Black sheep girl

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am

The fantasy world of local artist Carrie Chau Wun-ying is anything but the happy-go-lucky cartoon wonderland that a quick glance at her illustrations might suggest.

Clad in deep colours and sporting wistful expressions, her seemingly joyful characters are tinged with sadness.

'I portray a bittersweet world in my paintings. Although Hong Kong is an affluent city, people are beset by problems like pollution and poverty.

'We have one of the world's lowest rankings on the global happiness index. Instead of creating a happy fantasy land, I want to make paintings that strike a chord with ordinary people,' says Chau.

Her current exhibition at Times Square entitled 'The Black Sheep' showcases more than 100 paintings and sculptures.

That most of her art is set against happy backdrops like circuses and fairgrounds only throws the underlying gloominess into starker relief, which is the effect she is aiming to create.

'I've always been attracted by the contradiction of the circus. On the surface, it is full of colourful characters and amusing animals.

'However, if you dig deeper, circuses can be a place of misery - the midgets are paraded like freaks, animals are chained and lead a confined existence and trapeze performers are subject to cruel training.

'The sarcasm behind the smiles couldn't be greater. And this duality is also evident in our lives.'

The offbeat artist's acute social sense has its roots in her rebellious youth and a somewhat unconventional education in the UK.

'When I was younger, I was only attracted by children's stories with a darker tone, such as the Emperor's New Clothes and Grimms' Fairy Tales. Stories like Cinderella and Snow White were just too sweet to be true.'

This alternative attitude stayed with her as she grew up and feeds her creativity. 'I've always been a black sheep.'

'Bored with the lectures at university, I played truant all the time to visit art galleries and museums in London but I worked hard when I needed to.' Hard enough to graduate from the Kent Institute of Art and Design.

Some harsh life lessons after graduation have also helped inject a sense of realism into her work.

'I was traumatised after September 11, 2001 and I realised that there is too much suffering in the world.'

A long spell of unemployment in Hong Kong also toughened her up.

'I couldn't find an arts job after I returned from the UK. I holed up in the house for a long time. Finally, I found a job but it was boring.'

Her personal experience as something of an underdog has shaped her attitude towards the world.

'Society only celebrates the cream of the crop - the brightest students, the most successful people and so on. I want to champion outsiders and portray the real world.'

No longer the underdog, she attributes her success to a combination of luck and love.

'My family treats me like a princess and all my friends support me a lot. My paintings are a labour of love. I kiss every one of them after I finish. I feel happiest when people are touched by my work.'

'The Black Sheep' is at Times Square atrium until Sunday.