Bright hues of hardship

Bright hues of hardship

A budding young artist turned adversity to his advantage by finding inspiration in his troubles


Unicef art competition winner Xanxus Kwan with two of his artworks.
Unicef art competition winner Xanxus Kwan with two of his artworks.
Photos: Edmond So/SCMP
A change in his family's economic fortunes has given artist Xanxus Kwan Yuk-lun a new insight into art that can straddle the divide between rich and poor.

The 16-year-old, a Form Four student at St Joseph's Anglo-Chinese School, loves painting. He has been honing his drawing skills at the private School of Creativity since he was seven.

"I started drawing with wax pencils," he says. "Then I went on to learn other ways of painting: dry pastel, oil pastel, acrylic colours and watercolour."

The young artist already has several local and international awards under his belt. Passionate about art and design, he has even chosen visual arts as one of his electives for his HKDSE exams.

But last year disaster struck the family.

"My father lost his job all of a sudden and my mum was not able to take up a job herself. So my 18-year-old sister, Gina and I had to get part-time jobs to help ease the family's financial burden," Xanxus explains.

He took a job at McDonald's, serving customers and making burgers.

"At first, I was in denial and felt depressed," he says. "Then I realised I had to face reality and grow up to meet the challenges."

In the toughest period, Xanxus worked until midnight after school for three days a week - more during holidays. He only got a few hours of sleep before another day started.

But he kept on painting.

"To me, art is essential. When I was in primary school, I once gave up drawing for a few months but I had to pick it up again soon. It is a source of happiness for me," he says. "My time was limited, but I still did some drawing after school before I went off to work."

Although his family's financial troubles have since eased, he continues to work at McDonald's.

At the 10th International Art Competition "Different Look", sponsored by Unicef, Xanxus created a print called Looking to the Future. It won him the first prize in the 14-to-16-year-old category.

Xanxus says he made the print in a hurry. "It normally takes me weeks or even months to do a painting. But this time I only had four to five days to plan and complete my work in order to meet the deadline," he says.

"I was not familiar with printmaking. I chose this form of art because I thought it was more special than ordinary painting."

Xanxus printed several versions before submitting the best one as his entry for the award.

"My piece shows a man in space and a dog on Earth," he says.

"They are somehow linked together, but also separated by a diagonal design. The idea came from those days when I felt really down and realised that life is always a process of change and you can't control all the variables.

"We should be brave and not be afraid of uncertainties."

He learned that lesson from his family's financial problems.

Xanxus was invited to attend the prize presentation on May 18 in Poland, but he couldn't afford to go. So instead he was presented with his prize by Poland's consul general in Hong Kong last month.

Xanxus says he sees art as his outlet to make a difference. "I want to use my talent to help others," he says. "In my recent art pieces, I try to point out that many people in the world are facing poverty, but that doesn't mean they can't have a happy life."

The young artist has taken up a new task. He is helping the Hong Kong Committee of Unicef to draw some cards for this year's annual Global Handwashing Day campaign on October 15. He is also working on artworks for the event's Facebook page.

"My other mission for the campaign is to redesign the poster that demonstrates the seven steps children need to follow in washing their hands," he says.

He intends to create a fun visual guide to educate children about the need for good hygiene.



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