Hong Kong street art contest Secret Walls counting down to kick-off

Fourth incarnation of against-the-clock graffiti competition begins this month in Wong Chuk Hang, and has cast its net wider for talent – including tattoo artists

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 October, 2016, 8:00am

In a basement car park in Hong Kong in the middle of this month, eight artists will engage in 45-minute battles to prove their creativity, talent and ability to work under pressure.

Armed with only black marker pens and acrylic paint, the fights will be played out in front of hundreds of people and to the sounds of live DJs.

The Secret Walls competition is now in its fourth year, and this year’s first round at Ovolo Southside in Wong Chuk Hang on October 15 will see eight artists locked in four battles. The second round will also be held at Ovolo, on November 5, and will feature two battles between the four first-round winners. The venue and date of the grand final between the two second-round winners in December are yet to be confirmed.

“We want to keep it fresh so there are some new elements, but the main pillar is about attracting new artists to compete each year,” says Louisa Haining, the event’s organiser.

Secret Walls, which gives a platform to young and aspiring artists, began in 2006 in a small bar in east London. Since then it has grown and now hosts events all over the world, from New York to Tokyo. The first Hong Kong event was staged in 2013. Last year’s champion street artist, Bao Ho, has seen her profile grow massively since winning.

“She was already building her profile in the year before the competition, but it gave her a different opportunity to connect with people in Hong Kong and internationally. We are just on our way to Jakarta, where she will compete for Secret Walls at Comic Con,” says Haining.

With our format we are able to entice lots of different types of artists – the real challenge is to do something large-scale
Louisa Haining

Traditionally graffiti artists use spray paint, which makes a big impact on walls but can take years to master. By switching to marker pens and acrylic paint, it opens the field to other artists such as illustrators and graphic designers. This year a few tattoo artists are also in the lineup.

“With our format we are able to entice lots of different types of artists – the real challenge is to do something large-scale,” says Haining.

This year’s line-up includes two tattoo artists – Jacob Tsang and Vidzul. Tsang runs his own tattoo studio, has a degree in fine art and is strongly influenced by skate culture, which is what first drew him to graffiti. Originally from Colombia, fellow tattoo artist Vidzul has been a long-time follower of the Secret Walls battles and this year takes on the challenge himself. His work has a strong comic element and is often very elegant. When he’s not creating art on skin he does large-scale murals for bars, experience that should stand him in good stead for Secret Walls.

Also in this year’s line-up: Kris Ho, an established Hong Kong artist who studied at St Martins College of Art and Design in London; Boms, a Hong Kong street artist who is getting better known on the scene; Kevin, one third of the edgy art collective Brain Rental; and Italian graphic designer Barlo.

Then there’s Taka. Born and raised in Japan, he has lived in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, and is fresh to the Hong Kong scene. His work draws on his wide cultural experiences and he’s also the founder of a clothing label, Lorn Clothing.

And finally there is multimedia-based artist and painter Essahqinoirs, who has a formal education in fashion design and is the only woman in this year’s competition.

“We see fewer females going out and painting. It’s not that they are any less skilled, it’s that they don’t get the opportunity. We want to motivate them to make the jump to painting bigger. We are working to get more females involved,” says Haining.

The artists are free to paint whatever they want within the 90-minute time limit. Some prepare well in advance and others leave it to the night and draw inspiration from the energy of the crowd and the environment. Every year there is a real buzz and with a DJ pumping out the tunes. the crowd usually gets quite rowdy.

People often say the arts scene in Hong Kong isn’t as strong as other cities. But we have phenomenal talent here
Louisa Haining

“We are going to start off with reggae and then move to hip-hop, which has a natural affinity with street art, and funk, soul, drum and bass and disco – it’s about creating a fun party. We are really excited to have 10 diverse local DJs playing different music in two separate rooms,” says Haining.

Secret Walls will kick off at 4pm. At 5pm there will be a one-hour lettering workshop, open to all, showing participants how to write their name on a wall or notebook. Three judges – two guest judges and the crowd, whose vote will be measured using a decimal reader – will decide the winner.

When people want a break from the main action in the Ovolo basement car park, they can grab a bite in the restaurant or have a drink in the bar outside. There will also be a market area promoting local businesses and selling baseball caps, apparel and quirky clothes and jewellery.

During the past three years the tickets – reasonably priced at HK$150 – have sold out ahead of the event, so book ahead to avoid disappointment.

“We want to make it accessible to all – whether you are an art student or a banker, all are welcome,” says Haining.

Haining believes Hong Kong’s street art scene has changed fundamentally in recent years, with much credit to the Hong Kong Walls project.

“People often say the arts scene in Hong Kong isn’t as strong as other cities,” she says. “But we have phenomenal talent here. It’s about giving people opportunities and how we come together to help the scene.”

Secret Walls, October 15, 4pm-1am, Ovolo Southside, 64 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk hang, HK$150, ticketflap.com