CHINA DAILY | Stay tuned to HK’s art and cultural saga


The Future Is Bright, Szabotage artwork of a woman created with stencils

Szabotage is the first street artist minting NFTs to his artworks and selling with great success in Hong Kong. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Cultural kaleidoscope 

The kaleidoscope of cultures that oozes through everywhere in Hong Kong has caught the imagination of international artists, eliciting their impulse to explore their art expression in the city. 

UK-born Szabotage used to be an architect and designer. Fascinated by the city’s multiculturalism and personality, he moved to Hong Kong with his family in 2013. 

To Szabotage, Hong Kong has immediate triggers galore, of his curiosity and affection for the city: the hustle and bustle, the juxtaposition of new and old architecture, and people’s survival tactics of making use of spaces…

It’s the “sort of chaos”, as he puts it, or the flurry of activities that pervades in Central, where “everyone is trying to push their way through, whereas taxis and trolleys that collect cardboards (are maneuvering) here and there. Life is going on and everyone is doing justly their own bits, which is quite different from where I used to live.”

Prior to 2013, there was already sporadic presence of street art in the city, but there’re also gaps to fill, he says, which encouraged him to apply what he’d acquired in his past artistic forays to make a mark in the city.

“As an expat new to the city, I was refreshed and intrigued by all the distinctive characteristics of Hong Kong. Then I figured, I can tap into all these exciting elements and my style could pick on different varieties of things that were out there. That fuels me as an artist.”

Artists are always in quest of possibilities and variety and gravitated to visual bombardment, and Hong Kong is just doling out like confetti. That lets artists’ inspiration flow. 

A bunch of Szabotage’s works are inspired by and a testament to the city’s melting pot culture, featuring mixed cultural references ubiquitous in the city, such as the mini bus, fire dragon dance, Bauhinia, skyline of Victoria Harbour, siu mai, Mister Softee … But they are interspersed with symbolic tokens belonging to other cultures. The city’s multiculturalism allows Szabotage a lot of wiggle room to harness his stencil language. “What I’m doing essentially is reporting my experience into the city. I’m reporting it (what I encounter) in this visual language, layering up different types of cultural subject matters I see in the city,” says Szabotage, so that every viewer could find an association in his paintings. In nutshell, his street art-esque paintings are both “observational” and “conversational”. 

Art is a give-and-take affair that involves input and output from the creator and the audience. How invigorating the art and cultural vibe is in a city is not decided by the artists alone, but contributed equally by the reception from the beholders.”

Creating art is mostly a solitary practice, where artists play with and execute their ideas in their own studios, especially during the COVID-19, says Szabotage. But before the pandemic, he would paint live on the streets, which usually stopped passers-by in their track. “It’s very encouraging and motivating to see people showing keen intrigue and willing to engage,” says Szabotage. “The range of people is incredible. It might be a 4-year-old who was just pushing his mother and said, ‘Look, Mommy!’, to avid art lovers, to the elder that’s just looking to pass time.”

Having said that, art practitioners expect more in-depth and knowledge-driven conversation between artists and collectors or art consumers in general. The highly “speculative art market” dictates that people collect and buy art “with their ears, not eyes,” argues De Sarthe. He is yearning to hear dialogue less commercial but more substantial. 

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