Bruce Lee

Unheroic superheroes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2011, 12:00am

Lining the walls of Shin Hwa Gallery in Central are superheroes portrayed in everyday poses or looking less than heroic.

You'll see photos of a lonely Hellboy having a hot pot on the street and Wolverine working as a butcher at a market. You'll see silk screens of Captain America with animal teeth and Spider-Man with webbed fingers and a lizard tail.

Not to worry, though, this is not a warped dream. You've only entered into the world of local artists Chow Kar-hoo and Chris Lam Tak-ming.

Their exhibition Heroes Next Door, which ends on Friday, brings Marvel and DC comic superheroes together.

The artists take Western superheroes and transplant them into a Hong Kong setting. They impose our values and our cultural identities on American superheroes so as to highlight problems that plague our community.

Both Lam and Chow say they grew up idolising superheroes.

'When I was young,' says the 25-year-old Chow, 'I wondered why there weren't superheroes walking down the streets of Hong Kong. Those superheroes really changed my life, so now I want to bring them here.'

After studying in the business field, Chow knew his desire to be an artist was too strong to ignore. He sees photography as a form of painting, a concept he picked up from German visual artist Andreas Gursky.

'A photograph can be like a painting,' Chow insists.

A look at his photographs will reveal the level of intricacy that he puts into his compositions. Every little detail serves a particular purpose in emphasising the theme.

Chow's work is offset by that of Lam, who is known primarily for his silk screen paintings.

Lam worked as a product designer in Japan before returning to Hong Kong. He adds his own flair to the silk screens he produces.

'Silk screening is flat. It has no texture,' the artist, 28, says.

'So I would use a silk screen as a base and then paint onto it to create texture and bring out emotions.'

Many of his artworks highlight a subject he feels strongly about: animal rights.

'The Batman [painting] represents how pigs sacrifice themselves for humans [as food]. In a way, they're like heroes,' explains Lam, who studied graphic design at the Osaka University of Arts in Japan.

He hopes his work will make people more aware of the problems animals encounter.

Another source of his inspiration is music. 'I listen to death metal, and although [many songs] sound angry, they have a message,' he says. 'That's how I feel.'

Chow, too, has a comprehensive theme in his work: the need to preserve our cultural heritage and identity.

His favourite piece is 2047, which features the Green Hornet and Kato with a green New Territories taxi.

'Kato, played by Bruce Lee, is trying to fix the car to fix Hong Kong,' Chow says. 'But the Green Hornet laughs at him while reading the Ta Kung Pao', a communist-leaning newspaper in Hong Kong.

The title itself has meaning: 2047 is 50 years after the handover when Hong Kong's autonomy from the mainland will no longer be guaranteed.

Chow and Lam are planning to display their work in Osaka. Offers have also come in from New York, where they might take their exhibition next spring.

In the meantime, the two artists are planning to add more of their favourite superheroes to their collection: Ironman and Thanos. They, too, will have much to say by showing up in unexpected ways.