The artwork presented on this page is a correspondence project between Claire Lee (a Hong Kong artist), and Régis Gonzalez (a French artist living in St. Etienne). The two artists sent each other a total of eight artworks—including texts, drawings, photographs and mixed media works—over the course of two years (2014-2016), The project was a dialogue that was meant to allow them to express their inner thoughts and feelings. Many of the works in the correspondence evoke feelings of pressure or alienation.
The project was initiated by Amandine Hervey, the curator at the Mur Nomade gallery in Hong Kong. The original idea was that the artists would ONLY be able to communicate with one another through their art work. People being people, however, the two artists did start attaching written explanations to their art and Régis even visited Hong Kong.
People have a desire to be understood as well as to understand, so perhaps communicating solely through art would have been frustrating. This kind of correspondence-via-art is a fascinating idea for an art project though.
The entire correspondence was laid out on a table at Art Central 2016. The correspondence is in order; the first artwork is at top of the following photo.
Régis initiated the art-dialogue with this painting of a woman kneeling by a river as a man (or a man’s body) floats past. That is a pretty intense way to start a conversation!
Claire responded equally intensely by building a tiny wooden box with a drawer containing, a poem, a letter, and a paper heart on top of drawings of…er…dead flies.
The letter begins:
Dear Régis, thank you for your painting, when I saw the man floating on the river it instantly reminds me of Nick Cave’s ‘Where the Wild Rose Grows’.
Here is the Nick Cave song that Claire is referring to:
Claire continues the letter by briefly introducing the accompanying poem, which is from her book entitled Ritual. Here is that poem:
by Claire Lee
In the middle of an abandoned cloister
A divine light irradiates the dust
A lonely hermit stares at an old desk
Religion searches for a corner to rest
He presses lightly on a huntress’ leaden breath
Spider is spinning a web at a dark corner
Candlelight whispers to tempt chaos
White smoke sneaks through the wet lips of a drawer
Old hermit remembers a summer story.
It was a humid summer
Huntress put into a drawer a heart saved from mire
Blood and tears seeped deep into the wood
Prey’s whimpering cries
That day a ferocious huntress and tigress glared at each other
In a sudden they found comfort in one another
She saves its life by digging out its heart
Then laid three white hairs on the carcass
Blood-drenched drawer is filled with eyes of desire
It is not love they hunger for but an emptiness of tempting fire
A black widow spinning a moth
His rough hand sweeps aside the heavy dust of memories
Before flame extinguishes
he sits and starts to write his first and only love letter
Then seals it and puts it inside the drawer
Tigress’s heart stops beating
It become the first Sabbath for the wild ones
Régis replied with a photo and short note:
The letter reads:
I took this picture a night I couldn’t sleep. I was in a very small village in north of France. The village was empty of people. But close to 5.30 am, there was this guy. He never saw me taking the picture.
I thought I was alone but he was there He thought he was alone but I was there.
As you send me the poem “Drawer” I found you a reader, kind of extension of myself at this moment.
Let’s skip ahead a year (sorry, I didn’t get pictures of all the works).
Régis visited Hong Kong, which tends to be a pretty hot place, and people often like to keep the air-conditioning on full blast. As a result, you are often either too hot or too cold. In this picture, Régis imagines himself as a faceless humanoid air-conditioner: sometimes warm, sometimes cold, but never the perfect temperature.
The final artwork was from Claire. Entitled Missing Face, the painting shows a mask, or is it a disembodied face? Or are the two things—mask and face—one and the same?
Once the project was finished, the works were displayed together and then sold separately. I would view the dialogue as a single work of art, so, to me, selling each piece independently seemed like a kind of ‘break up’—buyers would only be purchasing fragments of a single dialogue. Am I being too idealistic?
Mini-bio: Hong Kong artist Claire Lee was born in the territory in 1976. Her original training was in graphic design, but she is primarily is a visual artist (working with drawing, painting and mixed media) and poet. She is based in in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
Mini-bio: French artist Régis Gonzalez was born in 1976 and studied Fine Art. He is based in St. Etienne and his artwork includes drawings, paintings and mixed media works.
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:
The artwork on this page features fascinating and colorful large-scale portraits by five artists. Each artist uses his or her own special techniques and materials to explore themes of identity (To view any of the photos at a higher resolution, click on the image).
1. Lita Cabellut
Lita Cabellut, a Spanish artist of Romani ancestry, specializes in large-scale portraits (though she is involved in a wide range of creative endeavors such as photography, poetry and video). In her portraits, she strives to obtain a realistic, almost luminous skin tone via the use of carefully selected media and pigments.
