T he arT issue
Letter From the editor 11 Kee Contributors
Take away arT
Will Ramsay founded the Affordable Art Fair in 1999 in London. His aim was to make contemporary art accessible to everyone, and to show you don’t need to be an art expert or a millionaire to enjoy and buy art. Since then the Affordable Art Fair has become a leading showcase for contemporary art in 15 cities across the world including London, New York, Seattle, Mexico City, Amsterdam, Milan, Hamburg, Stockholm and Singapore. Kee meets the affable English gentleman.
arT beyond galleries
A graduate from RMIT, Wong Kai Kin’s works explore the relationship of human condition in relation to the urban environment, specifically that of isolation, loneliness, helplessness and boredom. The small paintings that Wong presents are taken from black and white newspaper illustrations of architects’ computer renderings of show flats. He repaints them using texture to give them an emotional content, and is interested in the way we project our dreams and desires through imagining owning material possessions.
The people we can’t do without.
losT in a dream
“That one! That’s fantastic!” artist Richard Winkworth exclaims with enthusiasm when Hong Kong-based curator Eric Leung shows us a black and white ink print of the moon covered in ears. After some time of referring to her as the “moon ear girl”, we finally learn the name behind this young and talented artist: Kwong Wing Kwan.
T o be or noT T o be
A well-known Australian businesswoman once said to me about knowing of people and being connected to them: "There are normally six degrees of separation; but in Hong Kong there are only two." She was right and it was proven to me again upon meeting artist Roy Ng.
chopped and screwed
Kee catches up with witty artist Jin Meyerson just prior to the opening of his latest exhibition ‘No Rest For the Wicked’.
T he changeling
Marc Standing was born in Harare in 1976, and left Africa when he was 21. A painter since his childhood, he has spent time in Europe, Australia and Asia. His work has been exhibited across the globe and he is now represented by The Cat Street Gallery in Hong Kong. He was a finalist in this year’s Sovereign Asian Art Prize.
T he arT issue contents
seeing T he fuT ure
Kate Bryan was a curator in Hong Kong for four years before leaving for the UK in the summer of 2011. She joined the Fine Art Society as Head of Contemporary at the end of 2011 where she has been making her mark ever since with innovative and engaging shows. She invited British artist Sir Peter Blake (he of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band fame) to select any works from the Society’s considerable archive - any genre, any period, any medium which resulted in the eclectic and widely-acclaimed exhibition, "Things I Love At The Fine Art Society".
aT Tainable aspiraT ions
Affordable and contemporary art are two words not usually found in the same sentence in Asia, until now. The Affordable Art Fair is set to descend on Hong Kong in March and prove that art does not have to be expensive to be considered collectible. From its birth in London in 1999, the Fair that offers pieces between HK$1,000 and HK$100,000 and champions emerging and established artists alike has changed the perception and landscape of the art market. Kee speaks to gallerist Emmanuel Perriton about the importance of art education.
With her big hair and larger than life personality, it’s hard to miss Zoe Peña. At just 25, she’s the Co-Founder of Hong Kong grassroots art advisory Lightbombs, where she’s quietly bringing South East Asian art to light.
Cover: "Snake" by Richard Winkworth Editor-in-Chief & Creative Director: Ann Tsang Graphic Design: Brian Au for The Antithesis Publisher: The Antithesis Membership and Distribution Enquiries: KEE Club Membership Office, 9/F, Yung Kee Building, 32 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: + 852 2868 3383 Media Agents: Herb Moskowitz The Media Representative Company Tel: +(852) 9276 1011 Fax: +(852) 2572 5468 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org OMJ Media Suite B, 15/F, Casey Building 38 Lok Ku Road Sheung Wan Hong Kong Tel: + 852 2375 2311 Fax: + 852 2873 7442 Email: email@example.com
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unT iT led T he naked T ruT h
Images: Tomokazu Sasaki
Hong Kong-based Tanya Bennett’s illustrative art is an understated social commentary on the fashion industry, femininity and particularly our visual fixation with body mass or lack thereof. Uniquely mixing art and fashion illustration, the talented UK-born artist, through a subliminal form of reverse psychology, draws attention to the fashion industry’s obsession with weight whilst simultaneously celebrating the beauty within all women even if they don’t quite fit the norm.
T he fabric of life food & poliT ics
Images: Yuji Zendou
For the last decade, Australian chef David Laris’ classic French technique and Mediterranean influence has led the evolution of Shanghai’s dining scene. Now set to open his first ever restaurant in Hong Kong, a revival and revamp of his acclaimed Shanghai restaurant LARIS, Kee speaks to the man about food, his vision and why more and more chefs are making the move to Asia.
"Broken" by Anonymous
Ann Tsang asked me if I would guest edit a Kee magazine issue featuring some of Hong Kong's emerging artists I just said "yes", for two reasons.
T he arT issue
The first is that Ann is not an easy woman to say "no" to. The second is that unless the climate for artists changes here, we are never going to have much of a local art scene. As many arts centres as Hong Kong builds and as many blue chip galleries open their doors here, without a thriving, encouraged and practising community of artists to give vibrancy and meaning to their existence, all Hong Kong is going to have is another kind of shop. We are top heavy with administrators and advisors for multi-billion dollar institutions in the pipeline, yet our artists lack affordable studios and opportunities. Not one of the local painters I met could afford to make their work full-time. They all have crippling studio rents in a city where there is no cheap space. Neither for them nor for the start-up galleries who do tend to show new talent. There is another issue here though, local galleries who do not show young Hong Kong artists tend to omit them for one reason only. Finding graduates with enough development in their work to exhibit on a serious platform is very difficult. Our students are not leaving college with enough skills to break into what has become in the last decade and a half, a very competitive and global market. The level of art education here needs to improve radically, and that is not going to happen overnight. For those that do have those skills, amongst both the home-grown and international artists that are starting to come here, there is not the institutional support needed to bring about the cultural miracle that their counterparts have enjoyed on the mainland or elsewhere. By this I mean that there is not enough critical writing in the press, there simply is not enough interest in what is being made or shown here, beyond Art Basel, to give any weight or authority to Hong Kong' s position in cultural argument. There are not enough public commissions of work by local artists and most of our public sculpture is imported from abroad or a gift from the mainland. All the artists I spoke to talked of the need for better education for the public. Sadly but understandably, probably as much to do with the high cost of living for the majority as anything else, there is little interest in art at ground level in the local population. If we are to live in a city that can punch above its weight on the now globalised cultural scene, there needs to be more involvement and inspiration at the top and I respectfully urge the Government of the HK SAR to engage with its art community on a deeper, more meaningful level. For it to recognise how important, reputationally, culturally and financially, a city's artists are to its future and to realise that the infrastructure art needs in order to flourish is put into place. I would add that Hong Kong (and probably the rest of the world in general) does not need more celebrity artists. In order to have an independent, cultural voice, what we need is a showing, developing art community, independently and publicly supported so as to transcend the need for foreign, luxury brand endorsement in order to survive. Anything other, for a city as rich, as educated and as developed as Hong Kong, would be a travesty. I would like to thank Ann Tsang, Coco Marett and Carol Chan for the opportunity work with you. I loved our adventure. Thank you Kate Bryan for your unfailingly honest advice and insightful views into the art world here, your tireless support of the artists and your commitment to promoting understanding and delivering education to the public. I miss you. Thank you to Will Ramsay, who gave us a great deal of his time on a very busy day; may this yearâ€™s inaugural Affordable Art Fair be a tremendous success and the first of many more. But my deepest thanks and admiration go to Wong Kai Kin, Marc Standing and Roy Ng for taking the time to talk to me about their work and their lives. It has been an honour.
Richard Winkworth 10
Brianau Richard Winkworth
armed with a Communications degree from the Emily Carr university of art and Design, Brian au is Kee Magazine's graphic designer. Brian is also Chief Graphic Designer at The antithesis, the creator of this publication. He has a distinct aesthetic sensibility, and continually strives for perfection in his work.
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Dervla was born in Saudi arabia and educated in Europe. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Business and Law and a Masters of Finance from Trinity College. Her studies focused on the the shift of wealth and luxury brands to the East, and her discoveries led her to relocate to Hong Kong. She has worked in the fashion industry for seven years and has extensive global knowledge of the luxury industry. She now writes about fashion, culture, art, finance and business.
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yuji zendou studied under Shu akashi for four years in 2002 and also under Kutlu from 2006 - 2007 after which he moved to new york. in 2007, he started working as a freelance photographer and is now a regular contributor to Kee magazine.
