Beauty and the beasts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 November, 2008, 12:00am

When Carrie Chau is asked to draw a self-portrait, the artist draws a giant head, with swollen cheeks and a fang.

In real life, Chau is slender and nymph-like, with perfect teeth, but her hyperbolic self-portrait, like the rest of her work, is distorted and dark.

'I see contradictions everywhere. I don't like everything sweet or perfect. For everything good, I can always find something a little sinister,' says Chau, whose meticulous drawings always carry a social message.

This makes Chau an unlikely guest artist at this year's Christmas exhibition at Times Square in Causeway Bay, which features none of the traditional Christmas icons like Santa Claus or reindeer.

Entitled Indigo Child - which comes from a book by Lee Carroll and Jan Tober published in 1999 about a new generation of special children with special abilities that are coming into the world - Chau's interpretation involves aliens planting chips into the babies and turning them into super intelligent beings.

'Christmas is about the birth of a child, so Jesus was the main inspiration for my exhibit,' she says.

The display of more than 30 new paintings and fibreglass installations is thought provoking, but if you go up one floor in the mall you are suddenly confronted with a comical display on the roof of her enclosed exhibit. It involves hundreds of paper aeroplanes.

Meanwhile, in the outdoor piazza of the mall, Chau has built a 'Christmas Castle' display filled with distorted Eskimos and fairy tale characters with sinister, almost devilish, grins.

Both exhibits took a year to prepare, and Chau spent most of the time holed up in her home studio in the New Territories. To relieve stress, Chau says she tends to a small garden where she grows mint and other herbs.

'I live a simple life,' she says. 'I'm a moody person though, the smallest thing can make me upset. This goes into my art.'

Now she's ready for a break.

'I really want to travel ... maybe to France ... I've also always wanted to see Fatima,' she says, speaking of a small town in Portugal, where the ghost of Virgin Mary supposedly appeared to three peasant children in 1917.

Chau, a Catholic, admits some of the darkness in her drawings is a result of her religious upbringing.

'There was a lot of repression growing up,' she says.

As a child, Chau never did what she was told. She skipped class, drew on her walls at home and even refused to hold her pencil correctly.

To this day Chau draws by gripping her pen in her left fist, though she switches to the right hand for writing.

No wonder Chau, born in the year of the sheep according to the Lunar calendar, calls herself a black sheep.