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Whenever a conversation with any out-of-town personality turns towards Hong Kong’s local creative community, I can’t help but have an air of pessimism towards the local cultural landscape. In a city driven by material wealth and rapid turn-over, it’s a theme that permeates all aspects of the city. The commercial aspect of everything and the inability to take a risk results in a narrow-sighted view that often forgoes the long-term. How and why is one I can’t really point my finger on. In some regards, the way Hong Kong is set-up with its exorbitant rent perhaps requires those to really exercise caution in taking risks, or perhaps another aspect is the inherent Chinese culture of trying to maximize gains in the smallest amount of time. Regardless, what is not important now are the developments (or lack thereforof) regarding the past.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a series of events thrown by a handful of close friends which operated under the moniker of POW WOW. The pretense was simple and to the point, bring together a series of global artists in one place, in hopes of building, growing and nurturing Hong Kong’s local creative scene. Away from the dollar signs and brand names that proliferate Hong Kong on so many levels was a genuine initiative to unite the community. With a two-day event including two art shows and a DJ session from VERBAL and YOON of AMBUSH, we spoke with some of the artists involved, including Jasper Wong (USA), Yue Wu (France), Will Barras (UK) and Pat Lee (Canada), over a short discussion.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Photography: Cavan Mok
Models: Ajing & Karen Wong, Musee Wu, Avery Yoo
Could you tell us a little about your personal and artistic background?
Wu Yue: I was born in Beijing in a family of artists. I pretty much grew up in the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. When I was eight and a half I joined my parents in Paris who had previously moved. Through my parents, I had access to a wide range of art from Doraemon to Eugene Delacroix. My grandfather is a a woodblock printer as well and through him I was exposed to all forms of figurative Chinese art. I graduated from ENSAD in Paris in animation, but I was studying graphic design before that. I have always expressed myself through my drawings. Last year I had the chance to work with So-Me as well as director Edouard Salier as a animation supervisor. I also did exhibitions in Paris and another in Berlin with Seb Preschoux. I have collaborated on projects for Nike with Stephane Ashpool and some projects for Asics with Yoske Nishiumi.
Pat Lee: I started drawing professionally when I was 16 and got my first job in IMAGE Comics penciling comic books in California. After training in Cali, I formed a Publishing company in Toronto and created several comic book properties. I’ve sold a number of properties to 20th Century Fox and Disney. As a Publisher, we produced Transformers comic books for 3 years with Hasbro, CAPCOM and 4 Kids on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also did a few Marvel and DC Comic books which include X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Wolverine and Iron Man. I was also involved in helping Chris Lee and Brian Singer on Superman 2 the movie, for conceptual designs and story boarding.
Jasper Wong: I’m not as cool as Pat! As a small Chinese child, my dainty hands were especially skilled for detail work. My specialty was shoe making and cleaning small pipes in public restrooms. Due to my experiences as a child craftsman, it was obvious for me to progress in to the world of art. It is there that I would eventually fall in love with the color pink, Mr. T, and Donald Duck. Just kidding! My hands are not that dainty… haha. I was actually born on a rock in the middle of the Pacific called Hawaii, so my grasp of art only extended to Hanna-Barbera cartoons that I would watch every Saturday morning. Little did I know, there was a lot to learn and art went way beyond drawing little blue people living in mushrooms. I eventually wound up at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco to study illustration. It was in those hallow halls that my obsessions with the likes of A.M. Cassandra to Windsor McCay began. Doodling in composition books became paintings on canvas. Art became my life.
Will Barras: I left college with no job prospects at 21 and got a job as a telephone operator, I did this job for 8 months. I was full time doodling while talking on the phone and this was where I rediscovered my love of drawing. My mum was creative and my dad was always in the garage building racing cars, I spent my years in Bristol living and working with Duncan Jago and Steff Plaetz, who were both a big influence on me. After this I started making my way as an illustrator which led me to start painting.
Pat, Yue, and Jasper, being of Chinese descent, I think it’s safe to say that most Chinese parents are wanting their children to enter some lucrative industry such as medicine, law or engineering. But for all of you, it seemed as though you were given free reign in developing your childhood love of art.
Pat Lee: My parents were actually really cool about me drawing comics professionally. They just wanted me to do something I really enjoyed. The by-product of a very non-typical Chinese mother and a really open minded father. I remember when I was 17, my mother took me to a New York Comic Book Convention. She has supported me throughout my entire career.
Wu Yue: Yea, my parents were pretty open-minded. They stressed happiness over monetary success.