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T akey a w A
Will Ramsay founded the Affordable Art Fair in 1999 in London. His aim was to make contemporary art accessible to everyone, and to show you donâ€™t need to be an art expert or a millionaire to enjoy and buy art. Since then the Affordable Art Fair has become a leading showcase for contemporary art in 15 cities across the world including London, New York, Seattle, Mexico City, Amsterdam, Milan, Hamburg, Stockholm and Singapore. Kee meets the affable English gentleman. Text: Richard Winkworth and Coco Marett
Image: William Furniss 13
Image: Carol Chan 14
was rather hard to imagine quite what kind of man to expect when we met Will Ramsay,. All Coco and I knew is that he is a father of four, an ex-service man (he served in the British Army for five years until 1996, leaving as a Captain in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) and he's the Founder of The Affordable Art Fair, which arrives in Hong Kong for the first time from March 15th to 17th. What I was not expecting was to interview a man with humour and sincerity in abundance, diamantĂŠ studded spectacles, Barbara Cartland-esque pink shirt and socks, and all during a thrilling Turner Prize-winning style installation work. (The original was created by Martin Creed in 2001, for which he won the ÂŁ20,000 prize. Here, courtesy of The Space and HK Electric, the lights went on, then off, then on again and off. Eventually the press conference he was holding after our interview, had to be moved to The Cat Street Gallery, next door). My first question was "After the army, why art?" Ramsay explained that he had always had an interest in art, starting as a schoolboy, after encouragement from an inspirational art teacher. On leave from the army in the early 1990s, he would go to London and visit galleries and became increasingly unhappy with the experience he had in return for his time and attention to these institutions. "I felt I wasn't being catered for. Yes, I looked like a scruffy student going into these galleries, but they should have treated me as a customer of the future, help me learn more and engage with me, and I just didn't get that. I thought this is so wrong...this is the most backward of retailing sectors!" Ramsay saw that there was the possibility of a connection between the way that wine and art was sold. 30 years ago in the UK, and much more recently than that in Hong Kong, wine appreciation was perceived as something elitist, a pursuit for the rich and initiated, which shunned the inexperienced general population through unhelpful and uninformative retailing practice. Wine cellars were stocked by merchants who were not interested in someone who wanted to try a bottle, perhaps for the first time. They certainly were not going to let you try a sip before you did. There was little information available about the various kinds of grapes, labels tended to be written exclusively in the language of the producing country, and even if you could read French, German or Spanish, there tended to be no description about the product on the bottle anyway. You just had to know. Â Ramsay recognised that. "Art and wine are both areas where people are embarrassed if they don't know about it. And where do they start?" Wine retailing was changed by the approach of Sheldon Graner and his Majestic Vintners, which opened its first warehouse in Harringay, North London, getting around the antiquated and restrictive licensing laws in the UK, which only permitted alcohol to be purchased during certain hours during the day, by offering wine in cases (12 bottles). Through his passion for wine, Graner innovated informative labelling and offered a free tasting service to his customers. It was a friendly, engaging place which pioneered the transformation of winedrinking as a preserve of the rare connoisseur into the democracy of the widely-enjoyed and accessible pastime it is today. Ramsay believed that if it could be done with wine, it should be do-able with art.
Image: William Furniss 16
Image: Carol Chan "So I thought let's try and take away the fear factor. Try and educate people and try and take away the expectation that people have that the art market is only for the very rich and that you have to be a squillionaire to buy art," he states. Ramsay opened the first of three warehouses specialising in art, collaborating with approachable and friendly dealers who sold work by artists at affordable prices. Over time, this evolved into the first Affordable Art Fair, opening in Europe's coolest art capital, London, in 1999. From there it has spread to New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Mexico City, Brussels, Milan, Rome, Amsterdam Hamburg, Stockholm, Singapore, Bristol and now Hong Kong. In a world seemingly awash with art fairs, one could be forgiven for thinking “big deal, what makes this one different?” Well, for starters, if you have got HK$1,000 (that is not a mis-print), in your pocket to spare, between five to ten percent of the work in this fair is within your budget. That’s the same kind of price as a (sadly, too often forgettable) meal for two, perhaps with a bottle of wine, in this town. At the Affordable Art Fair, 75 percent of all the work for sale is under HK$75,000. Since the Fair started in 1999, it has sold millions of dollars worth of work, apparently as a result of the increasing demand globally for original, contemporary art work at home. 80 galleries from around the world had already signed up at the time of this interview and Ramsay has handed over a considerable-sized booth, free of charge to a local curator, Eric Leung Shui Kee, who has an impressive track record in promoting local artists. He was the first to curate a show at the former Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters, is Chairman of the Hong Kong Art Network, and himself has organised more than 50 art exhibitions since 2003. The Affordable Art Fair offers this concession in most of the cities it has established itself in, helping local, emerging, practising artists, who shape their cities’ cultural life and identity in the future, as has been done in Beijing, Shanghai and London. The cultural contribution to a city like Hong Kong, where there is a tendency to view the term "affordable" as reverse chic, or worse, an insult, is an admirable one.
And there is something else. Unless you are the kind who frequents graduate shows or heads out to Fo Tan to see the work being created there, where else do you get to look at the work of emerging artists? Or, fresh talent from here and around the globe that has not already been branded and sucked into that monstrous machine of commerce? Where else in Hong Kong can you see a host of galleries that bother to exhibit young artists, whose price tags do not resemble telephone numbers, and who do not yet have the usual battery of silver-tongued PR people explaining why something, such as a room being plunged into darkness by a switch on a timer, is in fact the most significant thing going on in the art world today? Finally, a word to all of us who call Hong Kong home. If we are going to have any cultural weight or identity, we need to start looking at, encouraging and buying the work of local talent. We have it, so let's not see our artists disappear. The starting price for work shown at the Affordable Art Fair is HK$1,000 and the top whack is HK$100,000. Ramsay says that he wants visitors to the fair to "Ask, ask, ask" questions of the galleries if they see work they like. All the galleries participating understand the ethos that they are trying to offer the public a service, inform, educate and encourage people to learn more. Do not be afraid of asking if you can pay in installments either. Some galleries are very prepared for you to do so. There are educational seminars, kids’ activities, printmaking workshops, a cafe, a wine bar and an atmosphere which does not leave you wondering if you are suitably dressed to be standing in front of celebrity art. The Affordable Art Fair is where the next generation of artists have an opportunity to show and the clever money will be there. If you are even just curious about art, can you really afford to miss it? The Affordable Art Fair, 15-17 March 2013, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
d n o y Be
GAlleries A graduate from RMIT, Wong Kai Kinâ€™s works explore the relationship of human condition in relation to the urban environment, specifically that of isolation, loneliness, helplessness and boredom. The small paintings that Wong presents are taken from black and white newspaper illustrations of architectsâ€™ computer renderings of show flats. He repaints them using texture to give them an emotional content, and is interested in the way we project our dreams and desires through imagining owning material possessions. Text: Richard Winkworth and Coco Marett Images: Carol Chan
into artist Wong Kai Kin's studio, just after noon on a brilliantly sunny day, is like stepping into one of his paintings. He works in a commercial building on Des Voeux Road West, surrounded by the constant bustle of one of Hong Kong's oldest and busiest districts. He's in the final stages of preparation for a two-man show at Amelia Johnson Contemporary. Tucked in amongst the dried seafood merchants and wholesalers, surrounded by the noise of roller shutters going up and down on the endless stream of delivery trucks and the clatter of hand carts on steel ramps that cut across the kerb as they dart through seething crowds, his studio is contrastingly cool, silent, almost dark. A rectangle of near blinding light, shaded by dropped venetian blinds, illuminates a room with a cement floor painted pale grey, white walls and a black ceiling, the furniture is white, black or grey; a small sofa, some office chairs, a neat, small kitchen. Under the window on a table lays his palette where he paints; puddles of oil in endless shades of grey, warm to cool, from whites to warm black. There is no other colour. When asked about this he responds, "The city reminded me to create using these colours – I don’t like sharp colours.'' As a very young man, Wong was passionate about skateboarding. His stomping ground was Sai Ying Pun, where he and his friends hunted out areas to practise, sometimes staying out all night. It was through this activity that his knowledge of Hong Kong started to grow. "I have always observed the city. Growing up I would skate all around the city and that was a big influence,” states the artist.
It was during this time that Wong noticed how beautiful cement actually is. Not the smooth, crisp edged, newly-laid stuff of Central, but the walls and alleys, courtyards and playing out areas of Sai Ying Pun, an older, more distinct Hong Kong. Graffitied, painted over with white and then washed away again by decades of typhoons. Baked, chipped, scratched and pitted, they reveal something of the past layers of the lives they had witnessed. The countless busy days, children playing and the endless nights of teenage exploration in this city. It was here that he began to love grey cement, in all its shades and textures. "My colours are inspired by the washed-out paint on cement found on many of the old buildings around Sai Ying Pun,” he says. “It leaves shades of grey." There is a beguiling, almost eerie calmness here. "I’ve always felt like I have had something to say, but I didn’t like to talk about myself or my ideas too much verbally. I didn’t like to use words, so I started painting and it has since become my language and way of communicating,” states the artist. “It allows me to say what I want to say without using speech. When I paint, I feel very comfortable and at ease and just myself. It’s all truth, my truth. You can’t lie in a painting; you don’t need to." A door gives out onto a large, slightly decrepit south facing terrace which is littered with plants he inherited from his landlord and an eclectic array of ceramic pots, statues, oil drums and a dog kennel, and an old, dark awning hangs out to shade the windows from direct sunlight. It is as though someone lives here, but not quite, which brings me back to the paintings.
