Martin Lever has fond memories of traipsing through Hong Kong’s wet markets as a young boy, with his mother. The artist, who moved to Hong Kong from Britain with his family in 1979, aged nine, has drawn upon those happy memories for his latest collection, “Street”. The 12 colourful paintings are inspired by the city’s street markets and back alleys, each one telling a story through characters such as Medicine Man, Lantern Girl and Flower Girl. “I was lucky,” says Lever. “It was my mum who introduced me to the wet markets when I was about nine. She would drag me around shopping ... it was always good fun. “So much of the magic in Hong Kong exists on street level but we spend much of our lives in the air – we sleep on the 30th floor, work on the 20th floor, eat on the 10th floor,” adds Lever, who released his first “Street” series 12 years ago. “With this collection, I want to bring our attention back down to earth, to pay homage to the characters that play an unsung role in our lives.” Lever says that while each portrait contains a hint of humour, he is also making a statement about the need for the city to better protect its heritage. He wants the government to start treating areas such as wet markets as cultural sites that deserve to be preserved, and adds that the city could take a leaf out of Singapore’s heritage book – last year, the Lion City created the SG Heritage Plan, a five-year initiative for safeguarding and promoting heritage and culture. Wet markets don’t just cater to [Hong Kong residents], they also attract loads of tourists,” he says. “Singapore has the balance right in terms of preserving its architectural heritage and modernity. I realise it doesn’t have the same space pressures as here but it has retained its historical magic, preserving its shophouses and artisans’ premises. Wet markets are a way of life for many in Hong Kong. In 2008, a Chinese University study found that wet markets play a vital role providing fresh produce at competitive prices not found in the city’s monopolised supermarkets. The study also highlighted the social role wet markets play by providing a place for interactions between buyer and seller. “These wet markets and stall vendors are evocative of a time and place. Take the old man selling roasted chestnut. That’s a wonderful sight and smell, signalling the change of seasons. But where are they now?” asks Lever. “There’s a row of shops on Queen’s Road Central in an old building with beautiful pillars – an old hardware store, a mechanics’ workshop and one selling paper offerings. It would be sad if these places were replaced with a Prada or Chanel or other high-end shops.” “Street” will be part of the Asia Contemporary Art Show, Conrad Hong Kong, Admiralty, from March 29 to April 1.