Creative forces: Hong Kong's emerging talent

Janice Leung

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:57pm

BENEATH THE PASTEL palette of her serene paintings, Sarah Lai Cheuk-wah is in constant battle with the issue of "weight".

"All my work has been about the ordinary ... things and scenes that are lightweight and can be missed easily," Lai says of her motifs. They range from the moon and the sea to urban landscapes such as swimming pools, street corners, water towers, motorways and surveillance cameras - unspectacular and taken for granted.

Lai, however, has developed an affection for these subtleties and wanted to grant them weight on her canvas.

"Whatever seemed trivial would become solid to me as I paint it slowly and painstakingly," says Lai, 30. "I want to keep painting those seemingly unimportant things to give them value and significance."

She's been doing that since 2007, before graduating from Chinese University's fine arts department that year. Placid, contemplative scenery depicted in soft, delicate shades gradually developed into her signature image.

This time Lai shifts to paint still life in her current solo show at Gallery Exit, "Spotting the Light Onto a Light".

In this exhibition, she explores mundane objects beyond their functional contexts; familiar items are featured in the paintings, including a desk lamp posing as a pale-looking person shying away, and a creamy block of butter cut into a perfect cube.

There are also paintings of shower heads, a sugar rock, a steaming stand, a make-up remover and a diptych of a light that goes on and off - simple, yet a bit bizarre.

With these oil works are a few "meaningless" videos (as Lai puts it) that seek to poke fun at some of the paintings and lighten up the show. "I don't know why, but painting can easily become very serious," she says.

Could that be because she's a serious painter? "I am," she admits with a laugh, revealing that she wanted to grow up to be a painter but thought it would be a laid-back job. "Now I realise how devoted a painter has to be," she says. "I try to do my best every time I paint. And I think this attitude is important."

Painting has become an weighty issue for Lai because it is not only a channel of expression but also a medium that she cares very much about. "All my works pay attention to the medium of painting. I've been thinking: how can I paint, and how can I paint something new?"