There is not one figure in his work, yet Wong says it is all about people. “I choose empty playgrounds and empty show flats, because they all relate to people, their living conditions, and what they want.” Around the room are stacked around 25 A4 sized canvases, literally one on top of another, forming a kind of wall that somehow looks familiar. Each canvas depicts a room; bathrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, lounges, bedrooms and toilets, all in neutral shades that hint at the presence of colour jostle for attention, each one looking like a faded magazine photoshoot, except for the handling of the paint. There is a slight chalkiness to Wong's work, despite the drips of oil, the liquid quality of his glazes and the watery outlines to beds, walls and furniture. It brings an almost dream-like quality to each room, which is exactly what the artist intends them to have, for almost all of them do not really exist. And then I recognise the wall. I am staring into an estate agent’s window. Row upon row of A4 images, placed upon one another, depicting rooms, arranged with furniture whose inspiration seemingly comes from anywhere from the Reign of Terror to the Memphis Design Movement, with a quick swing through the chandeliers at the palace in Versailles for a touch of grandeur, often all together, alarmingly, in the same pokey room. We have all seen them. And we have all at some point peered at a photo of an empty living room and stamped our own desires, lifestyles and dream furniture, desks and objects upon them, inhabited them for a moment, the street fading away as we slip into our lofts, apartments and cupboards which exist only in our imagination, floating above our heads in the skyscrapers that inescapably surround us. "I saw an article once, about why people should put themselves through the pain and hassle of a mortgage when you can live easier by renting,” says Wong. “You can still go on vacation and live a less stressful life. I wanted to do something with this idea, maybe a documentary, a workshop, or a photograph. But when I saw the caption under the pictures, that’s when I felt that drawing and art was my language; my way of communicating." That caption was ‘Artist’s Impression’.
This is not the first time that Wong has turned his attention to living space in his art. Whilst studying for his M.A at RMIT, Wong started painting playgrounds, literally adding cement to the paint to enhance its quality towards the gritty, coarse surfaces that he had spent so many nights surrounded by in his escape from the constraints of crowded city life, with his skateboard, his friends and the cement spaces which were for him the magical places of his childhood. It is really a logical progression that has led him to paint another sort of private space, one needed by everyone, the concept of 'home'. This concept is however slowly changing. Over the past decade or so we have seen more and more articles appearing in the local press about what people in this city have done to their own space; the way the personalise it, especially amongst the younger generation. Sadly for us all, there are only a couple of affordable shopping options - ubiquitous global flat-pack furniture store goods, mostly destined for tomorrows landfill due to their shoddy quality and poor design. Sub standard rip-offs of famous, now 'classic' designs are everywhere. Pastiche is replacing quality and celebrity has usurped innovation and inquiry in the globalised, commercial world. "Hong Kong people are used to just going to work,” Wong comments. “Their lifestyle has never been to go and seek out something creative like going to galleries. They only know and are only interested in the big international names like Andy Warhol."
And a final thought? "We need to educate the public that it’s not just about earning money and establishing your career. Yes, they are important, but we have to teach people in Hong Kong to take the time to create an enjoyable lifestyle for themselves because art and health become neglected. People need to re-evaluate the way they live and make time to look at art and look after themselves. These things are basic human necessities." Wong Kai Kin is represented by Amelia Johnson Contemporary.
DayDream “That one! That’s fantastic!” artist Richard Winkworth exclaims with enthusiasm when Hong Kong-based curator Eric Leung shows us a black and white ink print of the moon covered in ears. After some time of referring to her as the “moon ear girl”, we finally learn the name behind this young and talented artist: Kwong Wing Kwan.
Words: Coco Marett Portrait: Carol Chan Images: Courtesy of Kwong Wing Kwan
there’s something about certain pieces or artists that just immediately stands out, and there is undoubtedly something about Kwong Wing Kwan’s work that is instantly endearing. We knew we had to pay her a visit. “It was something I heard from my parents when I was a kid,” Kwong tells me of the ‘moon ear’ piece when I visit the artist at her studio, a space she shares with a few of her ex-art school classmates. “Our parents taught us not to point and they also told us that when we point to the moon, our ears would get cut off. So I just thought, well, if that’s the case, all those craters on the moon must be the ears of naughty children!” A pixie-like girl dressed in an art smock with a quirky sense of humour, she floats around her studio showing us her pieces and her experiments with mediums and subject matter while picking at a punnet of strawberries. Afterwards we sit down and 24 year-old Kwong reveals her story of being a fresh art school graduate in Hong Kong.
What are some challenges that you face as a young artist in Hong Kong?
Finding a space. If I want to paint works as large as the ones I do, there is no way you could do it in an average Hong Kong home without kicking all of your family members out of the living room. Plus rents in Hong Kong are notoriously expensive. I think it might sway the government if they knew that artists really don’t need anything too fancy… we are happy with even the most basic space; just look at where we are now in these industrial buildings with not a hint of luxury. The space I’m in now is messy, but you should have seen it before! Nevertheless, my friends and were happy to take the time and make it our own with a few minor improvements. Cheaper rent for just an empty space would already mean so much to us young artists in Hong Kong.
Banana, 2011, ink and acrylic on paper Do you think you will be able to continue your career as an artist in the long run?
Yes, definitely. I’m quite lucky. I work part-time teaching art classes to children so I still have time to paint and so far my work has been well received, which I’m very grateful for.
What are some observations you have made as an art teacher to the younger generation?
It’s interesting for me when I’m teaching to see how some teachers and parents in Hong Kong react to their children’s paintings and skills. They seem to only want paintings that look a certain way or which seem beautiful to them rather than encouraging the child’s creativity. I often have parents coming to me and telling me, “I want him or her to draw like this!” or they’ll tell me that I have to help their child to win in an upcoming competition. But the problem with these competitions is that their standards are all the same. The person with the most realistic drawing always wins. I think the main problem is that they’re not allowing their children the creative freedom to explore their own styles and their own interests.
What are some ways by which we can encourage the public to be more interested in art here in Hong Kong?
I think it’s something people need to learn from a young age. If you don’t really understand it or if it’s never been part of your life, your history or your memories, it becomes hard to become interested later on. I remember when I went to Taiwan, China for an exhibition with some art schoolmates, and at the gallery I overheard a mother who was teaching her young child about the different artworks on display and who they were by. It was encouraging to hear a parent trying to educate her child about art from such an early age because now he will have some form or art knowledge. The sad reality is that in Hong Kong, this scenario is far less likely to happen.
Anomic, 2012, acrylic and charcoal
Anomic, 2012, acrylic and charcoal
Where is Van Gogh’s Ear?, 2012, pencil, charcoal, chalk and gel canvas How did you start drawing or painting?
As a kid I would follow my dad to work. Spending the day with adults, I didn’t know what to do, so I started drawing. I drew more and more and my dad’s colleagues would come and compliment me. Of course, as a kid, you love to hear these kinds of things. It made me happy when people liked my drawings so I kept doing it. I took art all through school and I knew from a young age that an office job or corporate sort of lifestyle was not for me. I knew this was the path I wanted to take.
For example, I read an article about an Englishman who took 26 years to finish a Rubik’s cube and I thought, how dumb! So I got some Rubik’s cubes and created a sculpture that spells out “Dumb” using the different colours of the cube. Afterwards, I realized that I had spelled “dumb“ wrong and it looked like the word “dump”. So I guess the dumb one in the end was actually me (laughs). There was also a period when I really liked drawing fruit, I feel like there’s something very special about them.
Did you carry on to go to art school?
What interested you about fruit?
Yes I went to The Chinese University of Hong Kong. What made me happiest was having teachers who were so encouraging and who took the time to appreciate and understand my style and me as a person. It’s also great to meet fellow young artists going through the same things as you. This studio that I have now, I share with my ex-classmates. We got together and decided to share the rent but we end up sharing many other things, such as our collection of art books. We are all so different, so a book someone else buys might not be one I would buy, but we open each other’s eyes by embracing our respective individuality.
I feel that most of the things we eat aren’t necessarily made to be eaten. It is people who have made them into food. But fruits are grown for the sole purpose of eating. They exist to nourish our bodies; they were basically born to die. Bananas are particularly interesting to me. Oranges and apples and almost all other fruit, once they go black we consider them no good, but with bananas, it’s only when they’re a little rotten that they’re at their sweetest. And I apply that to people. I think people who have been through some kind of struggle come out of their circumstances with a certain sweetness.
What inspires the subjects in your paintings?
There isn’t really any consistency in my subject matter but that’s what keeps things interesting for me. I like news stories but I don’t mean cover stories; I like finding weird quirky, bizarre stories that are slid into newspapers and often overlooked. There are a lot of funny things that happen in our world every day.
Not to Be A well-known Australian businesswoman once said to me about knowing of people and being connected to them: "There are normally six degrees of separation; but in Hong Kong there are only two." She was right and it was proven to me again upon meeting artist Roy Ng. Words: Richard Winkworth Portrait: Carol Chan Images: Courtesy of Roy Ng
January, when Kee magazine started researching artists for this issue, we turned to curators. We had already unanimously selected Roy Ng's work from one, due to its poetical qualities and intrigue. We had seen detailed photographs of a kinetic (moving) sculpture called ‘A Leaf’. It was a machine made of metal that Ng had built from scratch. When switched on, it throws out the shadow of a leaf, endlessly tumbling through space onto the wall behind it. What makes it interesting is that it physically demonstrates how the laws of physics and mechanics, in combination with nature, define everything that we call reality. We all know what a falling leaf looks like. What makes it powerful is the combined observation of the machine; the paragon of physics and mechanics throws a moving shadow, a natural phenomenon which has no physical matter whatsoever, and at the same time we watch an event that we all recognise. Also, simultaneously, we are telling ourselves, "This does not exist. It cannot be happening. There is no leaf, there is no space, and there is nothing eternally tumbling." In other words, we are all manufacturing the same false reality simply by looking at a machine. The curator who had shown us the pictures was a very busy man, had a show to organise and would put us directly in touch with Ng. Later that week, I asked a friend with gallery connections if he had any suggestions and he picked up a phone to call another curator and again, Ng's name came up. We pressed on with this issue and as always happens, the deadline was suddenly on us and we had not heard from Ng. It was a disappointing because he was the only three-dimensional artist we all liked and he is just about the only conceptual installation artist working in Hong Kong. Despite foreseen difficulties with the article (of all the art forms, with perhaps the exception of sound installation, kinetic is the hardest to communicate with words and images), we wanted him.
