Gifted artist Elaine Chiu: Exploring a Hong Kong identity

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Elaine Chiu is one of Hong Kong’s most prominent emerging artists. With more than 25 exhibitions, many awards and projects, the artist is running a charity workshop and pop-up gallery at Hotel Jen in Sai Ying Pun.

Elaine met theDesk to talk about creating a local identity and traversing two cultures. And how she’s bringing these two conversations to life through her art.theDesk Sai Wan

Identity juggling act

For some years, Hong Kong has managed a precarious juggling act. Alongside the growing presence of Chinese sovereignty, we see the evolution of a strong local identity.

Despite the lack of a preconceived definition, Hong Kong’s modern cultural identity is solidifying. Visual artist, Elaine Chiu, has a modest way of figuring it out; by studying and painting the city she calls home.

During November, Chiu is displaying her work at Hotel Jen in Sai Wan, a stone’s throw from theDesk. With uncertainty over the future of Hong Kong’s identity, Chiu has one constant in her life; making sense of her world through art.

Street & Seek Watercolour Charity Workshop

Saturday 4th and 11th, 3 pm – 5 pm

Hotel Jen Hong Kong by Shangri-La presents two sections of the Street & Seek Watercolour Workshops for good hope in early November. A young prominent artist, Elaine Chiu, will guide the participants in tailor-making their own postcard in watercolour.

A workshop fee of HK$80 per person includes the postcard, materials and soothing drinks. 50% of the fee will be donated to the Heep Hong Society to support children with developmental and learning needs. Spread the love and your generous support will brighten up the lives of many in need. See you soon!

Apart from the workshop, from now till November 30, 2017, 12 pieces of Elaine’s works are featured in the hotel’s public areas to introduce her explorations of the city’s up-and-coming spots in the Western District and showcasing our neighbourhood’s unique characteristics.

Venue: Lobby Bar, Hotel Jen Hong Kong

Registration and details:

Finding a voice

It’s in her blood. Her mother is a painter and taught her how sketch as a child. As a result, she has found solace in art since she was young.

She recalls how she began with crayons as a young girl before she later ‘fell in love with watercolours’.

“When I was young, I drew my mom as having only three fingers,” she chuckles. But she’s way past that now, rendering rich streetscapes with a keen eye and exquisite attention to detail.

As Chiu grew older, her crayon sketches morphed into more sophisticated media, using acrylics, pencils and, more recently, watercolours.

Today, she spends her time painting intricate cityscapes. She tells us that street scenes offer her ‘the most direct way’ to see and experience the world.

“It’s the best way I can paint from my first-person perspective,” she says. “It makes communication with my audience more direct that way.”

“Hong Kong is home. It’s where I grew up, and it’s what I know.”

Multiple perspectives

Having studied art history at Hong Kong University, Chiu’s vision of art has transformed from being ‘spontaneous and intimate as a child’ to becoming ‘quite complicated’ today.

“I’ve learned that different cultures see art differently,” she tells us. And it’s precisely this variety and complexity that she attempts to bring to her art.

Elaine feels that watercolours are not her ‘final destination’. In the future, she wants to combine ‘ink and oil painting’.

“Ink and oil are traditional mediums for East and West,” says Chiu, and she hopes to use the blending of media as a way to traverse awkward questions about her local identity.

“I feel an identity crisis as a Hongkonger, especially in recent years,” she tells us. “I always ask myself ‘Who am I?’, ‘What do I represent?’ ‘Is there a Hong Kong culture?’.”

These questions often recur in her mind, as they do in the minds of many other local youths. “I love Chinese literature,” she says. “It’s the language that I speak.”

But, the ‘other’ side is more elusive. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she resigns. “I guess deep down I’m Chinese, but I have a Western package. How can I represent that?”

theDesk Sai Wan
Pottinger Street, Elaine Chiu, Watercolour
theDesk Sai Wan
Graham Street Market, Elaine Chiu, Watercolour

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Answering questions

In a way, Chiu answers her questions in the Street & Seek workshops, and in the paintings she’s exhibiting at Hotel Jen.

Her brushstrokes are frenetic; almost confused. But only in that fascinating way that Hong Kong itself is. In the foreground, we see impressionistic renderings of figures. We detect Western notions of three-point perspective. In the background, buildings become washed away in hues of blue and green, like the cliffs and fog of Qing Dynasty scrolls.

Conscious or not, Chiu’s touch is as unique as the Hong Kong cityscape. In her own words, it’s ‘crowded and busy, with lots of human activity’.

“Street signs are complex,” she says, “but they give such a richness to the scene.” The esteem she has for her home city comes through loud and clear in her art.

“I love the colour of Hong Kong,” she says. She hopes her audience can ‘discover something they may have neglected about Hong Kong’s beauty’.

She tells us: “We’re too busy. I long for people to become more aware of their surroundings. To see that there is beauty all around the city.”

Staying humble

Chiu acknowledges that ‘practical financial reasons’ make it difficult for people to become a full-time professional artist. But her true goal in art is not monetary. It’s spiritual, and a means of understanding the world.

“I want to give myself an answer to what art is and means,” she tells us. Many artists explore their reality through asking questions. What strikes you about Chiu’s self-questioning is how humble its origins are.

“Whatever the answer ends up being,” she says, “it has to come from the heart. It shouldn’t be a part of any ‘marketing trend’ that happens to be around. I have to be sincere.”[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

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