Pursuit of Happiness: Hong Kong artist Adwin Yau

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We continue to investigate what true happiness means to others ahead of the upcoming art exhibition hosted in collaboration with theDesk neighbourhood partners and local artists.

Happiness is in the grasp of the beholder. While there are those who dream, there are others who put in the hard work to make their dreams happen. theDesk spoke to multifaceted local artist Adwin Yau, a fascinating individual who not only actively practices art but advocates the art form through various means.

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How did your interest in art start?

I’ve really liked art since I was young. Although I ventured into the banking industry as a means to support myself financially, I’ve never lost sight of my passion and continued exploring the arts.

About six years ago, I have gotten back into drawing quite intensely. I have since participated and won several drawing competitions. These small successes encouraged me to pursue it further and take my passion to the next level.

At what point did you decide to commit to art as a career?

I have this philosophy about chasing one’s dream. A lot of Hong Kong people I know have a passion for the arts; however, the harsh reality of staying afloat financially makes it hard to dedicate to art full time. That’s why I strategize various methods and put in a lot of hard work to pursue my dreams in order to pursue this career.

I’ve been balancing both my banking and art career full-time now. Honestly, if I were to solely pursue practising art as a career, it will be very hard to survive. On the other hand, if I were to only commit to my office job, my soul would have been crushed.

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Having been in the banking industry, I know many businessmen who earn a fortune and have established successful IPO businesses. Yet, even with all the wealth they have, many are still unhappy or unsatisfied.

Similar to the art exhibition’s theme “Pursuit of Happiness”, I’ve realised that happiness is truly about quality time with your loved ones and pursuing your passion.

Thus, I found a middle ground for being practical and passionate. Not only do I regularly produce watercolour paintings to exhibit, I also joined the International Watercolour Society as their marketing director two years ago, and created my own brand of paint brushes called Ocean-i.


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Adwin and other international delegates at an arts conference.

How has joining an art society benefited you?

It’s a lonely affair being an artist. Our hard work is often not appreciated by the general public and it’s hard to survive financially. Also, many artists are very introverted; at times, we can be self-centred or even prideful about our work and not be willing to share.

That’s why I find groups like the International Watercolour Society build communities that create meaningful ways to break bread. It encourages us to open ourselves to other passionate individuals and engage in insightful discussions and skill exchanges. The benefits are boundless.

Through the group, I had the privilege to help organise an inaugural big-scaled watercolour art exhibition here in Hong Kong. Over 300 artists from here and abroad gathered to share their work. It was fulfilling to promote the art form on my home turf. Moreover, it was a humbling experience to be exposed to an international array of art and meet masters from around the world. It opened doors for me into the international market too.

What are your thoughts on Hong Kong’s support for local arts?

I’m glad that the city has boosted the vibrancy of the art events, and has peaked interest among the locals. Many of my banking friends, who aren’t artist themselves, have been attending these international art fairs. Yet, it’s a separate world from what local artists are experiences.

The issue lies in the fact that many Hong Kong artists have no relations to these events. These are all costly premium affairs. What the locals are aware of “art” is totally foreign to what’s happening in their own shores.

Local artists rarely get to enjoy these huge exhibitions. I feel that the issue is deeply ingrained in our history, education and appreciation for the arts; the solution isn’t just hosting these big international events.

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Nonetheless, it takes two hands to clap. Artists shouldn’t just sit and wait for government support. We should be proactive and forge a united front with our community.

Be active in promoting your work, and be open to dialogues and exchanges with other artists. I truly believe Hong Kong’s art scene has great potential. We as artists need to be more perseverant and hardworking.

 Can you tell us what was the motivation behind creating your brand of paint brushes (Ocean-i)?

Art is more than just applying the right strokes; it is also the crafts that go behind it. Three years ago, I dedicated myself into researching about the three main elements of watercolour — paper, ink, and the brush.     

While our Western counterparts have a mature market that produces high-quality brushes, paper and ink, their products are exuberantly expensive. Moreover, techniques applied to Western and Chinese traditional painting were very different. As a fan of both art cultures, I found my niche in the market to create a brush that accommodates both Eastern and Western methods and make it reasonably priced for everyday art enthusiasts.

Believe it or not, China produces top notch brushes due to over 2000 years of history pioneering this tool. Hence, I scoured for boutique quality brush manufacturers that met my expectations.

I’m proud to say that Ocean-i has received favourable feedback from users. The brand has been appointed the official brush at a Shanghai watercolour competition next year.  

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Adwin sharing one of his well-received artworks.

How do you approach your art pieces?

Works that I choose to exhibit carry meaning or messages that are very close to my heart. For instance, I drew a fantasy-like painting of a creature with a cow’s head and a horse’s body. I wanted to make the cow fly, as a symbol of freedom of being who we want to be.

In Cantonese, to be a cow is a common term used locally to express one who overworks and is stuck in a labour intensive rut. Many of us don’t want to be pigeonholed into one aspect in our career. Hong Kongers are humans too with big dreams of being an artist, musician, sportsman or more, but we face societal limitations.

Hence, the artwork was a channel to vent these frustrations.

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It struck a chord with many local viewers, many whom are strangers. All these feedbacks have taught me that a good piece of art does not entirely rely on one’s mastery but rather the emotions channelled into the art, similar to the way a poem deeply provokes or moves a reader.

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Adwin joined the Tree of Life organisers at a sing-along session during a charity outreach event.

How did you get involved with the upcoming Tree of Life campaign?

The co-organiser, Eugene (from Gleneyclee Gallery) is a friend and collaborator of mine. He introduced me to his initiative to help the less fortunate, which I gladly jumped on board as I myself do take part in volunteer work.

Charity should be more than just monetary support; I strongly feel that art is a cultural tool for communication that can carry positive messages and bring hope to them. It’s pointless to only provide food and clothes. Educating and supporting them so as to help support themselves for a better future are also essential. We should also educate the society to embrace and break down prejudice on people of poor background.

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Adwin’s latest commissioned work for the Pursuit of Happiness Art Exhibition.

Tell us more about the motivation behind your commissioned work for this coming exhibition.

My artwork is called “Our Concert”. In the painting, you’ll see three youths playing in an imaginary band set-up made up of household items found in a dumpster field. These children live in poor conditions, while you can see the contrast of Hong Kong’s towering skyscrapers in the background.

These children have dreams that are much more difficult to attain due to social and financial constraints. Yet they are persevering through hard work, optimising whatever resources they can find and are continuing to practice to pursue their passion. Hope and perseverance are the messages I want to convey.

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Come join us to celebrate art, meet the artists and sponsors, and support a wonderful charity event to raise funds for the less fortunate. The event is a joint collaboration by theDesk, Geneyclee Gallery, Tree of Life and Hotel Jen Hong Kong.

What: The Pursuit of Happiness Art Exhibition Opening Ceremony

Where: theDesk, G/F Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun

When: Friday 15th December 2017, 7 pm to 9 pm.

Transport: HKU Station, Island Line, Exit B2

Click here to RSVP for the event.

The free exhibition is open to public for free until 15th February 2018.


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