One week left and I was climbing into a taxi to go to Fo Tan to sit in on an interview with an artist in whose work I was interested - Jin Meyerson. When we arrived at his studio, Meyerson and a man in overalls were re-stretching a canvas; nothing remarkable in that, but the wooden frame it was being stretched onto was. This was way superior to those commercially available and it had just arrived. The availability of custom-made stretchers in Hong Kong is the bane of many a painter’s life here. Myerson explained that the man who made the frame worked in a studio was just across the road. He added that he was a near genius who could make anything and that I should get his telephone number. When I did, a little later, it turned out his name was Roy Ng. After the interview, Ng took me to his studio which looks like a carpenter's workshop with short slivers and chips of wood everywhere. A fine layer of sawdust covers the floor. The windows, which look out onto the surrounding hills of Fo Tan, have a similar treatment. A workbench with a circular saw stands in the middle of the room, a few feet away is another. On and around the benches are G-clamps, blades, wires, drills, screwdrivers, sanders and metal washers. There is a wood stock worthy of a decent hardware store and the same for metal. An industrial-weight, clear plastic curtain separates a dusty area from one less dusty. Across the floor snakes a spiral, plastic-coated ducting pipe, like a giant slinky, the kind you see in factories for ventilation or extraction. There are no intriguing or aesthetically engaging items hanging on the wall…no drawings nor diagrams. But there is a low wooden chair and a stool that Ng made himself and that is the extent of domesticity. Conceptual art is not concerned with appearance. It doesn't have an aesthetic. Its function is to make you think. That is not to say it can't ultimately be beautiful, but it is not its main objective or raison d'être. Beauty is, arguably, in the eye of the beholder anyway, and for conceptual art to work, it helps if you look at it unfettered from the expectation of retinal gratification. We spoke for about an hour about a machine that Ng wanted to make whereby a mechanism attached to levers would open and close a perfectly spliced egg shell, almost like a lotus opening and closing. I left with a time, exactly one week later, to return to talk about it some more.
"I've changed the egg shell idea a little bit,'' says Ng. "The last one…I wanted to make it quite perfect, all the broken edges had to be perfect ones." I remembered the way he described the tight closing of the egg. He explains that when he took his drawing to the engineering workshop, he was told his production cost for the mechanism alone was going to be well over HK$10,000. It was no longer a feasible project. There is a pause. "But I've now changed the idea towards the
mechanism similar to the one I used on the leaf," he says. He picks up a square of wood from the workbench and quickly draws his idea. "The egg will be in a box and attached to six mechanical rods. The movements will be very small and I will try to make everything perfect." Ng explains that after the egg is blown out of the shell, but while it is still whole, the rods must all be aligned with each other in the 'closed' position. Each rod is then delicately but permanently attached to the unbroken egg and only then can the egg be broken apart, into six rough pieces. Each of the now independent fragments remain attached to the rods, which when connected to the mechanism will move the pieces of shell, the mechanical rods like fine fingers, constantly trying to manipulate the shell into a perfect whole. At this point, we branch off to talk about some of the ideas that the sculpture conveys. Ng sees the world as a giant interacting mechanical device made of animals, vegetables and minerals. All animals are articulated structures designed to move and interact independently. Plants too, draw water up from the ground and through photosynthesis, transpire, capturing carbon and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Rivers are structured like the vascular system by which they irrigate the water, that falls as rain, back to the sea where it had originally evaporated from. Ng says it is as though we are all part of a larger mechanical and physical process of gaseous exchange, consumption, disposal and renewal. For him, his machine talks of the futility of our striving for perfection, and about the meaninglessness of labour. "It says how stupid we are in Hong Kong; we just work and don’t think about things outside of that." We refer to the diagrams he draws, use a lot of hand gestures and repeat the point of what we are saying in different ways until it is understood. Ng says that he's thinking about how the rods should look. "The egg will have some holes in it; it will not be perfect. The rods I want to make [look] like a triangle". He places his two hands, thumbs together, fingers towards the floor. He says he wants to curve them slightly, so they are beautiful when you look down on them. "Maybe I can make it perfect, a little bit." Ng wants the perfection to exist within the mechanical movement, he wants it to be smooth, precise and elegant, endlessly involved in a task that it will never perform to our satisfaction, yet still be fascinating. He looks at me and says, "We are like the machine, always trying to get it right; we are also the egg and can never be truly perfect". On the way home, I thought it was sad that the egg that opened like a lotus wouldn't get made for the sake of HK$12,000 to $15,000. I wondered how many objects and paintings were not being made because of low budgets in this city right now. I also wondered what an enormous piece of Roy Ng's work would look like... Roy Ng co-operates with Gallery Exit
Screwed Kee catches up with witty artist Jin Meyerson just prior to the opening of his latest exhibition ‘No Rest For the Wicked’. Words: Coco Marett Images: Carol Chan
defines the term Third Culture Kid as such: A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. "I've always been on the outside looking in. I think that’s where the work comes from, " says artist Jim Meyerson. "It’s like being an accidental tourist. " Meyerson was born in Korea then adopted at the age of four by a Swedish couple from Minnesota, where he lived up until completing his Undergrad Degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He then finished his schooling at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he met gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin. “I met Emmanuel at a gay bar…no I’m just kidding,” Meyerson says with a laugh that throws him back into his chair. “Sorry I’m a bit of a smartass!” he quips. “I was working with a dealer in New York with whom Emmanuel did a gallery exchange. He was looking through the gallery archives, saw my work and asked ‘who’s that artist?’ Then he came to my studio and bought a painting from me for way too cheap. But I was obviously extremely, extremely flattered. Working with Perrotin eventually brought Meyerson to Paris where he spent just under five years on somewhat of an artist spirit quest, living within walking distance of The Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay, meeting fellow artists and travelling through Europe. “As someone who has spent half their life in the US, Europe is amazing,” enthuses the artist. “My friend Wim Delvoye lives in Ghent, a tiny city in Brussels with a population of maybe 100,000.
You go to the church in there and there’s Hubert van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, one of the most important pieces in Western art, in this tiny place. You don’t see that anywhere in the States. It’s like going to your local bar and there’s a Michelangelo; it’s just so profound. We are in Meyerson's studio in Fo Tan, a large open space looking out to mountains and village houses within a rusty old industrial building. Before this, he was working out of a studio in Chai Wan he found through his friend, a studio director for controversial Chinese artist Ai WeiWei. “It became essential for me, when I moved here, to find a sanctuary,” he says. “If New York is a city that never sleeps, then Hong Kong is a city that never lets you rest.“ While he has hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar on play, I listen to him wax lyrical about the masters of fine art, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and how Chaim Soutine “practically invented distortion”. As much as Meyerson is a mixed bag of cultures and influences, he’s also a mixed bag of interests and passions that takes no definitive form aside from that of the artist himself. It’s intriguing. “The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which is one of my favourite museums in the world, has 10 Brueghels and four Raphaels – it’s amazing! Why would this tiny museum have all these incredible pieces?” he says in awe, as though he had only seen it for the first time yesterday. “When you love painting and you want to study it, you just can’t do it from books. You cant Wikipedia it. You have to go and see it. That was the most enriching thing about living in Paris; it made me grow in ways that I never could have if I hadn’t been able to stand in front of those paintings.” But as all good things must come to an end and after years of, in his own words, “living like a rock star”, it was time to hang up the cleats. Just as well, as he was invited by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea to do a residency, which he accepted. “It
was important for me to spend time in Asia as an adult, which eventually brought me to Hong Kong. I kind of accidentally ended up here, but I’ve landed on my feet,” he says. Meyerson is now been based in Hong Kong where he tries to keep himself at arms length from the madness of the city. He says he’ll stay until wanderlust strikes again, “maybe another two years, who knows?” A photograph that Meyerson took of his bed at the Four Seasons when he first came to Hong Kong he had chopped, screwed, distorted and then painted, spawned the concept for his recent exhibition at Hong Kong’s Galerie Perrotin. Entitled ‘No Rest For The Wicked’, the exhibition is particularly significant for Meyerson as it is his first collection of paintings using distorted versions of photos he has taken himself. “When I first started travelling a lot for my career, it really bothered me. I just can’t shut my brain off and it felt like I was having an affair,” Meyerson, a self-proclaimed borderline insomniac, tells me. “But after a while I started to enjoy it; there was something cool about being in a place where you don’t belong. There’s a certain attitude you can have because you know its temporary.” Distortion is something that Meyerson plays with in all of his paintings, and he says he constantly finds himself in a position between representation and abstraction. A bit of a contrarian, he began developing his style by doing paintings about American football because it was “the most non-artistic thing” he could think of.
