seemed to be that I had hopelessly fallen for the role as a thief that I was neither qualified nor ready to play. The dishonour frightened me and I was embarrassed about my poor judgement. This episode provoked my curiosity if there’s nothing left to steal, there’s nothing left to lose.
It’s hard to not talk about the close ties between Hong Kong and Britain without looking at Hong Kong’s past. I wonder if the generation born in the late 90s could recall anything from the colonial era or even feel as conflicted and confused about our roots, heritage and identity. More and more are fighting for “One Identity, Two Citizenships” as Beijing signals the end of “One Country, Two Systems”. While it is still unclear what the much opposed national security law entails, I’m starting to feel that everything we take pride in would all become a time lost. When I frantically decided to return to Hong Kong just a little over a year ago, I felt compelled to reclaim my Chinese identity. The question was not if I feel more Chinese or Hong Kong, British or Chinese, British or Hong Kong. It was important to me to understand and accept the only authenticated identity tracing back my family history.