From December 9 to 12, the Garden of the Artisans fair took over the top three floors of Youth Square. Each room in the hostel was allocated to an artist and his or her work. Visitors were invited to stroll past each room and stop to speak to the artists themselves.
The expansive event, which featured more than 50 artists representing Hong Kong and countries from around the world, celebrated the work of emerging artists, and offered insights into the creative process. The layout emphasised the continual reinvention, discovery and movement that takes place in the creation of art.
One artist, Seoul-based illustrator Soo Min Kim, experienced such a journey when choosing his career. While working as a salesman for LG Electronics, Kim made a habit of turning the iconic mermaid on Starbucks’ paper coffee cups into fantastic designs. Since becoming a full-time artist, his work has focused on transfiguring the mundane.
“I draw ideas from everyday life,” he explains. “Since I also work as an illustrator, it comes naturally to me.”
Kim is endlessly fascinated by the potential that lies in the plain, ubiquitous coffee cups, and uses a skilful combination of green marker and boxcutter knife to bring his ideas to life. His incredibly intricate illustrations include references to pop culture – in one work, he transforms the mermaid of the Starbucks logo into the Joker, as portrayed by Jared Leto in the recent film Suicide Squad – and display a powerful and childlike ingenuity.
Malaysian artist and art teacher Koo Yean Ni channels the spirit of childhood in her work. Koo artfully weaves and paints primitive designs reminiscent of linear Egyptian hieroglyphs. Her work is not only a celebration of heritage, but also a way to communicate the colours of nature to the children she teaches.
“It takes so long just to make a small embroidered piece,” she says, laughing. “Once, I was asked to make a 200cm by 200cm one, and I outright refused. People don’t see the patience and concentration needed even to make the smallest detail.”
However, Koo remains devoted to her art. At the moment, she is working on impressively detailed woven pieces that depict Malaysian myths.
Another notable figure from Malaysia is Chao Harn Kae, a graduate of the Malaysia Institute of Art. Chao specialises in sculpting clay and bronze. His sculptures range from anthropomorphic animals, such as rabbits with human faces, to the surreal, such as antelopes sprouting human hands from their heads instead of antlers.
Kae explains that his fascination for the melding of animal and man began in his early childhood. “I grew up in the countryside of Malaysia, so I was around animals a lot. When I came to the city, I found that a lot of the people behaved worse than the animals I once knew.”
His work has often been noted for its sensitive depiction of the human mind. While some might find his pieces disturbing, Kae explains that creating the sculptures is relaxing. “I find that my work is highly meditative. I project my emotions into my work, so their expressions are my own.”
Finally, a standout local artist is Ken Kwan, otherwise known as the “Dark Calligrapher”. In March last year, Kwan took up calligraphy as a hobby. As he began to experiment with different brush pens and share his work online, he kindled a passion for the art. Kwan’s work can be described as part bold, motivational wisdom, and part subversive commentary on the perils of modern society.
“There are a lot of politics involved – for instance, there is the choice between simplified Chinese characters and traditional Chinese characters. I focus on the shared, historic art culture,” Kwan says. “My work primarily concerns the classes repressed by mainstream society and their struggles.”
Both seasoned artists and novices learned a lot from the fair. Above all, it highlighted that extraordinary art can be found close to home in the most ordinary of places.