ASHMOLEAN ARTISTS AT HOME - PART TWO
Wilson Shieh (b. 1970) is a Hong Kong-based artist who mainly paints figures using traditional Chinese techniques. His paintings are executed with fine brushwork known in Chinese as gongbi, often on silk, yet they are far from traditional in style. His paintings are often on colourful themes derived from popular culture in East Asia, or inspired by his immediate environment in Hong Kong. In his architecture series of paintings, he transforms skyscrapers into people wearing tailor-made costumes. Shieh’s paintings deal with modern identity in Asia, often with a note of humour. In 2018/19 his works depicting naked musicians were included in the Ashmolean exhibition The Naked Form in Modern Chinese Art. He came to visit the Ashmolean in autumn 2018 and provided an introduction to his techniques and inspiration.
The COVID-19 pandemic is very serious around the world. But here in Hong Kong we are rather safe. Since January this year, everyone started to wear surgical masks in public areas. That is an experience we learned from the outbreak of SARS back in 2003, that face masks really stop the spread of a virus. In half a year, the diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Hong Kong is around 1100 and the death toll is limited to 7.
But the art scene is slow here as gallery exhibitions are either cancelled or rescheduled. Fortunately, I can still go to my studio by car every day. I spent some time looking and studying classical Buddhist icons which is out of my routine. I am not a Buddhist but I copied some Buddhist paintings as a way to practice skills of Chinese ink painting back in my college days. In this difficult time, I have taken a break from my routine to make copies of some Bodhisattva images from a Dunhuang mural and silk painting from the Tang dynasty. Looking at these elegant and merciful figures, I get energy and inspiration to keep working.
Ho Fung-lin was born 1944 in the South of China and studied painting under Zhao Shao’ang (1905-1998), one of the great masters of the Lingnan School, a style of painting from South China which emerged in the 19th century stimulated by Western art. Ho’s painting style follows Zhao’s principles of innovation within traditional Chinese painting. Her paintings are colourful and expressive compositions, achieved through variation of ink tones. They often include her own poetry. The Ashmolean held a solo exhibition of her work in 1986 and holds several of her paintings in its collection. She is now living in Hong Kong.
Our lockdown here in Hong Kong is not serious, if you are not coming into the city. We wear masks, not only for our own protection, but also out of respect for the people around us, to show our goodwill that we hope you may not worry about getting infected. Public museums, libraries and galleries had been shutting down for some time, and now they are open with limitations on the numbers of visitors. So now it is possible for the students of Chao Shao-an and their followers to hold a joint exhibition in mid-July. The application for the venue was done one year ahead, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic.
As for myself, and perhaps some other artists, we keep working at home or at our own studios. The government does not encourage gathering, such as having meals together at this time. We would not invite friends, nor would they think of inviting us. It certainly will not be good for both parties. As an artist, I feel that I can be more devoted to my work, though that never means I can get more pieces painted.
Here, for the present moment, there are cases of infections from travelers. There were a few cases of infections where the original source was not located, meaning that it is not at all safe. We can go out freely – there is no banning whatsoever – but you have to bear your own consequences. My mounting artist travels to his office daily and now he can meet his friends for dinner, though restaurants’ capacity is eight guests per table.