Jasper: Generally speaking, Asian families tend to associate success with the zeroes in their bank accounts. Sadly, there is only one zero in mine. My grandmother says that this is the sole reason why I sleep alone at night. In all seriousness though, there is definitely a familial pressure to be in particular occupations amongst Chinese cultures. Luckily, my mom is a rare breed and extremely supportive of my life choices. She is literally the foundation for everything I do.
How did you guys link up?
Wu: I first met Jasper and Verbal at the colette Halloween party in Tokyo last year. I met Will and Pat for the first time here in Hong Kong!
Jasper: When I first met Wu Yue I was dressed as a duck with a mustache and he was disguised as Mount Fuji. It was natural for me to migrate over to him. From there the rest is history.
Pat: Hah – I met Jasper in his pink uniform and didn’t know it was him at first! For reals, Jasper I met a year ago in HK and I just met Wu last week at these events. Met Will in HK and we totally clicked. Our art had a lot of contrast which was great for the collab.
Will: Chris Kong at Garage works invited me over, I didn’t really have any idea what was happening, but I’m glad I came!
Jasper: Yep! It is definitely thanks to Chris and Jian of Garageworks who put me in the same room with Pat and Will. Seriously, two of the coolest couples I know!
How would you guys describe your respective styles and do you think they’re reflective of your personality?
Wu: I’m still working on my style. It’s a mix of everything I am. I’m both Chinese and French at the same time. My style is constantly evolving. Everything you’ll see at the “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!!!” show within the Pow Wow event is new because it’s my first time working on canvas! I try to not repeat gimmicks because I feel like I’m constantly learning and I want to keep experimenting. The whole process is the style.
Jasper: I think my art is very similar to my personality because it is really light-hearted. I don’t draw dead people and skulls. I’m drawing Mr. T naked and ducks with golden vaginas. With art, I feel that you can’t be neutral and you have to go all out. They either love it or they hate it. It’s either black or white, but never gray. One of my greatest teachers and influences, Barron Storey, used to stress that heavily during art college. I try my best to live by his words.
Pat Lee: Most people know my work with Transformers. I’ve always been into Japanese Anime and US Comic Books so I enjoy merging the two styles together to create something interesting. I’ve really enjoyed merging anime into my paintings and try to keep my artwork as clean as possible – since my background has been more into comics. I enjoy using color in my work and I think it describes my inner personality and I think it’s important to just have fun in life because what is life without a little bit of that right? I try to keep my life simple as much as possible hence my work being very simple. I think the interesting thing is that all the artists that were a part of the POW WOW event was that the art styles were all very unique.
Will: I think my style is pretty fluid. I try not to repeat myself but I do seem to return to certain themes and some characters reappear, but like Wu, I try to shift and evolve constantly I’m pretty indecisive and open. I try to be like a sponge and react to what I see around me, I really enjoyed the spirit of inventiveness and freedom in what Jasper and Wu did together.
Jasper, Wu… having had the chance to spend some time with all of you, it seems like you guys had these complimentary styles that came together nicely in some collaborative pieces. What was it like working together side-by-side?
Jasper: I don’t think our styles are complimentary. They’re actually pretty different. But I think coming together, it really helped change the way I work. When we first came together as individuals, we got along really well. And after that, our art was essentially us working off each other’s style and flowing off one another. Meeting everyone really helped to push my art forward. They are all a big inspiration for me both as people and artists.
Wu: For me, being given the chance, time, and space to work on an exhibition with Jasper and then to be able to observe and be a part of this performance with Pat, Will and Jahan was a great opportunity! The freedom of Jasper’s perception of emotions in his work really helped me to be more confident to what is most important: What we want to express and not what people expect us to do or what will sell.
Pat Lee: Doing a collab with these guys have been really fun and I was quite satisfied with the end piece when we closed the curtains and blacked it out as if it never existed. I’m looking forward to doing more collabs in the near future with everyone again.
Will: Its just a mash up. Five of us, with Jahan, with different personalities and styles, something new is bound to happen! I like that we put so much stuff on the canvas that in the end we had to paint it out to black, it’s the process that was important, not the finished thing, it was great fun to do.
Wu: It is like a meeting and sharing of creative minds from different perspectives.
Hong Kong’s art scene has often been considered very much a place of extreme commercial proportions. Did you feel that this was perhaps part of the catalyst for putting together an event like this? What are your thoughts on Hong Kong and China’s art scene in general?
Jasper: I come from it from a different perspective. I’m not only an artist for the POW WOW event, but along with the Garageworks crew and Season Chan of Double Knot, I was one of the key organizers. We really wanted to bring a new artistic angle to Hong Kong that was away from the really commercial art scene. We essentially just wanted to bring something different. In a lot of way, I like to think of Hong Kong as how a New York, a San Francisco, Tokyo, or any of these big cities with a strong creative background was prior to developing a strong foundation and community. Hong Kong’s scene is very much raw and ready to be molded and developed. Hong Kong is just waiting for something new!