“I’m plagued by ideas. Most of them are bad. Doing one of these paintings takes an incredible investment of time, so I really have to believe in that inspiration point to start it. Otherwise it’s not worth it,” he says, taking a quick glance around the studio at paintings born from the ideas that made them. “The way I disseminate a good idea from a bad one is if the idea keeps coming back. If it does, then it’s like a personal exorcism whereby I must paint that image.” I then ask him how he began to develop his style of painting and was surprised to see that it triggered him to jump to his own defence. Because, really, on the surface, there’s no denying that his paintings do hold a certain Jin Meyerson signature. The psychedelic, almost hypnotic, use of image distortion, the intricate detail and painting technique, which clearly shows influence from the masters – with some looking almost like cathedral frescoes. “I think I’ve arrived at that through wanting to explore perception; what’s more important than what we see is how we see it.” He pauses before continuing. “You know what I want? I want a sense of discovery. Obviously a lot of my work is about movement and kineticism. I want to create a visual experience, mainly for myself, something I haven’t experienced before. It’s a privilege having an audience. But is that my ultimate goal? Not really. It’s like mental masturbation.” Jin Meyerson is represented by Galerie Perrotin
e h T
Changeling Marc Standing was born in Harare in 1976, and left Africa when he was 21. A painter since his childhood, he has spent time in Europe, Australia and Asia. His work has been exhibited across the globe and he is now represented by The Cat Street Gallery in Hong Kong. He was a finalist in this yearâ€™s Sovereign Asian Art Prize.
Words: Richard Winkworth Images: Carol Chan and courtesy of Mark Standing
the journey over to artist Marc Standing’s studio in Chai Wan, I realise what had been puzzling me about his work. There is something so acute, so full of lividity in the rendering of wildlife, butterflies, birds and organic structures in his paintings, that one has a sense of first hand experience just by looking at them. There was, I believed, simply too much information in his work for its subject to be sourced from Internet downloads, no matter how good the quality of the image. I thought that what I was looking at had to have been directly observed, drawn from life, right there in front of him. An abundance of wildlife is hard to come across in Chai Wan...so where is his imagery coming from? This question was answered on my arrival. Along one entire wall of Standing’s studio is a beautifully arranged, if slightly disconcerting, collection of stuffed birds, drawings, portraits, maps and diagrams. It became almost immediately apparent that beneath a calm and softly spoken demeanor, all was not well, he was not ok. He was in the middle of any artist’s worst nightmare. He explained that owing to an oversight on his shipper’s part, relevant fumigation documentation had not been available for inspection at the port of destination. So, the entire consignment of his paintings, due for imminent exhibition (opening night a few days later) was, at this point, detained indefinitely by one of the world’s strictest and most unforgiving customs and excise authorities, Australia.
Terra Aust ralis Incognita
Abandoning the idea of interviewing this man under such punitive circumstances, we agreed to record an informal conversation and see where we went. I turned to the collection on the wall for an opener. “Years of drawing the human skull at art school left me with some ability to recognise the real thing when I see it,” states Standing. “This one is in a glass box, and it is old. The forehead has been rubbed with the sign of the cross so many times that it is actually polished in. I bought it in Portobello Market five years ago from a man who said something about it being from the 17th Century.” I had no idea that it was possible buy human body parts, however old, on the streets of London in this day and age. Out of each eye socket spill plastic yellow daisies, the kind that come with shrink wrapped, styrofoam trays of sushi at a supermarket. Within the walls of the studio, there is also an ice blue, pulsating, illuminated cross, worthy of any Hollywood voodoo clairvoyant’s altar. It could sit equally at home on the dashboard of a truck in Goa. There’s a large stuffed bird, which he had done himself, a Catholic saint, a small, old wooden display case full of dead butterflies and a strange, black fetishistic doll under a glass dome. This is not some psychedelic ‘I spent a million bucks on fairground trash’ meets ‘Day of the Dead’ gawdy attraction. These are things that Standing has made or collected over years; seed pods and dried flower heads, you can’t just go out and buy them. You have to look closely, to see the strangeness at first, it doesn’t just leap out at you. The drawings are monochrome, the twigs, baskets and seed pods their natural colour. And then the work draws you in. Everything is beautiful but weird. It is the association between the objects that the artist suggests by their grouping, that adds to the intrigue, a quality I find very much reflected in his current work. Some are really strange - or at least, very strange for Hong Kong. “I’m not sure how to describe it really,” states the artist.
Pulsat ing Magic
Since I had had my first question answered as to the origins of the objects and natural forms that appear in Standing’s painting, I knew that the work was drawn and painted from objects physically placed in front of him. There seemed such a love of the natural world, so I ask him if he was a country or a city boy at heart. “I was born in Zimbabwe and there was always the wild there, but the natural element is something I have only become interested in the last three years or so.” Standing says he has always used birds in some way, but more in the background. “Before there were people and figures, but I have moved away from that.” He indicates towards an earlier example of his work, a couple of portraits on the wall. Again, the work has that beautiful and disturbing quality I had seen in his still life collection, the main focus here being the face. He explains that he has found it virtually impossible to reach a Hong Kong audience with figures in his paintings. “I suppose the figures ended up being quite scary, quite unnerving for many viewers.” I subsequently notice that Carol, the photographer with me, is not appreciating the skull, at all. “And then coming here, I made a conscious decision to stop using the figures, and to start using other kinds of imagery and see where that took the work,” the artist continues. And indeed he has. Hong Kong started to reshape his work. Being born in a country that no longer exists, that somehow leaves you, causing you to seek another, gives a different perspective on identity to a person who has pretty much lived all their life in one place, under one culture (with a few, unhappy exceptions). For the latter there is a concept of ‘normal’. You ‘belong’. You can read the ‘vibe’. It was safe yesterday, it is safe today, it’s going to be safe tomorrow. But step far outside your comfort zone, (I’m not talking about that time you had to stay in a horrible hotel and the car was late meeting you at the airport) and it’s amazing how fast the sense of ‘normal’ can disappear. And the ‘belonging’. But you can pretty much forget about tuning into the vibe and the safety thing. Those certainties are gone. Uncomfortable things happen. You become aware of how your own strangeness might appear to others and your senses become extremely acute, essentially in order to protect you, should you need it. You are thinking everything looks strange and a little scary, and wondering if you are safe.
He takes me over to another canvas. It is a fragment from a larger painting he had abandoned after embroidering on it, not liking the result, save for this piece. In the claws of a sparrow, made from thread, is a molecular, crystalline structure, like a jewel drawn by a laser. “I want to bring this kind of geometric shape into my work. It is like the effect the Hong Kong skyline has on me, the sharpness of the angles.” On one painting there is rice scattered into the oil paint. “When it dries I just brush it off; I love it when it naturally creates circular, cell-like structures. It’s about not being precious about the imagery and finding more spontaneous ways of working.” We move to the shelves again. “My interest in the natural world is really increasing and in some ways I would rather go to a natural history museum than an art gallery, especially if I could see the exhibits in storage. This is really where my interests are starting to go. I love cabinets of curiosity.” For a while we peruse the objects on the shelves and pinned to the wall, I ask “what is this?” And “where did you find that?” We talk about our childhoods, both spent in exColonies, the strange mementos from Edwardian times onwards that were familiar to us both. He says of leaving Southern Africa, “I knew that was it was over. I’d like to go back and visit again sometime but I will never go back and live there.” There is a silence for a while after this and we move round the room. There is a large mask from Papua New Guinea hanging from the ceiling, which leads us back to Standing’s art. In his figurative work the figures are always obscured in some way. They are almost masklike, eyes blurred, almost missing. There’s no real horror or threat, it is all implied. “I have a thing about masks, I love shrouded things,” he says. There is a picture on the floor of a heavily pregnant woman with a mask-like a cloth bag dropped over her face with two holes cut out for the eyes. I can see the early work is something, as he says, “Hong Kong is not ready for…yet.” But in the new work, the colouring becomes delicious, you almost want to lick some. The birds are delicate and fragile; there are microbe-like structures and seedpods floating across the surface. The whole thing is like a dream where your auditory and visual senses are all heightened. There is a beautiful, sharp realism and a total abstraction competing for dominance in front of your eyes; background colours just starting to run, as if melting, and as if the whole thing is about to fall apart, like a landslide. Gone is the dark, the obscure and the static ghoulishness. These works are alight, joyful, moving and inviting. But like the artist’s still life on the other side of the room, like his figures, they still leave you with the sense of the hair prickling on the back of neck. The threat remains just undetected and you somehow know that tranquility will be broken any second now.
T he Island
You are starting to understand the work. “I think it’s more about creating a surface first and letting that surface speak to me,” says Standing. The canvases are mottled like marble in bright colours, splashed and dotted with red oxide, the now familiar birds perched on twigs staring out. There are circles of coloured paint floating across the surface. “I won’t necessarily know what I want to do on top of the surface but that will eventually come.”
