Drawing on life's lessons
FEW artists admit to being influenced by their peers. Perish the thought; that would compromise one's integrity. Once in a while, though, there emerges an earthy individual who not only admits but celebrates the fact that his work is a blending of styles, a continuous learning process derived from collaborations with artist friends. Henry Chan Fat-hing is such a man.
Sporting bright red sneakers, baseball cap, blue jeans and a bold, multi-coloured T-shirt, Chan views himself as something of a mobile display.
'I believe an artist must display his life force, his vitality. My attire is representative of me in that respect. My clothes are a form of conceptual, moveable art,' declares Chan.
The former head of graphic design at Radio Television Hong Kong set out to fulfil his dream of becoming an artist when he retired last year.
'I do not think that I am one at this point; I have a long way to go yet.
'But I think it is very important that an artist struggle, to put effort into his work and draw from life's experiences to get insight,' says Chan, insistent that he has not struggled enough.
A couple of months ago, Chan opened a small shop, Hingo Gallery, in Tsim Sha Tsui, which serves as a place for his artist friends to meet and, of course, to display his work.
Although business is slow, but Chan is pleased he and his friends can meet in a stimulating environment.
'For me, friendship is very important so I do all I can to cultivate my relationships and I am glad we can meet here.
'This location is good because many young people come here to shop. There is good energy that comes from the youthful customers; we often sit out in the passageway and discuss art,' says Chan. Sometimes his gallery takes on the air of a poker room, smoke from pungent cigarettes quickly filling the small space.
Although no more than 50 square feet, the shop is full of paintings in various stages of completion. Hanging on an inside wall is a work presented to Chan by artist Kwok Mang-ho, who is now based in New York. Kwok, otherwise known as the 'frog-king' for his numerous depictions of the amphibians, did the calligraphy for the shop sign.
From the outside of the display windows, the gallery looks like a fish tank. Colourful water colours of Chan's favourite subject, the puffer fish, are to be found everywhere - from painted silk fans to various pieces of textured paper - with Chan looking like a big fish among many lesser ones.
Even his T-shirts and jackets bear his trademark puffer fish. 'I get them done at this little place in Central. I have been taking clothes there for years to have them embroidered,' says Chan, who, at 55, does not believe in dressing his age.
Tigers used to burn brightly in Chan's imagination. But these being less than propitious subjects in the Chinese tradition, he eventually switched to painting carp instead.
Later, with experience of working life and a growing appreciation of the complexities of human relationships, Chan began likening himself to the deadly puffer fish.
'No one can stomp me to death. Those who try to eat me die,' he declares somewhat dramatically.
Chan spent 18 years studying traditional Chinese painting with Chinese University professors Van I-Pang and Ting Yan-yung. Although he was a student with Ting for only three years, Chan describes him as the greatest influence on his work.
'Ting introduced me to minimalism and I experimented, creating the basis of my own goal to use the minimum of brush strokes to create a meaningful work.
'Even now, I do not believe I have even 30 per cent of Ting's talent and skill,' says Chan.
And then there is painter-poet Wong Lai-fong, with whom Chan held a joint exhibition at the Fringe Club last year.
'There is no doubt that we both influenced each other.
'She is especially interested in using paper of different textures as an extension of artistic expression. And when we use different materials to create new effects, often we do not know what the results will be until the work is finished. It's an experiment and we often develop new paths by doing so,' says Chan.
Nancy Chu Chor-chu, professor of art at Hong Kong University, and former television personality Yvonne Wong Yu-wong, are other fellow painters who sometimes come round to chat and help him 'cultivate his art'.
But, in the end, Chan says none of it would have been possible without his wife, Selena. 'You know, she has supported and encouraged me throughout my crazy career, and now this project. Without her, I couldn't have done it.'