Great art is inspiring. Everyone interprets a piece of artwork in a different way. And each interpretation can seed ideas, leading to the creation of even more artwork.
That’s how it went for three teen artists when they entered Asia Society Hong Kong’s art competition, Life is Only One – Imagination of Life, inspired by the centre’s current exhibition featuring Japanese contemporary artist Yoshitomo Nara.
During a series of educational programmes, students took inspiration from Nara ’s artwork to create their own for the competition.
The competition was fierce, with 492 entries across three categories: Children, Youth and Open. Young Post sat down with the three top artists from the Youth division to find out what inspired them and how they planned to pursue art.
Youth Division winner and South Island School student Audrey Lee, 16, says she relied on her instincts when painting her winning piece.
“I don’t really plan,” she admits. “I decided what I wanted to make upon seeing Nara’s work, then I bought an oval canvas, took a selfie for reference, then started painting. I already knew what the painting looked like in my mind; I just made it exist in real life.”
Each of the three winners took different inspiration from Nara’s exhibition. Second runner up Ho Po-yu, 17, from Belilios Public School, chose to do a wood engraved portrait of her grandfather.
Of Nara’s work, she says: “His painting is always full of sadness, so I wanted to create something more hopeful.”
First runner up Sirius Li Ha-ye, 14, also took inspiration from sadness, but in a different direction. “I had this idea about mistakes that we make in our life, over and over again,” he explains. “My painting is supposed to represent going up a spiral, trying very hard not to do it again but just failing and falling down to the bottom again.”
For Audrey, her painting had a different purpose. “The point is that there is no story,” she says. “Baby Egg is about change as a process. Survival and victory are just parts of the whole process of growing up.”
All three artists value art in their lives. Sirius says he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t drawing. “I draw everywhere,” he says. “I draw in class – which I shouldn’t be doing, but I do it anyway. When I was six years old, I picked up a pen and drew all over the wall.”
For Audrey, her interest in art turned serious when she got to secondary school. “I wanted to be noticed as an individual,” she says. “So I began to explore how I could express my individuality through drawing.”
Po-yu had a more frustrating experience. In primary school, her art teacher discouraged her from pursuing art. “My drawing was quite ugly,” she says. She regained her confidence in secondary school and worked to improve her skills.
Her experience is something the three students say they see a lot of in Hong Kong schools. Sirius goes to Canadian International School, but studies art at the YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College because there isn’t enough support for arts at his school.
“We’re just taught really basic stuff, like the colour wheel,” he says. “Even in secondary school, we started to do more creative stuff, like clay sculptures. And then back to the colour wheel.”
Po-yu says it’s even worse at her school. “I don’t think my school has any support for art,” she says. “We have an arts club, but it’s useless.” With a focus on studying and university placement exams, there’s no room to be creative.
Audrey’s school offers more options: she has just finished her IGCSE art course and is planning to start IB higher level art in the coming school year. “I’ve been lucky enough to study at a school that is very supportive of students’ creative interests,” Audrey says. “However, I know this is not the case for most students in Hong Kong. Supporting an art course means spending money, and many schools just aren’t willing or able to do that.”
All three agree that art has a valuable place in schools. “Art is really important,” says Sirius. “It should be, at least. It makes people think instead of repeating what other people have done. And in class or school they should actually focus more on creation rather than just copying.”
Sirius hopes to pursue art more as a career by becoming a videogame developer, a role that involves “creating characters and writing storylines”.
Po-yu wants to inspire young artists and give them the support she didn’t get from her own teachers. “My dream is to open an art school,” she says. “Other Hong Kong art schools don’t let you express yourself freely. I always want my future students to create something without any boundaries.”
Po-yu says she sees more and more young people showing an interest in creative fields. “I think this generation – my generation – more and more people are focused on arts,” she says. “I think in the future, art will have greater significance in Hong Kong.”
Audrey agrees, pointing out that art doesn’t just mean paintings, and includes literature, music, theatre and fashion. “Art is not limited to just visual arts, right?” she says.
“Besides, visual art feeds off other fields,” she explains. “You could even say that it touches on every aspect of life itself. I love that.”