Are there reasons why your artworks are mainly in plain colours?
Since the media I use is usually paper, the colour of paper itself will become the leading tone. Another reason is that the theme of my artwork: death, silence (rest) made me think of light colours. I didn’t realise that at the beginning, but when I put all my works in the past years together, it looked pretty obvious.
And I really need to create in a very quiet environment – with no sounds of humans around and with some music. Under that status, bright colours can’t really enter the picture. These are all with support: I have read two famous artists, Paul Klee and Johannes Itten’s articles which are about psychology and colour. Since my environment is quiet, what eyes want to see are plain colours too. Sometimes I bought really good quality colour pencils but I gave up on using them because the quality is too good and the colours are too bright.
Have you always preferred painting?
I think paintings with different mediums are different – painting with oil has its amazing attractions such as strong characters and bright colours, but I rarely use it. I like to mix different medium and materials to paint and sketch. Painting makes me feel a strong communication with the artworks. It is like playing badminton that goes back and forth.
Why do you like to do statistics and calculations before creating?
Maybe it was because I studied economics before. I remember my thesis was about foreign companies in China and investment and I collected over 20 years of data. I like to do research and I have had training before. Everything I do needs to be supported by something, which affects my creative creation. I will prefer to collect data and analyse – maybe it is because I need to convince myself.
Can you explain how you transform statistics and data into a piece of artwork?
Although a big part of my inspiration is about data, my artworks tend to be narrative. Numbers and figures are like stories to me and I will read them like a story book. There are reasons for numbers to appear; such as that the amount of people who take transportation during Chinese New Year in China is due to family reunion – I want to think of the reason behind the numbers. Workers were separated from their family to work in cities with more opportunities that led to population mobility and changes of society etc. After ‘reading’ I try to imagine possible stories which come with characters and emotions. Numbers are also with weight, just like colours
I like literature (the first book I read in secondary school was by Chinese literature writer Chiung Yao) and I like to connect literature with my artworks. That’s how I combine numbers and literature with visual elements and images to give birth to my works.
Statistics are from real life and the arts is mainly imagination. I think travelling between reality and its opposite is quite special – in this way taking out numbers may increase the reality of its opposite.
Can you give us some examples that you did statistics for?
My early work ‘Richard, I missed you so much’ is inspired by the movie Somewhere In Time, a love story that time and space criss-cross. The leading actor from 1972 falls in love with the leading actress from 1912. He tried his best to go back to the past to find her. The actress eventually lived until 1972 and went to find him although she is a granny already. Waiting for 60 years to meet one’s lover is very touching and I really would like to know what missing and waiting for so long is like.
Then I started to collect calendars from 1912 to 1972 and find out each month’s day of full moon. I wrote these full moon days on the canvas according to its sequence. Yellow dots were representing full moon day and Sundays were red dots. The work eventually was 10m long with 21,900 days (365 years times 60 years) of waiting. Someone said it was a love letter, I just thought of “to number our days” (Psalm 90:12) from the bible.
Your recent artworks are related to wars – whey does a place with no war need to care about wars?
Although Hong Kong is a place with no war, it is pretty easy to get in touch with news, images and videos that are about wars from the Internet. Everyone will be attracted to them and sit at home to ‘comprehend’ war because there is none in Hong Kong. Another reason is because I have been studying time, death and the fading of lives. To me, war and death are synonyms, so I care a lot about wars.
How did you start your path to art?
I liked to do arts and crafts when I was young. I would buy books to learn it and make some small things for classmates yet they had no practical usage. I was the one always responsible for the art and design part in group activities. I didn’t attend too many activities when I studied economics in Hong Kong Baptist University but I attended other schools to have classes. I accidentally attended a beginner course of Western painting in art school – that was when I started to know more about art.
I would like to thank a professor who taught me back in the day because he was the one who opened the gate of art for me by thinking about life and history through a piece of painting. When I had saved up enough money after graduation, I took a diploma course of sketching and painting. Then I learned oil painting in local artist Christopher Ku’s studio for three years. I then studied a bachelor course in art school and I have been continuing creating since graduation.
Why do you want to keep working on art?
Sometimes I think it’s not about me giving up or not but ‘giving up’ didn’t pick me.
Teachers in art school led me to another level and showed me more about contemporary art and creating: I recognised art is a language and a profession. I also understand that painting does not necessarily equal to art. Honestly, it is friends, teachers, family and colleagues’ support to make me keep walking. As an artist, there are some inevitable difficulties such as high rent and small space. But I have faith that everyone needs arts and culture just like needing water. It’s an alternative vitamin to keep one healthy.
How does painting make you feel?
Painting makes me more focused because I have to spend a lot of time to observe and make delicate changes. It also calms me down and increases my attention span.
How does art affect your life?
The process of creation made me more attention-focused. I will pay attention to small stuff like a pin and start imagining its appearance, shape, history and possibility. I would want to dismantle it to create another form. Another funny thing is art changes my shopping preference. I used to buy clothes, shoes and bags, now I will go to metal shops, stationery stores and wood stores etc to buy weird stuff.
Apart from that, I realised that I have been more organised because I need to follow a schedule to finish a piece of work, otherwise I could not exhibit the work. But sometimes I try to improvise and allow myself to stumble a bit in the process.
“I was a choir member before and I learnt that I have to put in my emotion in order to touch others. I also learnt to put my feelings in art creations.”