Mark Standing is represented by Cat Street Gallery
Future Kate Bryan was a curator in Hong Kong for four years before leaving for the UK in the summer of 2011. She joined the Fine Art Society as Head of Contemporary at the end of 2011 where she has been making her mark ever since with innovative and engaging shows. She invited British artist Sir Peter Blake (he of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band fame) to select any works from the Societyâ€™s considerable archive - any genre, any period, any medium - which resulted in the eclectic and widely-acclaimed exhibition, "Things I Love At The Fine Art Society". Interview: Richard Winkworth
"Carving in Britain from 1910"
revealed former Cat Street Gallery curator Kate Bryan to be a formidable and innovative curator. As the art market increases in importance in Hong Kong (due to the money it turns over) it would be quite handy for government and big commerce to have a home -grown, vibrant art scene pop out of the cupboard right about now. But anyone who has ever lived in a city that really does have one, knows Hong Kong is a way off having a 'scene'. This is a problem for all of us. So I turned to Kate with some questions, as the contemporary curator of an institution that has watched the art world for over 150 years.
Richard Winkworth: What advice as a curator of an institute that is over 150 years old would you give to a city with a fledgling art community; on both a local and on an international level?
Kate Bryan: Give exhibitions context. Always place an artist or exhibition within a wider framework. In London we take for granted the amount and variety of access we have to art and have a robust system of interpretation in place - newspapers, magazines, online... There is a proliferation of London galleries but most crucially a proliferation of public collections. We are also fortunate to have institutional support of the ntrinsic value of culture from school age to adult museum visitors. This canâ€™t be done overnight in Hong Kong, but it is important to remember that there is a responsibility to not just create an interest in art, but to provide a means to cultivate a real appetite; one that can be developed over time into being finer in its appreciation and considered in taste.
RW: What is it like being in London and looking at the Hong Kong market, compared with what it was like being in Hong Kong and seeing it as a local/close-up market? KB: Being in London, having conversations and hearing about things anecdotally highlights how little is really known of the Hong Kong art scene, beyond an awareness of Art Basel. There also seems to be a blurring of the distinction in peopleâ€™s minds between the art that is Beijing's and the art that is created in Hong Kong. There is not really enough support for the art scene in Hong Kong. I travel back there for work three or four times a year and I have seen an enormous expansion in the number and the quality of galleries that have established themselves, but the infrastructure they need is not there.Â Also, there is no critical writing. The media is lagging behind in its reviews and coverage (outside the main art fair) in comparison to its global counterparts. The Government does not invest in public collections and there is very little dialogue between the culture department and the population concerning any form of cultural exploration. There are not the museums, galleries and institutions to sufficiently educate.
Popular culture in Hong Kong revolves around Cantonese opera, amusement parks and food. There is not the culture for schools to visit art galleries and museums or for the elderly to be encouraged by group tours, talks and activities. A trip to a museum or gallery is not considered an interesting outing. There is no encouragement for art classes in schools or to paint or draw as an extra curricular activity either. Hong Kong is actually seen internationally as an art market without an art world. There is a lot of shouting about it, but nothing really behind it. Art is disregarded as a vocation amongst the general population. You have all these international, blue chip galleries opening in Hong Kong to a largely underdeveloped and mainly disinterested audience. However, there are the signs that it is developing, especially amongst the younger generation.
RW: What are the opportunities for young artists in Hong Kong to break through into being shown commercially?. KB: Honestly? Pretty limited, unfortunately. Galleries have huge overheads and rents in Hong Kong, and this, combined with limited space, makes it very difficult to show emerging artists. There is no downtown area where new galleries can move into cheap premises for a few years. Also, art education in Hong Kong need to be improved. When I was curator at The Cat Street Gallery, I wanted to organise a postgraduation exhibition every year but actually couldn't find enough work from graduate shows to do one. The support is not there for artists either, starting at home with their families. Generally speaking, art is not considered a suitable option for a child to get involved with, and parents seem to rarely attend their children's shows when they have them in Hong Kong. But as I said already, I think the breakthrough is coming and attitudes are changing towards art and education.
RW: Is there any distinct character to the art produced
in Hong Kong, or is it just a synthesis of what is happening in China, the West, and South East Asian countries?
KB: It is difficult to generalise. The local art scene is still in its infancy in Hong Kong. There simply isn't a big enough or old enough body of work to start making categorisations. What I don't see is the Beijing touch. I'm not sure what the Hong Kong identity will be like, but it's
not wearing anybody else's. As I said, it's all so young at the moment, we need to wait for the more critical teenage years. Eventually, I do think Hong Kong artists will have their day.
RW: You recently brought a show to Hong Kong. How did you decide what to bring?
KB: Yes, you mean "1820 to Now. The Fine Art Society in Hong Kong”. We have been bringing predominantly Scottish painting the colourists, the Glasgow boys - to Hong Kong since 1996. In November 2012, we decided to broaden the exhibition to show the full range of what The Fine Art Society does and included modern British work. It was a unusual show for Hong Kong, not only to see works that were Victorian but to see them alongside work being made today. I’m sure I have never seen so many gilt frames in Hong Kong! We produced a beautiful three-part catalogue with lots of context and background on the selection and individual works. It was a snapshot of key artists that we have worked with since The Society was founded in 1876 and aimed to give a more museum quality presentation to the Hong Kong audience.
RW: What do you think Hong Kong audiences want to see? KB: In my opinion, they want to see the best of what is being done overseas. There has to be a level of accessibility, again because the audience is at such an early stage of development. And they want to go and see it easily. Who actually does want to go and traipse out to the New Territories to see a group show? Hopefully, the muchtalked about West Kowloon Project will make a huge difference when it happens.
RW: What if anything could you say that the Hong Kong market resists?
KB: In the market, China as a whole does not have a conceptual presence as there has been no tradition of this kind of material yet. I think it is pretty safe to say that Hong Kong does not want to look at conceptual art. They want to see and buy the best of Chinese and international work. I hope that local Hong Kong artists will see their day soon.
e l b a n i Atta
AspirAtions Affordable and contemporary art are two words not usually found in the same sentence in Asia, until now. The Affordable Art Fair is set to descend on Hong Kong in March and prove that art does not have to be expensive to be considered collectible. From its birth in London in 1999, the Fair that offers pieces between HK$1,000 and HK$100,000 and champions emerging and established artists alike has changed the perception and landscape of the art market. Kee speaks to gallerist Emmanuel Perriton about the importance of art education. Words: Dervla Louli
Image: Courtesy of galerie Perrot in 53
Image: Laurent Segret ier
is one of the most personal purchases known to man. You cannot be right or wrong to feel a connection to a sculpture nor can you be ridiculed for thinking that a splatter of paint upon a canvas is worthy of a place on your wall. The whole subjective nature of art is what makes the industry so entrancing and though widely-debated, hugely aspirational, yet attainable. Emmanuel Perrotin, the contemporary art connoisseur and gallery owner, is not a name that springs to mind when you mention affordable art. However, while the works displayed in his impressive gallery in Hong Kong would put a dent in the majority of bank accounts, what he does have is an appreciation and near unrivalled knowledge of the world of emerging artists. The word “affordable” is also subjective, and one must bear in mind that HK$1,000 may be a pebble in a swimming pool to some or a boulder in a puddle to others. Essentially on a day-to-day level, everyone has the option to walk into a gallery, walk around the room and garner inspiration from the works of others. Unfortunately most galleries are intimidating, but not Gallerie Perrotin. “I insist that the doors to my gallery are always open,” Perrotin says over a cup of coffee in a café located below his enormous gallery overlooking Connaught Road in Central Hong Kong. “I want everyone to have access to the artists on show and it’s not simply a matter of wanting them to purchase a piece. We have books, prints and endless sources of knowledge in our gallery; it is so much more than a viewing deck.” Gallerie Perrotin is a highly recommended starting point for anyone with an urge to expand his or her knowledge of contemporary art. It has a huge diverse portfolio that ranges from young, talented artists to superstars such as Takashi Murakami and the most eclectic range of pieces including chairs created by Pharell Williams and a carpeted pig by Wim Delvoye. Perrotin makes art approachable, something that can be difficult to do. “Galleries get a bad rap and it’s unfair,” Perrotin comments in his distinct heavy French accent. “An art gallery is the only place you can go without an invitation or without paying an entrance fee. If you think about attending the opera, the theatre, a dance performance, or even the cinema, you will realise that there is nearly no other form of art offered to society free of charge. My gallery in Paris has between 350 to 750 visitors per day, and if those statistics are anything to go by, then people must feel welcome.”
