Twenty years ago, Robert O'Brien came to Hong Kong bringing with him the portfolio of a city artist. Years spent in London, Munich, Athens, and Oslo - where he lived, painted and exhibited amid the concrete walls of sprawling cities - had given his work magnificent, municipal proportions. He specialised in large square canvases, bearing bold colours of the urban environment. Even then, his free spirit was breaking out: the colours - Mediterranean Matisse and Cezanne shades - spilled out of the normal space, staining the canvas-covered frames, and flowing over the sides. Some of his earlier works - exhibited in national art museums as well as private collections - were split into uneven halves, and then wedged together. Two decades on, still in Hong Kong and very much at home in his rustic studio apartment on Cheung Chau island, O'Brien has shifted direction. Years in a smaller, rural environment and new experiences as an educator, have changed his work. The free spirit, once confined within a square enclosure, has broken out. 'Change is what my work is about,' he says. 'My years in Asia have changed me. When I first arrived here, I was a city boy. My art tended to reflect that. 'But when I came to Hong Kong, I came straight to Cheung Chau. It was 1976 and I had never experienced island living. Here you're aware of the constant changes, of weather and light, as well as the landscapes and the people,' he says. 'I'm talking about the unexplained sense of detail found in a naked light bulb on a street corner, or the way people change the food they eat to suit a change in the weather. 'It's not that I wanted to paint [these things], but they were part of what surrounded me; they acted as triggers. I was overawed as only a city boy would be.' His teaching work - to occupational therapy students at what was then Hong Kong Polytechnic, secondary students at Roydon House, and, later, at Sear Rogers International - was also a major influence. The vocation took him to meet emotionally damaged people in psychiatric units, and troubled youths in schools. After many years in education, he stopped painting altogether. 'It was too tiring. I was waking up at five o'clock in the morning and returning home late at night. I just didn't have the energy.' But it wasn't time wasted. 'I learned a lot about myself while working with a frail area of the human condition. No matter what, all good art comes out of that very situation of human frailty . . . It helped to clarify all sorts of questions I had about myself,' he says. Last July, O'Brien stopped working full-time to refocus on painting. 'I made a decision. I had to go back into myself. I had been giving out and that had been fine, but I needed to refocus.' Between then and now, he created the new body of work that will be exhibited at Artinasia this month. On show will be 15 oils, and a selection of brush sketches. He describes his art as a form of assemblage. But unlike conventional assembling - which is usually of diverse objects brought together - O'Brien breaks up the original whole paintings into fragments in order to build up a complete picture. 'They are fragments not from a negative point of view, but from a positive - fragments that interact as a whole. It's like looking down into a town - you see a lot of different people interacting as a whole. 'Fragments are also the beginning of landscapes for if you look at the landscape, what you see is sections, not a whole picture. And the landscape is always changing.' O'Brien is still an art educator, teaching at the Academy for Performing Arts. 'It covers the rent and food, but that's about it. All I really want to do is paint.' Transform. Artinasia, 1 Bonham Road, Mid-Levels, October 15 to November 2.