Herman Wong: Come and Go

 

Arthur Tam speaks to artist Herman Wong about his emotional paintings which aim to reflect gay men in society 

Seven ripped Adonises wearing tight briefs pose in a scarlet lake against a sombre green sky. The intensely vibrant colours juxtaposed with the striking male model images evoke strong feelings of desire and passion which belie artist Herman Wong Yee-tak’s commentary on the loneliness and pain felt by some gay men in modern society. “Within the hopelessness there is still desire,” says Wong of this painting, titled Relationships, before he adds that the piece represents the ‘rather tenuous relationships’ and ‘lack of spiritual connection’ between gay men. “Wouldn’t you agree?” he asks. “From the people I know and from my own friends, it seems there is an inescapable struggle. The red lake represents the pain and hurt while you can also see that all the men are by themselves and lonely. Yet there is still a colourful desire – lust even.”

For Wong’s upcoming solo show, Come and Go, at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei, he displays a provocative male series of paintings featuring half-naked Asian men, which have all been created by using only a special painting knife, as well as engaging in a technique that nods to the likes of Luican Freud. “It’s quite aggressive,” says Wong. “For this show I wanted to play on bold colours and exaggerated expressions.” Of course, there’s a strong homoerotic element in this series as well. Wong says he doesn’t want to be labelled as a ‘gay artist’ – but does admit that he has garnered interest in his homoerotic art due to the simple lack of it in Hong Kong’s galleries. “There isn’t anyone really doing gay art or nudes in Hong Kong,” he says. “I felt that I should take this opportunity and do something that hasn’t been overdone here already.”

Wong is clearly hugely talented and skilled when it comes to painting. So it’s surprising to learn that the 44-year-old only really started focusing on the medium just six years ago. His full-time occupation for the past 18 years has actually been as a flight attendant for Cathay Pacific. However, he admits to always being interested in the arts. He once studied at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, focusing on both clothing design and film production. After that, he pursued a career in film as a creative director all the way up until he was 26 – but then was forced to change course. “By that time it was the mid-90s and finding projects to work on in film became difficult,” he says. “The Hong Kong film industry really tanked post-Stephen Chow.” As a result, Wong took to the air and confesses he has never looked back – but he also admits to feeling ‘unfulfilled’ at the same time.

But, since 2008, Wong has been on the pursuit towards his dreams. He says he had always yearned to have his own solo exhibition, so, from that year, he started turning his hobby into ‘something serious’. In 2009 he did a joint exhibition at the Des Montagnes Studio. In 2012, he gained his first award nomination, when he was a finalist for the Art Award at the HK Contemporary Art Fair. Last year, he displayed his work at the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival opening gala. And now he’s ready to showcase his first collection. “The feelings and emotions that are felt in this collection are between two men,” says Wong. “Some of the pieces have a purposeful sex appeal and provocation. The men have pretty faces and bodies that people would want to worship – so it’s meant to be eye-catching.”

There’s no doubt that the paintings will arouse a few onlookers. But they should also make the viewer stop and think too. Wong says he’s already planning future shows to follow up on this one, citing that they may further look into the complexities of gay relationships – maybe the effects on family members or on society in general. In an artistic genre that’s often filled with tawdry clichés or in-your-face sex, Wong brings a level of taste to gay-themed paintings – and a feeling that
these works are good for bothHong Kong’s art industry and shaping society’s views on homosexuality.

Come and Go JCCAC, May 2-11; facebook.com/hermanwongoilpainting.

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