Persistence leads to recognition
Talent can get you so far but, without hard work and persistence, aspiring artists face an uphill struggle to gain recognition, as Kum Chi-keung will attest.
The installation artist, who is now represented by the Amelia Johnson Contemporary art gallery, has had to negotiate a long and arduous path to get to where he is. Kum has exhibited in Hong Kong and on the international stage, and gained an honourable mention in the Hong Kong Arts Centre's 30th anniversary awards last year.
He had to be patient. Unable to support himself fully as an artist, he worked full-time as a graphic designer for more than 10 years, while working as an artist part time. It was only last year that he became a full-time artist.
Kum now encourages galleries to give aspiring artists the opportunity to participate in art exhibitions and fairs.
Given his experience, he advised art graduates to 'not give up easily, be persistent, work hard and grasp every opportunity presented' because nothing would be presented to them on a silver platter.
He has no formal art education and only attended art courses provided by night schools at the beginning of his career. Starting with Chinese painting in the 1980s, he tried installation art in 1991 and slowly developed his own icons and characteristics in his works.
His art was soon recognised locally and internationally. His most memorable exhibition was at the 11th Biennale of Sydney, Australia's largest international festival of contemporary art in 1998. He was one of the five artists from the mainland and Hong Kong to participate in the art festival with the theme 'Everyday'. Kum showcased his exhibit, Den, as part of 100 international artists and their art pieces. He took part in ART HK08 and hopes ART HK09 will be as successful as last year's fair. 'ART HK08 was a great success and hopefully the swine flu won't affect this year's fair,' Kum said. He will be entering four exhibits this year.
His artworks are mostly related to Chinese culture and a birdcage is his icon. One of his exhibits is called Bamboo. This eight-foot-high installation features layered bamboo sticks in a transparent birdcage. Bamboo is the Chinese symbol for longevity and the layers represent commercial buildings in Hong Kong.
The installation of a transparent birdcage with the word 'zhong' on it - that symbolises China - is another Kum art piece. The piece is called Centrepoint and he wants it to reflect that the mainland is becoming more transparent and rising to the same level as the world's leading countries.
Kum's trademark birdcage continues in a third installation, Plus. This has a plus symbol inside the cage. This piece was shown at last year's show and represents one of Kum's concerns before the financial crisis - that of rising inflation in Hong Kong.
Game and Fun is the last part of the artist's exhibit. A bird cage features three bird heads and children running around in the cage. Kum wants to spread the message of the importance of enjoyment as he believes that 'having a child-like personality and having fun is the most important inspiration [you can have] as an artist'.
Although Kum hopes that his exhibits will sell as well as last year, he said that 'with the financial crisis, the art scene in Hong Kong is not in good spirits because art isn't a necessity'.
But he has high hopes that the fledgling local art scene will scale new heights when the economy rebounds and local artists attract more interest.
International auction house Sotheby's is reportedly using local artworks because those on the mainland are too expensive. The creation of the proposed West Kowloon Cultural District is likely to see far greater opportunities for Hong Kong artists.