Wu: They will develop their own melting pot of styles, much like many of us who went back to China to provide a fresh vision through our work which is a mix between our Western knowledge and our mother culture. Hong Kong is at the crossroads of China, Europe, and Japan, the mix of these different cultures allows new cultures to be manifested. We aren’t pretending to be huge artists, but from a street background, we’re coming from a culture that has been merchandised. But what we are doing here is something new. A lot of artists in China are good at copying but lack concept. It’s not their fault, the education hierarchy is still heavy and the economic model leads people to repeat what sells. We might not inspire kids right away, but some people will recognize what we are doing and start something of their own. Hopefully, more of the youth will join our philosophy.
Pat Lee: I think that these shows really help the Hong Kong and China scene. It brings artists together and the energy is very intense. I think that the POW WOW event in HK was a good start and looking forward to POW WOW shows perhaps in Japan or Stateside. I think I can speak for all the artists, that we all had such a great time weaving our art on top of each others work and sharing all our art to the public. I think the Hong Kong and China region needs more events like this to help build the creative market. We already see a lot of great support and the turn out was incredible.
Will: This was my first visit, but to me this scene in Hong Kong feels really fresh, original, and it’s close knit. It’s lovely the way everyone helps and supports each other. It seems like a place where artists are coming from many different locations and working together. If there are commercial outlets and some money to put into projects that could help, I guess its just important to keep focusing on the art and not the money… It’s an exciting time.
Do you have any other creative platforms you currently dabble in aside from painting and drawing?
Yue: I did a lot of animation, art directing and storyboarding. Now this year I’m stepping my game up with this show! I’m looking to progress in my art, including starting to move my work into tangible 3D objects! I’m also looking to directing films and I’m starting my first music video right now with a release set for the end of March. I hope it it’ll turn out dope. I’m also doing the title for the European edition of Maestro Knows… hopefully a busy year.
Will: I hope to get into making some animation sometime.
Pat Lee: I’m currently dabbling in some video game, feature film and comic book projects which we will have some news in the latter half of this year. We’re doing some pretty interesting projects with our feature film company DeepSky Pictures Inc. and looking forward to sharing it with everyone. I’ll also be doing another 3-4 gallery showings across North America and Asia this year so traveling very heavily. Recently did some stuff with Nike and looking forward to doing more with them in the near future.
Jasper: I’m doing my first shoe collaboration with Jump and Greedy Genius which is slated to release later this year. I’m also working on bringing a whole bunch of never-before-seen work to Hong Kong through my gallery called Above Second in Sai Ying Pun. I’m hoping to host a photography show with a lot of the industry heads. Also, Jeff Hamada of booooooom.com is curating his first exhibition in the land of steamed dumplings and kung-fu chops. That will be rad! Aside from that, I’ll just be painting, painting, and more painting. That’s my life in a nutshell.
Any last comments or words?
Yue: I’d like to thank Andy Chiu who linked me up with Jasper. Season who I have fallen in love with! Chris, Jian and her alien dance. I’m so happy to have met all of you guys! I hope POW WOW will continue to grow bigger and bigger and we can go and paint all over the world!
Jasper: I gotta send out special thanks to everyone that made POW WOW possible. Big thanks to Verbal, Yoon, Andy Chiu, May Wong, Jey Perie, Jason Chow, Hiro Yoshikawa, Rex Lau, and Katie Wan. Even bigger thanks to Chris Kong and Jian Ko of Garageworks. Look out for Jian’s alien dance to infect clubs across the globe… haha. Mucho respect also goes out to Larry and Jump. As a brand he is working to change its image and has shown a lot of support to what we are trying to do in Hong Kong. Last but not least, I have to send a very special thanks to Season Chan of Double Knot. She was literally the glue that kept everything together. We all love her!
Pat Lee: I’ve always tried to inspire young artists to live their dreams. Sometimes kids get a lot of outside influences to steer a different direction and I believe that success comes from the passion and desire to be who you want to be without being dictated from someone else on what you “should” be. Just wanted to share my thanks to everyone who came out and supported POW WOW and definitely looking forward to doing more events like this.
Will: I really want to thank Chris and Jian at Garageworks for bringing me over. Pat, it was a real pleasure to make the show and to collaborate with all of you. Hope I come back sometime soon.
Jasper: I have to send many many thanks to everyone who came out and showed us love and support! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!