Hong Kong is hectic, but I’ve found ‘peace in the chaos’, says Portuguese urban artist Vhils

Urban sculptor known for his giant murals says life in the city has taken him to new heights of creativity as he unveils exhibition ‘Remains’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 12:01pm

The avalanche of stimulation and array of contrasts that Hong Kong throws at city dwellers have become the inspiration for a new exhibition by Portuguese urban artist Vhils.

Alexandre Farto – commonly known by his tag name – is currently celebrating two years in Hong Kong as he unveils his exhibition “Remains”. He said life in the city had helped him reach new heights of artistic creativity.

And as he becomes accustomed to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, Vhils said he had found “peace in the chaos”.

“Hong Kong has something very special, because it takes you to the extreme, to enable you to create, grab people’s attention and reach out to them,” he said. “Hong Kong has taken me to the limit of artistic creation.”

Eighteen pieces are on display until January 5 at the show, which features a wide variety of materials collected from Hong Kong’s streets, such as posters and photos, as well as techniques Vhils has picked up during his time as a resident. The exhibition, at gallery Over the Influence in Central, contains an eclectic mix of items, from acid-etched metal plates and hand-carved multilayered billboards to styrofoam dioramas and carved wooden doors.

Urban artist Vhils in Hong Kong carving out the unconventional amid chaos of the city

Vhils, who also maintains a studio in his native Portugal, started out as a teenage graffiti artist, and carved art onto his first wall in 2006. He has since produced work across the world using tools such as hammer drills, chisels and even explosives.

But it is Hong Kong that has played a central role in his creative process over the past couple of years.

“It has made me reflect on the role of art in a world where everything is stimulus or entertainment,” he said. “The urban space has been privatised. It has become a place of efficiency and not of shared living. These are questions that need to be raised.”

Art by Vhils has not only explored the challenges posed by urban spaces, sustainability and globalisation, but also the concept of identity.

“I find this essential. To question whether you belong to a city, a country or an urban tribe,” he said. “Because we live mostly in urban places, we are exposed to the same things, products, labels … These make us closer, but at the same time more boring. I think my work has led to some reaction and reflection in this regard.”

Putting a face to a wall: Portugal's Alexandre Farto gets set to carve his work on Hong Kong's urban art scene

Vhils, who opened his Hong Kong studio in September 2015, carved his first wall in the city– a portrait of a former factory worker on the Nan Fung Textiles building in Tsuen Wan – in November that year. An exhibition titled “Debris” opened five months later. He has also put together work in Macau.

According to Vhils, Hong Kong has begun to recognise the value of public art, but there is still much room for improvement.

“Both in [mainland] China and Hong Kong, there has always been a manifestation of urban art, but there was no space for it … There is now more openness to having art in the public space and people seem more receptive to it. That has happened elsewhere, in other big cities,” he said.

Vhils said he had a “love-hate relationship” with urban spaces, and that the presence of public art brought several benefits.

“It’s important to integrate these artists and make their work sustainable, because such art has an economic and social impact. It has an impact on people’s quality of life,” he said.

With all its contrasts and challenges acting as inspiration, Hong Kong has now become the artist’s second home.

“At the end of the day, this is a letter of love to the city, to the things that the city has given me,” Vhils said, referring to his latest exhibition, which officially opened on Thursday.

“It has been a very intense two years. What Hong Kong has given me will remain with me and will continue changing my work.”