PERSONAL RENAISSANCE Artist and curator Irene Flanhardt, a Tung Chung resident, reveals why she is dedicated to bringing Tai O to vivid life. Elizabeth Kerr reports
O Photos by Irene Flanhardt and Terry Chow
n a partly rainy, muggy Sunday afternoon in Tai O, Irene Flanhardt looks relaxed and cool, sitting quietly by the balcony of her studio and gallery overlooking stilt houses and an estuary at low tide. The installation artist, painter, photographer, paper cutter and curator opened Flanhardt Galerie und Atelier (FGUA) on Shek Tsai Po Street in December 2011, and she’s living proof that you’re never too old to learn and never too set in your ways for a career change.
Softly spoken and naturally diplomatic, Irene came by her drive and understated fearlessness the hard way: she worked for it. After 14 years with the Hong Kong Police Force, she went on to work for the Hong Kong Jockey Club investigating illegal betting activities on racing premises. A four-year stint in the Enforcement Department at the Securities and Futures Commission followed, then six years as the head of compliance for Nomura bank, a law degree and an MBA. Then came the proverbial 180. September 2014
A work in progress Irene ‘discovered’ art in her mid-forties when she retired to Australia’s Gold Coast with her husband Willi in 2003. “I took the opportunity to do a threeyear art course at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University,” she says, tipping her hand at her seemingly endless capacity for learning. Irene’s own body of work now spans the spectrum. While she is probably best known as a photographer, she enjoys working in pastel, pencil and acrylic. Oil is her favourite medium. “I have made a point of learning the basic techniques, and now I make art as I like it,” she says simply. “I don’t consider myself ‘artistic’; hard work has paid off in my case. It gives me so much pleasure. I know I can grow old with art – a great companion alongside my husband.” Yuen Long born Irene found she ‘missed Hong Kong terribly’ while living in Australia, and she and Willi returned in 2008, putting down roots
in Tung Chung. “We love the peaceful, green environment, and there’s still a real sense of space,” she says. Looking for somewhere to showcase her work, Irene opted for Tai O. “I’ve loved the village since I was a child and of course it’s close to where I live,” she says. “I asked myself whether I could make art there and run a gallery by the seaside. The view of the stilt houses is spectacular, and I never tire of watching the tides in different light and weather conditions. It’s an ideal place to paint.” The converted flat is a modest but welcoming, light-filled space. Irene is around to greet browsers on weekends and public holidays, and if you’re nice you’ll probably get a cup of coffee out of her.
Showcasing Tai O A Tai O devotee, Irene admits it took her a while to gain the locals’ acceptance. “When I first got here I was pushing my art equipment around in a trolley, and I almost crashed into
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