Artist whose sketches are a record of Hong Kong history over the past 70 years

Kong Kai-ming has been an artist for so long – he sketched Shek Kip Mei before the 1953 squatter camp fire – that he sees himself as a historian too. A new exhibition shows how his pen captured a changing Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 6:39pm

For more than 70 years, Kong Kai-ming has been sketching Hong Kong, from its mountains and villages to its urban buildings, many of which have fallen victim to development. But he is philosophical rather than sentimental about their loss.

“When you live as long as I have you begin to see the development of a city as an organic and dynamic evolution like other life forms,” says the 86-year-old Hong Kong-born artist.

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong outlying island that’s a mini arts hub

“Everything has its own lifespan and when it comes to an end, it’s time to say goodbye. It’s the same with old buildings; when they are no longer suitable for preservation, it is time to let them go.”

Kong, who graduated from the Hong Kong Fine Art School in 1954 and has spent many years as an educator (he taught at the school and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong), uses a wide range of mediums, from fountain pen, pencil, watercolours and oils to printmaking.

However, it is for meticulous landscape sketches that he is best known. This month, 30 of his works will go on show in an exhibition, “A Trail Of Memories – Hong Kong Landscape Art by Kong Kai Ming”, at the Tiancheng International art gallery in Central from September 29 to October 5.

“I feel I’m both an artist and a historian,” says Kong. “Sketching the streets and way of life in Hong Kong, I convey my feeling into works. By doing so, I feel like I am an artist.

“I also love to capture the history of Hong Kong in writing. I have written several books recounting old stories of Hong Kong. In catalogues of my paintings, I often describe the background and history of the paintings in great detail.”

Kong’s body of work includes scenes from all over Hong Kong: Yuen Long, Tai O, Wan Chai, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Shek Kip Mei. He does not have a favourite spot.

“Different sceneries have their own uniqueness and beauty. There is not one particular place that I like to feature,” he says.

His sketch Lion Rock, made in 1987, captures the landmark, named because of its resemblance to a crouching lion and remembered from popular 1970s TV series Below the Lion Rock, in a simplistic way.

The area east of Lion Rock was an important route for villagers travelling between the New Territories and Kowloon. In Kong’s work, the rock is a symbol of Hongkongers’ hardworking spirit.

Many places featured in Kong’s works have changed as a result of development. This is best seen in Shek Kip Mei, a sketch he completed in 1953 before a fire on Christmas Day that year left more than 50,000 squatters homeless. The artist shows farmers working the land – a celebration of the beautiful scenery of old Hong Kong. Following the fire, Hong Kong’s first public housing estate was built in Shek Kip Mei.

Illustrator draws on love for Yau Mai Tei to find inspiration

Some of Kong’s work was featured on stamps issued by Hongkong Post in 2016, and drawings of his feature in the art collections at Government House in Hong Kong and the library of 10 Downing Street, the residence of British prime ministers (Margaret Thatcher and Hong Kong governor David Wilson were fans).

A Trail Of Memories – Hong Kong Landscape Art by Kong Kai Ming, September 29 to October 5, 10am to 6pm, Tiancheng International, 30/F, Bank of China Tower, 1 Garden Road, Central.