Perrotin points out that art also offers benefits to society and affects trends in music and fashion more so than initially imaginable. “Think of one of the great artists like Picasso who created collage and in so doing invented an entirely new form of art. Or house music for example, whose origins began in the 20th Century from the art trends of the time. Nearly everything is affected by art. It inspires industries such as fashion and marketing and it shapes entire cultures.” In short it’s important to society and therefore it’s important for people in society to be exposed to it.” But in order for society to be exposed to more art, it must become attainable, something that the Affordable Art Fair is ensuring. There is something for everyone and the relaxed nature of the Fair will put those who were once scared of oil paintings and sculptures at ease immediately. Perrotin recommends reading extensively, investing in prints due to their affordable nature, and visiting galleries for those who wish to delve into the world of art collection. “I would advise someone unfamiliar with contemporary art to purchase prints,” Perrotin suggests, “Hang them on a wall and leave them there for a length of time. It helps to realise whether the attraction was merely for a fleeting moment or if the factors you were initially drawn to still exist after many years. One thing I would heavily advise against is purchasing art merely to sell it off a few months later. Not only does it not add value or worth to your art collection per se, but it also damages an artist’s reputation.” “Go for a painting, as sculptures usually have high production costs and therefore tend to be more expensive,” Perrotin recommends to those attending the Fair. You also need to connect to a piece of art, otherwise what is the point of buying it!” It would be natural to assume that someone in Perrotin’s position would be pushing for people to purchase the art in his gallery for investment purposes, but in fact the opposite is true. “I do what I do because I love it, I enjoy seeing artists flourish, and it’s what gives me the greatest pleasure of all. A young artist represented by a good gallery is always the best investment because usually the gallery has the interest of the artist at heart. If you simply sell everything to clients who are looking to sell the art quickly at a higher price it won’t benefit you or anyone in the long term.”
With her big hair and larger than life personality, it’s hard to miss Zoe Pena. At just 25, she’s the Co-Founder of Hong Kong grassroots art advisory Lightbombs, where she’s quietly bringing South East Asian art to light. Words: Coco Marett Images: Carol Chan
Circle, Maya Muñoz, 2010
“Bogart ! I need you to stop!”
Zoe Peña gently nudges him away. Her dog Bogart, a handsome brown and black mutt she and her husband Victor rescued from the pound, can’t seem to help barking every time the camera flashes. “He’s a little weird, I don’t know what happened to him when he was a puppy!” She says with a laugh. I’m spending the afternoon with Peña at the Lightbombs space, an airy 2,500 square-foot loft hidden in an industrial building in Wong Chuk Hang. It’s different during the day. The last time I’d been here was for the company’s First Anniversary party a few weeks back and the loft was littered with goateed creative types and empty wine bottles. But today, it’s just Peña, Bogart and her other dog, Stella…the wine came out after 5 o’clock. She shares the working space with her husband-slash-business partner Victor, with whom she founded Lightbombs in 2011 - just in time for Hong Kong’s boom in the art and creative scene. Together, they’ve spent the past year establishing what Lightbombs is all about, “With any start-up, you tend discover what you’re actually going to do along the way,” says Peña. “And one of those things for us is being an aid for young collectors to smartly invest their hard-earned money into avenues and options which are more creative.” The loft – which is fitted with little more than a couch, coffee table, dining area, kitchen, the couples’ respective workspaces and of course plenty of art – is where Zoe and Victor entertain their clients. Like a personal stylist, Zoe takes her time getting to prospective clients before helping them to choose pieces that suit their style and personality. But, she tells me, “When I can’t form that connection, it just falls through.”
Unt it led, Dan Findlay, 2010
“I’ve met people whom I want to work with so badly, you know, but I just don’t get them,” she says. “I don’t mean that to be snooty or snobby; I’m open to working with everybody, but of course everyone I work with at present are people I have personal connections with. As an advisor, it’s a very personal relationship.” Though only 25, Zoe has dipped her fingers into numerous art industry pots since she fell in love with art history and completed a double major in Creative Writing and Art Management at Ateneo de Manila University. “I finished that and at first I wanted to become a curator or an art writer,” she reveals. “I don’t know if it was the drama whore in me, but I ended up saying to myself that if I’m going to do something, it has to be ground-breaking. I had to be the best at what I do. And curating just wasn’t it.” At just 19, Peña began working for numerous galleries around Hong Kong, including Osage Gallery in Kwun Tong, which specialises in South Asian art. It wasn’t until she left Osage that she realised her niche and her career path finally began to take form. She started off as an independent art dealer – mostly selling artworks by artists from the Philippines whom she knew or grew up with. “I thought, let’s just see how this goes,” she says, “then all of a sudden, the collectors I worked with at galleries started contacting me asking me if I knew this artist or that artist, wanting to find and collect their artwork. It was actually Victor who suggested starting something that concentrates on South Asian art.” And so, Lightbombs was born. “I kid you not, I’ve had lightbombs.com since the age of 16 not knowing what to do with it,” she says, her voice rising with excitement. “I just thought of it and it was either going to be a personal blog or a website for my published art writing and now, this is what it was meant for.” Being a young Filipina trying to make a mark in Hong Kong’s art scene, Peña says, is not without the stigma some people in the city have about her culture. “There aren’t
many of us here who aren’t domestic helpers. I don’t know if that’s controversial to say, but that’s just the reality of it.” “It does get you down when people don’t take you seriously when you’re so passionate about what you do, but I know I didn’t get where I am at 25 without being good at my job,” says Peña. “There are instances where people are open enough to take that risk so I’m thankful for that, but it has reached a point where I just don’t care about that kind of stuff any more.” After all, it’s not a race or cultural war she’s trying to wage. For Peña, it’s about paving the way for more homegrown, grassroots initiatives that support Hong Kong’s development as Asia’s up-and-coming art and cultural hub beyond the overpriced ‘high’ art that thrives on big names and price tags which, frankly, was the only type of art scene Hong Kong had up until recent years. I ask Peña for her two cents on big events such as Art Basel making its debut in Hong Kong this year. “I think it’s a positive thing; anything that brings attention to what we do is good. The only negative thing is I hope we don’t get overshadowed - but that’s not their problem, that’s our problem. As a Founder of something like Lightbombs, it’s my job to make sure I don’t become overshadowed. It pushes me to keep up.” Looking back on its first year, Lightbombs has been slowly but surely building a strong foundation for such a movement, bringing attention to talent across Asia including Hong Kong-based artists such as Dan Findlay, Marc Standing and Jonathan Jay Lee. “We want these works to go into homes that will really appreciate them,” Peña explains. “The best and key thing - more than the art, more than what people like myself and Victor do - is the general public’s interest in art. We can’t do what we do without that interest.” Hong Kong-based artist Dan Findlay will host his first solo showing at Lightbombs, from March 16th through April 6th, 2013. Viewings are by appointment only. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit.
Untitled Photographer: Tomokazu Sasaki Stylist: Shotaro Yamaguchi Makeup: Makoto Hairstyling: Shinya Fukam Painting: Takumi Watanabe Model: Vlada
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Left: shIRt by yohJI yAMAMoto + NoIR, pANts by Issey MIyAke, shoes by toGA
Right: shIRt by yohJI yAMAMoto + NoIR, pANts
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d e k a N
trUth Hong Kong-based Tanya Bennett’s illustrative art is an understated social commentary on the fashion industry, femininity and particularly our visual fixation with body mass or lack thereof. Uniquely mixing art and fashion illustration, the talented UK-born artist, through a subliminal form of reverse psychology, draws attention to the fashion industry’s obsession with weight whilst simultaneously celebrating the beauty within all women even if they don’t quite fit the norm.
Words: Andre Cooray Images: Tanya Bennett
I was first presenting my paintings, my dad asked if I was OK. He said my work was normally so happy, but now it seemed all depressed and weird,” says artist Tanya Bennett with a guffaw. The young Hong Kong-based artist with a wicked sense of humour and endearingly self-depreciating, is well aware of the impact that her images have on others. “All my figures are really exaggerated, very skinny and have strange proportions,” she confirms. “I think maybe it’s a conscious image that the fashion industry has constantly surrounded me with my entire life – and that’s just what comes out.” Without being preachy, the artist’s work creates a point of conversation in the fashion world’s own visual vernacular about itself and where it’s headed. Her aloof, painfully waif-like characters appear to be inspired by today’s models, or at least our perception of them. In fact, her images are the kind you’d perhaps expect to see on the wall of Grace Coddington’s home, or someone connected with the field. The ambiguous nature of her art is also part of the attraction. it’s not about next season’s collection, although it could be. And it’s not too shocking, but at the same time, a little perverse in a way. The work is a Trojan horse of sorts, as Bennett’s images are pretty and stylish enough to be lapped up by the fashion community. “I think that’s what fashion is all about – projecting an image and trying to be the best that you can be aesthetically,” says the artist. That said, her work offers a post-Modern take on the fashion scene as a whole.
While Bennett’s svelte figures are a reminder of the heavy image burden that befalls all women, she also appears to be embracing the female form regardless of body type – contorted limbs, elongated breasts, and all. “I just think women are awesome! They have this wonderful power to be very feminine when they want to be,” she enthuses. “So I try to make them strong, aware of their femininity, but also as you can see, quite vulnerable at the same time.” Undeniably, her characters tend to share an outward vulnerability and an inner confidence despite their emotional and physical anorexia, and parallels to this, albeit somewhat inverted, can easily be drawn with today’s models. Bennett studied Fashion Illustration at the Scottish School of Textiles, where she kept trying to add art elements to her illustrations, which she says somewhat baffled her teachers. Clearly, the calling to fuse the two worlds was too strong for her to ignore, so she ventured to Asia in pursuit of a career as an artist. “I always wanted to come to China, but because of my keen interest in fashion, I went and studied that first,” she states. “Coming here opened my eyes to just how many different cultures are around us.”
