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.
Published on Apr 17, 2013