Curious about life as an artist in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong based artist Eleanor McColl invited us to her studio in Discovery Bay for a cup of tea and an insider's view of HK's arty side.
Eleanor’s studio has the peaceful, green views that people move to Lantau for, but is a world away from the hectic street life of Hong Kong that inspires much of her work. She paints using renaissance oil techniques, we saw one huge canvas in progress on our visit, and creates mixed media, collage and photomontage works. Besides this, Eleanor is always busy with an array of creative projects and also finds time to teach.
Eleanor grew up in Yorkshire, England but has been in Hong Kong for 20 years. After coming to the city straight from university for work experience at a youth arts festival, she quickly decided that Hong Kong was the place she wanted to put down roots.
I asked her what inspires her about Hong Kong?
All my art is created in response to my surroundings, and there’s always something visually interesting happening here. I love buildings, and Hong Kong has such a diverse range of architecture, from the glass and steel skyscrapers through to the little stilt houses in the outlying islands. Wherever I go, details will catch my eye, it’s really a never ending source of material to paint and sketch. I know it annoys my kids that we can’t walk down a street without me stopping to point out some interesting texture or unexpected colour, but I just can’t help noticing things wherever I go.
I use a lot of photographs in my work, and will sometimes have a day of just wandering the streets and taking pictures stuff that fascinates me. I love going to Sham Shui Po, there’s so much happening there visually that it’s great inspiration. I also love streets like Gough Street, where there’s such a contrast between the fancier buildings and the old style dai pai dongs. The outlying islands have a completely different feel, but I love spending time exploring them. Hong Kong is changing so fast, I really feel drawn to try and capture it as it is right now.
Do you think that being an ‘outsider’ gives you a different perspective on Hong Kong?
I do think I find random things interesting that a local might not give a second thought. But I have to be careful where signage is concerned. When I first arrived I only saw the beauty in the signs and didn’t think about the meaning. I once made a huge piece of artwork without checking the translation and it read ‘Bone Doctor’, which as you can imagine is not that appealing. It was in a show and I was mortified that I hadn’t checked the translation. It could have been worse! The character may be beautiful but the meaning may not be.
Is Hong Kong a good place to be an artist?
Hong Kong has been good to me. It’s a fantastic place to be an entrepreneur, which is how I started out, by founding and growing an art school for around 10 years. But although I love teaching and sharing my passion for art, I wasn’t finding time to create my own work, which was really frustrating.
Since I took the leap to focusing on my own art, I’ve been really fortunate to find supportive galleries here Vanrensburg, Blue Lotus and Picture This (which has now closed but was the first gallery to show my work).
Last year I was asked to paint a car to exhibit at Lee Gardens as part of their London-inspired Christmas decorations. Quirky opportunities like this are out there in Hong Kong, which is great fun and another creative outlet for me. My ‘Ham Hockney’ pig is another example. The Sovereign Art Foundation (a local art charity) asked artists to decorate the pigs in their own style, and they’ll all be on display at Art Central.
But the thing that’s made the biggest difference to me, is that there’s a strong audience of art lovers with a Hong Kong connection, who want pieces with Hong Kong themes for their homes.
Tell me some of the challenges you’ve faced as an artist here in HK?
I struggle with the networking side of things. I love meeting people but with 3 kids and a busy work schedule it’s hard to find time for it, and I do shy away from all this if I’m honest.
It’s unfortunately an important part of the job and I’ve realised I can’t just hide away creating in my studio and posting the odd Instagram. It can be tough to keep putting yourself out there, but I’m slowly improving this.
As I work with different media It’s taken a while for me to develop confidence to show all these works because I felt I should follow one direction only, but these days I worry less about other’s opinions.
If I could give a piece of advice to younger artists coming up, it would be to encourage them to keep producing art every week. Small steps can lead you a long way and when you look back you realise how far you’ve come, but you need to keep going. I love looking back and seeing my journey and who knows what will happen next. Years ago I was impatient for everything to happen quickly and I felt frustrated, now I allow myself to believe in what I’m doing.
What does the future hold for you?
I’ll be at the Asia Contemporary Art Show in March and then at the Affordable Art Fair in May. I create new pieces for the shows, so it’s hard work, but also very exciting. As well as sharing my work, I get the chance to talk to the show’s visitors too, which I love.
My other love at the moment is Bodinker, which is wearable art in the form of temporary tattoos all designed by artists. It’s been a fun creative outlet for me and also a chance to collaborate with other artists, which makes a nice change from working alone.
And in the years to come I’m hoping to find time to create some pieces inspired by my travels outside Hong Kong.
And with that it was time for me to leave Eleanor to get back to work, like many artists she’s under pressure at this time of year, but it’s all part of the fun of Hong Kong’s art month.
If you’d like to see more of Eleanor’s work you can check out here website here. She’ll be at the Asia Contemporary Art Show from 29 March to 1 April and at the Affordable Art Fair from 17 to 19 May.