Ironically and rather interestingly, the trained fashion illustrator paints her subjects almost au naturelle, save for their running mascara. “I keep saying to myself, this is fashion illustration, but none of them wear any clothes! And if they do, then it’s just a bottom and they’re topless or wearing a lace camisole. Something, but it’s still see-through,” she acknowledges with a bright smile, once brought to her attention. Intentionally or not, Bennett uses the paradigms of fashion illustration as a tool to express a mood or feeling, and the way she sees the world in which fashion is a big influence. Bennett’s next project will see her attempting to convey the expat psyche and experience in Hong Kong. An artist to keep an eye on, this talented young woman is part of a new generation of young, up-and-coming, locally based artists that are reviving the scene, and slowly but surely releasing the SAR from the shackles of being culturally moribund.
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Life Photographer: Yuji Zendou@Angle Management www.angle-management.com Stylist: TakaoÂ takaost.com Makeup Artist: Rino@Masculin www.e-masculin.com/index.html Hair Stylist: Shinya Fukami@MasculinÂ www.e-masculin.com/index.html Model: Josefine Nielsen@Donna Model
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poLitics For the last decade, Australian chef David Larisâ€™ classic French technique and Mediterranean influence has led the evolution of Shanghaiâ€™s dining scene. Now set to open his first ever restaurant in Hong Kong, a revival and revamp of his acclaimed Shanghai restaurant Laris, Kee speaks to the man about food, his vision and why more and more chefs are making the move to Asia. Words: Coco Marett Images: Courtesy of David Laris
the last decade, Australian chef David Laris’ classic French technique and Mediterranean influence has led the evolution of Shanghai’s dining scene. Now set to open his first restaurant in Hong Kong, a revival and revamp of his acclaimed Shanghai restaurant Laris, Kee speaks to the man about food, his vision and why more and more chefs are making the move to Asia.
But that same year, business began to sour between Laris and Three on the Bund when the latter’s management team assumed supervision, management and quality control of the restaurant. Such a change in the quality and integrity became too compromising for the painfully passionate chef and as a result, Laris was closed in late 2010.
“He was an absolutely mad French chef; he was insane,” says David Laris of the chef he apprenticed with from the age of 16. “He yelled at me, screamed at me, drank a lot. Horrible. But he was a fantastic chef. If you can survive a year in his kitchen, you know you’re going to make it.”
The closing of Laris allowed the chef time to dive into numerous successful projects including his ultra-exclusive fine dining concept, 12 Chairs and Mexican-inspired micro-lounge Yucca, which was featured in The Cool Hunter. During this time, Laris also founded his food and beverage consultancy company, David Laris Creates (DLC). DLC offers professional consulting to top restaurants and hotels throughout Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, including Swire’s renowned luxury boutique hotel The Opposite House in Beijing.
Laris stuck it out for four. It might not be a story you want to tell your kids – but just a short crawl from his high school graduation and placed in the top two or three percentile of his entire school, 16-year-old Laris felt a pinch. “I just had enough of the system. I was a bit of a rebel.” Things took a turn after a conversation with his maths teacher to whom Laris mentioned he was thinking about becoming a chef. “She knew someone looking for an apprentice chef and a few weeks later I was in the kitchen.” Originally of Greek heritage and having spent part of his childhood in Greece, much of Laris’ childhood was stuffed (pun intended) with Mediterranean-style family feasts of epic proportions before he moved to Sydney, Australia, where he spent his formative years in the kitchen with said mad Frenchman. Laris first made a name for himself in the dining scene when he was heading up Sir Terence Conran’s flagship restaurant, Mezzo, in London. His knack for innovation and mixing fresh ideas with classic dishes was instantly acknowledged, taking Mezzo to international fame and putting the restaurant on the map for foodies around the world. In his fourth and seemingly final move in 2003, Laris made himself at home in Shanghai where he launched his namesake restaurant Laris, at Three on the Bund. The restaurant was received with much enthusiasm including numerous titles and awards; the Miele guide named Laris the 8th best restaurant in all of Asia and number one in China. It was listed as Shanghai’s restaurant of the year in 2004, 2005, 2006, and again in 2008.
For the past few months, Laris has been busy conceptualising his next big project. Joining forces with Hong Kong restaurant group Dining Concepts - who have restaurants such as Mario Batali’s Carnevino and Sergio Arola’s Vi Cool under their umbrella – Laris will be re-opening the legendary Laris restaurant in Hong Kong.
Tell us about LARIS.
The original Laris opened at Three on the Bund in Shanghai about eight or nine years ago and operated very successfully for about seven and a half years. I think it really helped redefine the dining scene in Shanghai. But when I parted ways with Three on the Bund I wasn’t going to let the restaurant continue to be there, so I focused on a lot of other concepts before I started feeling like enough time had passed since Laris closed. I’ve had a lot of offers to do it in Shanghai again but I wanted to do it somewhere else first, somewhere I could re-invent it and re-imagine it a little.
How did you come up with the menu?
I describe the dishes very simply, which allows me to surprise people when their food arrives. The menu reads simply but something beautiful and technical , something totally unexpected, comes out. That’s the elegant experience I want to bring to Dining Concepts. I don’t like to be clever for clever’s sake. It’s a folly. I hate contrived. I want presentation to feel like it’s just there, organic almost. We’re going to introduce a tasting menu and once I feel the service and kitchen is ready, we’ll introduce a 10-course dégustation menu for those who want to have 10 to 12 courses. Then we can introduce a lot more intricacy.
Would you say much of what you learned in your apprenticeship still follows you to this day?
Cooking has gone through many transitions in the last 20 years; it has come a long way. I think my food is grounded from those early lessons in terms of using classic processes and techniques and a great approach to flavour profiling. Some of those early lessons are very much about discipline, such as learning to make a basic stock – I think that’s important. Many young chefs forget about all the hard, basic lessons and go straight to molecular. You know, you can’t run before you walk. I believe that great chefs always have those fundamentals in their training. They are the core of a great kitchen. But to answer your question, yes, those lessons still are still there, but with 20 years of evolution.
You’ve opened a number of restaurants in Shanghai. What made you decide it was time to set up shop in Hong Kong?
It just made sense. I’ve been in China for 10 years and when I wanted to do something outside of China, Hong Kong was just an obvious choice. There’s a very sophisticated dining scene here.
How do the two cities compare in terms of dining?
It’s a whole other world here; Shanghai and Beijing are dynamic and there’s a lot going but Hong Kong has had a lot more time to become a dining scene. It has an open food port where you can get any product you want. I suppose China makes you think a lot more because you have to be more creative in working with what’s readily available. In Hong Kong, I had to force myself to stop writing dishes on the menu because there were no limits to what I could make. I was like a kid in a candy store.
So where do you source produce for LARIS?
All over. We’re getting a lot of produce from Australia, US, Canada and Europe, and if I find some great local stuff I’ll definitely use that as well. Right now we’ve got kingfish from Australia and we’re using lobster from Canada because it’s the right time of year and the water is the right temperature there. Even though I’m an Australian chef, I come from a background that’s very international and I want to use the best products I can find.
Will you be changing your menu seasonally?
Every three months I’ll be coming down to personally change the menu and I’ll be spending as much time in Hong Kong as I can. I’m even thinking of getting a permanent place here because I want to be really involved with the restaurant. I will also be staying in touch regularly with Serge, our chef who I’ve brought down from Shanghai.
Did Serge work with you at the original LARIS?
No, actually, Serge was doing some work at my fine dining concept 12 Chairs in Shanghai. He hasn’t worked with me for long, but I felt like he had the right temperament. He was the right kind of guy, from a culinary approach, to complement what I’m trying to do here in Hong Kong. I think he’s a great guy and doing a great job. Everyone has been working super hard for the last month.
There have been a lot of celebrity chefs opening restaurants in Hong Kong that end up flopping due to the chef not actually being there or restaurant groups who just use a chef’s name for branding. How do you plan to maintain the quality and integrity of LARIS?
One of the first things I said to Dining Concepts is that’s not the way it works with me. I’m going to be very involved all the way through from the graphic package and logo, the layout of our menus, the mood and the vibe of the restaurant, table setting, choice of glassware – I’ve been involved in every one of those processes for LARIS. It is my namesake and it’s a restaurant that has a great legacy already. I wasn’t going to be one of those guys who says, “Here’s my name. I’ll see you three days before the opening!”
What is the feeling you want people to walk away with when they come to eat at your new restaurant? I want to create a certain elegance; I don’t want it to be pretentious, but I want it to be grounded in great cooking. I want to set the tone where customers can come and spend as much or as little as you want and still feel comfortable around whoever is sitting on the table next to you. It’s about that laid-back Australian spirit and energy and letting the food, service and wine speak for itself.
Australia’s dining scene is on fire - any desire to open something back home?
I’ve thought about it a lot, the dining scene is fantastic in Australia – particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, they’re kicking ass. Every time I’m back in Sydney I’m tempted to do it, but at the moment I’m still focused on Asia. It’s just hard to make money in Australia, even for the top chefs. I won’t name names but I know some celebrity chefs who are on TV all the time whose restaurants are full but breaking even at best! With the cost of rents, payroll, cost of goods, there needs to be some reforms as to the way the industry approaches itself in order for it to survive. There’s a lot of stuff not making it that deserves to; I think all that has crippled the fine dining scene to some degree. Casual dining in Australia is vibrant though, so if I were to do something back home I’d probably go down that road.
“Broken” by Anonymous