Local artist Lam Tung Pang donates work to SCMP Charity Art Auction

Painter depicts the fine art of getting away from it all

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 7:27pm

Lam Tung-pang's Land Escape - we looking at each other could be about time travel. In the foreground, a lone walker in ancient garb is walking through a tableau straight out of a traditional Chinese landscape, or shan shui, painting. He peers over a mountain range at modern tower blocks which stare back in stony silence.

Lam has donated this 2013 work, a mix of acrylic and charcoal applied on plywood, to help raise money for local charities. It will be auctioned on September 3 at the SCMP Charity Art Auction.

"People from different worlds are always looking at each other. No action is required when you look. The auction is an opportunity to get people to do more, to start caring rather than just looking," he says.

The work is part of the Land Escape series that features an imaginary world inspired by Chinese ink painting. Lam professes that Chinese art had little resonance with him in the past and that he only decided to revisit it in 2006 after he returned from London, where he studied for a master's degree at Central St Martins.

This moving back jolted the then 26-year-old into incorporating elements of Chinese art in his works for the first time.

It is not unusual for native Hong Kong artists of Lam's generation to be brought up on a diet of Western art before exploring their "cultural roots" with the fervour of the newly converted.

But there was no moment of epiphany for Lam, one of Hong Kong's few full-time artists. His choice of using Chinese elements merely "feels right" given the place he works in.

"It has nothing to do with nationalism, or a feeling that I am close to Chinese art and culture," he says. "I tend to find inspiration locally and I am based in Hong Kong, where art resources are dominated by Chinese culture," he says.

This agnostic approach has produced an unusual play on the theme.

We looking at each other was done on plywood - a curious medium, and his favourite. "I have been using wood since 2001 because it provides very strong support for when I am painting.

"But I started appreciating the original colour and texture of the wood itself. It is comfortable, warm and constantly changing. Over time, it absorbs and changes the colours that I put on it," he explains.

The cityscape in the background has the quality of childlike drawing that is incongruous with classical Chinese painting. This adds to the dreamy atmosphere of the surreal juxtaposition.

Lam has created two worlds that are wide apart - the mountain range cuts through the picture diagonally, and it is clear that the lone human presence in the picture, diminutive and imprecise though he is, has no particular desire to trek across.

In fact, the figure harks back to the tiny characters in classical Chinese landscapes that represent the literati ideal of escaping it all.

Lam does not seem to be encouraging people to participate in society. "My landscapes do have to do with escaping. You may care about the society you live in, but you can't always bear the pressure.

"It's natural that you want to back away a bit. It doesn't mean you don't care at all," he says. Taking a step back creates space to see and think, he adds.

He admits it would be easy to see the painting as a comment on Hong Kong's tense political situation, but prefers to think of his work as universal.

"Every place has its own problems. The figure also represents an ideal of getting away from a society where reaction time has to be instant. There is no Whatsapp and smartphones in his world."

Lam is one of Hong Kong's most successful artists and receives regular commissions from museums and art foundations both here and abroad.

"I think Hong Kong's art scene today is ideal. Nobody was interested in Hong Kong art before. Now, there's beginning to be some interest but it is not too commercialised yet. It's not like the crazy market we have seen for mainland art," he says.

He believes it's better being an artist in Hong Kong than London and New York. "There aren't as many artists here so there is less competition. Also, the social attitude towards art has changed for the better."