Hong Kong media personality Benny Li exhibits his paintings for the first time

Television host and newspaper columnist’s ink paintings reflect his love of travel, his sense of humour and interpretations of his dreams

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 March, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 March, 2017, 6:30pm

Benny Li Shun-yan wears many hats – he’s a newspaper columnist, television host and most recently, an ink painter. Having discovered his knack for painting only three years ago, the 60-year-old is now holding an exhibition at Yan Gallery in Central.

There are 25 paintings featured in the exhibition “Art from the Heart”. They include a self-portrait, depictions of nature and some whimsical illustrations – one depicts a man dressed in red descending from the sky onto a beach full of curvy naked women.

“This is a scene from a dream,” says Li.

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The selected works reflect his creativity, sense of humour and extensive travels – with scenes of Australia’s National Botanic Gardens; Ronda, a mountaintop city in Spain; and dzos (cow-yak hybrids) in Tibet among his subjects.

While Chinese painting is a relatively new hobby for Li, the art form has interested him since his youth. Li was raised by his grandparents in Shanghai, who instilled in him an appreciation for Chinese art and calligraphy.

As a 10-year-old boy, he was handpicked to participate in a drawing class. But he lost his chance because of the Cultural Revolution. “I was deemed to have foreign connections because my father is a Chinese Indonesian and I was not allowed to join,” says Li.

He admits that as a child, he did not realise the tragic consequences of the Cultural Revolution or even what it was. “It was all good fun as I could skip school,” he says.

It was during those years that he established a solid foundation in calligraphy, by imitating Mao Zedong’s cursive script and writing big-character posters.

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Li arrived in Hong Kong when he was 22 and worked in a factory fixing clocks before answering an ad in the paper to become an entertainment reporter. After over a decade of rubbing shoulders with socialites and celebrities, he joined the entertainment industry, hosting various food and travel programmes.

Now a freelance writer, he spends the bulk of his time practising his painting. Though self-taught, he consults his artist friends for tips on specific techniques.

“The texture and pattern of stones is rather difficult to imitate. My friend suggested scrunching up the paper before I paint,” says Li.

The aesthetic of his paintings is also informed by his years of experience in photography, especially when it comes to the framing and composition.

In most of his paintings, you can find a tiny red man – a representation of himself. For Li, that proportion mirrors his philosophy of life.

“It’s summarised in a sentence by my friend, the film director Chiu Sung-kee – ‘the purpose of travelling is to help you recognise how small and insignificant you are’.”

Art from the Heart, Until March 22, Yan Gallery, Chinachem Hollywood Centre, 1 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2139 2345