Artist's mixture of ancient and modern for theatre

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am


Veteran Hong Kong painter Chu Hing-wah is enthusiastically attaching a relief image to one of four eight-metre-tall plaques to be put up in the West Kowloon Cultural District when its bamboo theatre opens over the Lunar New Year holiday.

The relief depicts a faa daan - the lead female character in a Cantonese opera performance - striking an operatic posture that Chu has painted in acrylic colours.

'She is in a modernised version of a traditional costume,' says Chu,explaining why the faa daan looks slightly different from what people may be used to.

'It is my own interpretation and reflection of this traditional art form, a mixture of traditional art and contemporary elements.'

Chu's contemporary floral plaques are among the works commissioned for the Bamboo Theatre Exhibition, the first visual art showcase curated by the M+ team, the forerunner of West Kowloon's Museum for Visual Arts. The exhibition will also feature works by fellow Hong Kong artists Gaylord Chan, Samson Young, Henry Chu and Hong Kong-China-based German photographer Michael Wolf.

It is part of the HK$21.6 billion arts hub's first cultural programme, the West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre.

Five Cantonese operas - Prime Minister of Six States, Contention for the Seal, The Lady Marshal and the Rash General, The Fair Couples Welcome the New Year and The Sassy Princess and Her Blunt Husband - will be staged from January 20 to January 23, starring the city's best known artists at a purpose-built bamboo theatre to be erected on the site of the future xiqu centre.

The exhibition will coincide with the operatic performances.

With the help from painter-cum-designer Terry Lee Tak-fai, who designs the flower plaques, Chu has endeavoured to give the traditional flower plaques a modern slant.

'I want to add contemporary art elements to this traditional art and craft. This time I want to apply painting techniques on to the making of these flower plaques,' says Chu, who has developed a strong passion for Cantonese opera by growing up watching the shows.

Born in Guangdong in 1935, Chu says he likes moving stories as well as shows featuring exciting action sequences. And his favourite artist, he says, is the late master Sit Kok-sin.

Chu and Lee have been spending time regularly in a flower plaque factory in Sheung Shui, one of a handful of similar factories in Hong Kong.

Lee co-designs the layout of the flower plaques, while Chu takes care of the art works and calligraphy. Lee says each plaque features one title staged in West Kowloon, except for Prime Minister of Six States, which is traditionally a prelude to a Cantonese opera show series.

He says each plaque has six components, and each contains one element - a phoenix fanning, a dragon flying, a celebratory idiom, title of the show, cast and the artistic pedestal on which a relief is mounted.

Chu has created four reliefs. Other than the faa daan, he has also created a siu sang (young male lead), a mou sang (a warrior lead) and a lou daan (an aged woman role) for each of the four plaques.

'I have chosen strong colours, which give striking but not exaggerating visuals,' Chu says.

The calligraphy on the plaques is Chu's, in which, Chu says, he has put his heart and soul.

'I'm very passionate about Cantonese opera. It's a great art form that shouldn't disappear. With this project, I hope this is something that I do to help preserve the life of Cantonese opera,' Chu says.

The exhibition is open on January 19 and 21 to 24. Admission is free.