Street-wise artists in top form

Street-wise artists in top form

Urban art is a great way to express yourself, and it is beginning to gain more public acceptance

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Claire Wong (front) and Tonia Yau (back) express themselves through urban art in Tai Kok Tsui.
Claire Wong (front) and Tonia Yau (back) express themselves through urban art in Tai Kok Tsui.
Photo: Edward Wong/SCMP

Hidden among the industrial rooftops of Tai Kok Tsui you'll find a colourful surprise. Parts of the rooftop's unseen walls have been spray-painted with impressive murals and neon graffiti. This is the work of street artist Pantone C and the students from his urban art workshops.

"It's not an art class," Pantone C explains. "In an art class, everyone is doing the same thing. But here, everyone is doing their own art. Maybe someone is painting on the wall outside, while someone else is sketching inside. We just want to share and let students do what they really want to do."

This freedom of expression is what motivated Pantone C to set up workshops for urban art. Focused mostly on teenagers, the studio provides training in a new form of contemporary art. Street art and urban art have gained popularity thanks to artists like Banksy. Now they are more accepted art forms and even appear in art galleries, auctions and museums.

Pantone C is quick to distinguish between graffiti and urban art. Graffiti, he says, is selfish. People who do graffiti "are just concerned about themselves. They want to get respect from their group of people. That's graffiti".

But urban art is completely different, says Pantone C.

"Urban art, or street art, is more about how you connect with the environment," he says. "If you make a mural on the wall, you have to think about how to make the artwork connect with the actual environment. It' not just like, 'Oh, I did a tag, that's it'."

For this reason, Pantone C believes that urban art is more accepted in Hong Kong. Since he first started in 2000, he has seen the culture grow and gradually gain public interest. He says it comes down to a matter of accessibility. "Graffiti is something you don't understand, because it's just for the person who did it," he explains. "But street art involves characters. Maybe there's a panda, or a mural, and it's easier to understand."

When the public can understand and appreciate the art and what you're doing, he says, then that generates interest and acceptance.

Tonia Yau, 15, a student at Australian International School Hong Kong, agrees. She enjoys the freedom of expression urban art gives her. "I think I'm more interested in street art because it can portray a meaning or a message to the public, just using images," she says. "It's really strong."

Pantone C believes that the sub-culture feeling of urban art works particularly well with teenagers. While many Hong Kong students take art classes when they are young, they quickly become bored with sketching and water colours. "When you're young," he explains, "you want to rebel. You want to do something different."

Out on the rooftops, the students quickly get to work. They each choose their spray paints and take different sections of the wall.

Claire Wong Yat-sum, 14, a student at Sha Tin College, is working from a sketch in her notepad. "I like sketching better," she admits, "but going out is more fun. And, it's easier to correct your mistakes, because you can always go over it."

The two girls are focused on their work, as Pantone C gives them tips or helps outline their designs. Soon, the wall is covered in bright, colourful designs.

"It's a great forum to express yourself," says Claire. "It's very, very different."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Street-wise artists in top form

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