Here are some photos from the opening reception last month of an exhibit of my paintings of Hong Kong street markets at the Yale-China Association
in New Haven, CT. The exhibit will be open through next June, 2014. Thanks to Yale-China, and to all the people who came to the reception for making the evening so special for me and my family. Being able to exhibit these paintings is a dream come true.
Here's what I wrote about my paintings for the exhibit catalog:
When my wife first suggested that we move with our three children to Hong Kong for a year, I was thrilled. What an adventure, a chance of a lifetime! I had visited Hong Kong before and knew it as a place of great inspiration to me, a place where I loved to create artwork. A year would give me the time to explore and sketch at leisure, and develop some intimacy with the city.
I began by mentally composing a list of hopes and dreams: I wanted to sketch frequently as a way of documenting our life in Hong Kong, and I hoped that my sketches would change and develop in unexpected ways. On past visits I had sketched in black and white, mainly scenes around the harbor with an emphasis on architecture, boats and neon signs. People were incidental to my work. Shortly before we departed I had a dream that I would add color to my sketches. I was very excited by this dream and the possibilities that it suggested.
After we arrived I embraced the ways of a flaneur
, wandering through neighborhoods in search of scenes that caught my eye, and sketching in color. Living in the New Territories rather than the crowded areas around the harbor offered a new and very different experience of Hong Kong that was focused on local Chinese communities rather than tourism.
Friends introduced us to Tai Po and Mong Kok East, places with thriving outdoor street markets that were previously unknown to me. One thing led to another and I began sketching portraits of small business owners in these street markets who work with their hands. They are resourceful in their ability to find creative ways to run their business, overcoming difficulties like limited space or resorting to setting up shop on busy sidewalks because they lack a proper store.
It’s possible to experience Hong Kong as a maze of interconnected, impersonal mega-shopping malls of steel and glass resembling the Paris of Jacques Tati’s film Playtime
. I avoided these malls. Instead I was continually drawn to the outdoor markets that are like street theaters robust with life and soul, chaos and smells. The people shown in my paintings are the characters that breathe life onto that stage.
As the familiar rhythms of family life took over I occasionally worried that what at first seemed so exotic and endlessly fascinating would lose its luster and become ordinary. A short walk in Tai Po or Mong Kok East always rekindled my enthusiasm.
Some of my paintings explore issues of social commentary born from my twenty years of experience as an editorial illustrator for newspapers and magazines. The leap from an illustration assignment for The New York Times
to my Hong Kong paintings is not so great, and my approach to both is essentially the same: I want to create artwork that has a strong focal point, is occasionally humorous, and is engaging and accessible.
Hong Kong’s outdoor street markets are a way of life that is disappearing in newly developed areas. I hope that in the rush to embrace even more development, efficiency and consumerism, a growing interest to preserve Hong Kong’s traditions and unique heritage will insure that outdoor street markets continue to thrive and flourish.