Childhood graffiti habit leads to a lifelong passion for art

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 12:00am

Calligrapher James Lung Chun-pang has itchy fingers.

'It's a natural talent,' he says. 'I started drawing on the walls of my parents' house when I was three. But they didn't even tell me off because they liked what I did.'

Mr Lung, 57, moved on to much bigger things, starting his career by painting cinema canvasses in his native Macau.

Thirty years on, he makes his living from a stall in the Peak Tower, sketching portraits and translating names into Chinese calligraphy for tourists.

'It's a lifelong passion,' smiles Mr Lung. 'I used to paint Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara for Gone With The Wind posters.'

Mr Lung came to Hong Kong in the early 1970s, and ran a stall at Stanley Market for 13 years before settling in the Peak Tower three years ago. 'I came to Hong Kong because there were more opportunities here.

'I have an easy job, though I have come across some names which were near impossible to put into Chinese,' he says. 'The Russian and German names are usually the hardest, and once I was given a Hebrew name which I just couldn't translate, so I tried my best to make up the Chinese equivalent. A lot of tourists say I have the best paintings [in the Peak Tower]. You need to be able to draw well and fast, which a lot of artists can't do even after years of training.

'Practice makes perfect,' he enunciates carefully in English.

Not only can Mr Lung draw a perfect dolphin in three brushstrokes, he bombards customers with English song lyrics and the odd French phrase while doing so. He sometimes talks in a mish-mash of English, Japanese, French, Thai, Indonesian and a generous handful of Chinese dialects.

'I have a lot of foreign customers, and they teach me a lot of phrases,' he explains, producing three heavily underlined and dog-eared Japanese grammar books. 'And when I have time, I browse the English books in bookstores.

'I owe a lot of my English knowledge to music,' he adds. 'I'm a big fan of the Beatles, Cliff Richard, the Platters, you name it.'

Mr Lung's passion for art even occupies his leisure, which he spends drawing political caricatures. 'I'm also very interested in politics,' he says.

'During the Sars period, I had a lot of free time and found a creative outlet making fun of politicians.'

However, Mr Lung has never considered having them published. 'I draw best when there is no pressure. If I had to draw caricatures for a living, having a deadline every day, there'd be too much pressure and not enough inspiration.

'I draw them for my own satisfaction.'

He pauses to break into the Rolling Stones' I Can't Get No Satisfaction. 'That's my favourite song,' he says, strumming on an air guitar.

'I did try other jobs as well, like working in a music store. I love music and I love drawing, but a sales job just wasn't for me,' he says.

'I love my job. If I didn't have this job, I'd only start drawing on the walls again.'