THE BOY WITH THE MAGIC BRUSH
AO Vertical Art Space
"Whatever he paints becomes reality" — so goes the Chinese children's story of Ma Liang, the boy with the magic brush. Shanghai-based contemporary artist Ma Liang, also known as Maleonn, says he hopes to turn other people's dreams into reality with his camera.
Theatricality is an obvious and enduring theme in Maleonn's works. In 2012, his truck-cum-studio travelled to 35 cities across China, where 1,600 people dropped in, put on funky costumes and posed in front of his camera. The result is the series "Studio Mobile", featuring portraits of strangers with dramatic and surreal props.
Maleonn says the project is perhaps his most important since becoming a full-time artist in 2004 after a decade-long career directing television commercials. More than 100 prints from that project, and works from other projects that won international recognition, are exhibited at AO Vertical Art Space.
"It's dramatic, theatrical, and whimsical. It could also be sometimes quite dark," says gallery director Sarah Greene.
Two subjects interest Maleonn: "One is modernity, the other is Chineseness," he says. His works exploring the former are colourful and cheerful, while those on the latter appear subdued and sad, such as the black-and-white series "second hand tang poetry".
Maleonn was born in 1973 in Shanghai to an opera director father and an actress mother. They named him after the children's story character, and Maleonn showed a talent for drawing at an early age, before eventually attending art school. His theatrical background shows through in his works, which challenge the duality of drama and reality.
"Photography has been considered to be documenting reality and life as it is, while Maleonn actually creates his own world and photographs that," Green says.
"Owning a camera used to almost grant you the right to define the world, but I think it should provide alternative possibilities to this world," Maleonn adds.
AO Vertical Art Space, 13/F, Asia One Tower, 8 Fung Yip Street, Chai Wan, Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-6pm. May 16-June 14. Maleonn will re-enact his Studio Mobile on May 16 for a limited number of guests for a fee. Inquiries: 2976 0913