Mariko Jesse on how Hong Kong has influenced her

Mariko Jesse on how Hong Kong has influenced her

Artist Mariko Jesse says that Hong Kong's rich and diverse culture can inspire you in many different ways

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Mariko Jesse looks to both the East and West for inspiration.
Mariko Jesse looks to both the East and West for inspiration.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP

Standing among the branches loaded with bright pink cherry blossoms in the middle of Pacific Place atrium, Mariko Jesse looks at home next to the huge palace lantern display decorated with her artwork.

"I loved getting to draw a goat," she says, pointing to an illustrated goat standing on a bridge at the centre of her landscape. "I never get asked to do goats! I always get asked to draw horses, but never goats."

To celebrate the year of the goat, Jesse was commissioned by Pacific Place to design an illustration inspired by the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. Jesse's initial inspiration came from traditional ceramic designs.

"I started thinking about patterns and how to create an image that would work as a pattern but also as a full image," she says. "And then decided to go with one really big landscape scene, with all of the details and all of the Chinese New Year elements."

Jesse's landscape will be on display at Pacific Place until March 1 as part of the mall's "Arrival of Spring. Celebration of Life" decorations and display for Lunar New Year.

Along with two of each animal, Jesse incorporated traditional New Year and good luck symbols, like peonies, clouds, mountains and three types of trees: a willow, a pine tree and a plum tree. She says the different elements and shapes make the illustration adaptable.

The idea of adaptation is closely tied to Jesse's artistic style. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and British father, but grew up in Hong Kong. "So [my style is] kind of, it really is East meets West, even though that's kind of a cliché," she says. "Because, I'm East meets West."

This mixture of styles and influences can be seen in Jesse's New Year's landscape illustration. While the mountains, clouds, trees and flowers are more Asian in style, she says her way of drawing the animals is more Western. "Some people think it looks very Asian and some people think it looks very Western," she explains. "But I think it's a nice mix … so it fits Hong Kong well."

Being from a multicultural background, Jesse found Hong Kong a welcoming place to grow up. "I think people have always been kind of mixed here," she says, "so they like things that are multicultural."

Embracing a multicultural approach has also helped Hong Kong's art scene move forward. Jesse says she finds the city's art industry to be much more international than it was when she was growing up. She attributes this to Hong Kong's students, who are more eager to explore outside influences and travel and study abroad.

But she says that students can do even more to reach out.

"I find sometimes that Hong Kong students are a bit literal," she says. "They're not very good at stretching outside of what they're told to do … students need to experiment more here, not follow the rules quite as much."

Along with the students, Jesse says that the city itself is becoming more international as it continues to absorb different outside influences.

"Hong Kong has such a strong cultural identity that you can keep throwing things in and [Hong Kong] will just kind of suck it all in," Jesse laughs. The city is now very different from the one she grew up in, but some aspects of traditional culture will always persist, she says.

"Everyone will still want to do dragon boat racing, everyone will still want to have Chinese New Year buns, it's not going to go away. It's just that it can also take in other things to kind of enrich the whole society," she says. "I think [Hongkongers] are very strong at keeping what they like."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Thrown into the melting pot

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