In her coral series of portraits, the canvas is pockmarked with tiny holes, bringing to mind coral skeletons. In Coral Flowers 05 (shown above), the vibrantly colored explosion of hair is like the living coral covering the surface of the reef. In a coral reef, the living coral organisms are anchored to the framework of the reef, a framework built of coral skeletons. Similarly, for humans, we live for ourselves but are still anchored to the culture, heritage and genes of our ancestors. We live in a present built upon the framework of the past.
Video: How Lita Cabellut grew from street child to an internationally renowned artist (by the Economist)
Mini-bio: Spanish Artist Lita Cabellut was born in 1961 in Sariñena, a village in Aragon. Left in the care of her grandmother, she had a rough and tumble childhood on the streets of Barcelona. When she was 12, she was adopted by a Catalan family. As a teen, she developed an interest in art after seeing the paintings of Goya, Velázquez, Ribera and Rembrandt in the Prado Museum. She later studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam before becoming a full-time artist.
The human face is a favorite subject of Hopare, a Paris-based street artist. Rather than going for a strictly realistic style, Hopare uses bold colors to evoke emotions and moods and superimposes geometric lines and curves on the faces. In the untitled painting shown here, the bold black lines and curves bring out the natural geometry of the subject’s facial structure and are also reminiscent of Maori tattoos (known as moko), which represent the identity and history of the wearer.
Hopare came to Hong Kong to participate in a street art event hosted by HK Walls in 2015 and created the piece shown below.
Mini-bio: Street artist Alexandre Monteiro (aka Hopare) was born in 1989 in Limours, France to Portuguese parents. When he was 12 year old, he discovered street art after noticing the graffiti-covered walls of a factory. He soon started doing his own graffiti, and this interest was encouraged by his art teacher in junior high school, who just happened to be a well-known street artist known as Shaka. Hopare later worked in an interior design firm before becoming a full-time artist.
Video: Live Painting Hopare & Live Music
3. JM Robert
In these three portraits, Jean-Maxime Robert overlays stencilled and sketched female faces on vibrant graffiti-inspired abstract splashes of color. He is interested in evoking not only the visual flair of street art, but also the building surfaces on which such works are painted. He states:
The damaged walls of the houses and buildings fascinate me. I always feel the thrill in front of deteriorated and degraded walls—this is my main source of inspiration. In my paintings, I try to develop the my own aesthetic design of ruins. I want my paintings to speak a contemporary language that reflects the history and and story of our cities.
Exhibition notes from Art Supermarket
JM Robert’s painting process involves:
The surface of the canvas is scratched and scraped to give it a texture more akin to a degraded concrete wall.
The colorful abstract background is painted on the canvas.
The face is hand-drawn in black on top of the background. Only the outline of the face, the hair and a few shadows are added. This style mimics the look of stenciled graffiti and also gives the portrait a transient, ghostly feel as if the image of the face is just a faint memory.
Mini-bio: French artist JM Robert was born in Macon, Burgundy in 1987. He was interested in painting at a very young age and studied art and decoration at the Beaux-Arts School in Paris and graphic design and décor at the Métiers d’Art in Paris.
4. Gian Piero Gasparini
Italian artist Gian Piero Gasparini frequently works with mosaics of painted cloth. Gasparini is fascinated with the relationship between personality and outward appearance and the way the two react to form one’s identify. His use of mosaic reflects this preoccupation. Our identity is composed of different personality traits and of different physical characteristics (e.g., skin color, hair color, facial structure, etc.). Like pieces in a mosaic, these traits and characteristics bear no meaning when viewed in isolation, but when stitched together they combine to form the fabric of one’s identity.
Mini-bio: Italian artist Gian Piero Gasparini was born in Milan in 1969. He studied Illustration Techniques at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan. Early in his career, his style was mainly hyperrealist and he worked with architectural and design firms to produce large-scale air-brush murals. He started working as an independent artist in 2004.
5. Douglas Coupland
Canadian author and artist Douglas Coupland often works with mixed media installations, but has also created this Pop Head series. The photo prints are done in the style of high school year book photos, but the subject’s faces have been covered by brightly colored paint. The paint serves two purposes:
It masks the subject’s face, making him/her anonymous, thus allowing the subjects to represent any and every teenager.
It reflects the messiness and dynamism of each subject’s still-evolving developing identity.
Mini-bio: Canadian writer and artist Douglas Coupland was born at Royal Canadian Air Force Base Baden-Söllingen, West Germany in 1961. He grew up in West Vancouver and briefly studied Physics at McGill University in Montreal before returning to Vancouver to study art. He studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, the European Design Institute in Milan and the Hokkaido College of Art & Design in Sapporo. He began his career as a designer in Japan, but after returning to North America, he wrote the book which launched his literary career: Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. During the 1990s, he focused on his writing career, but started working on visual arts projects again in 2000.
6. Iqi Qoror
The above self-portrait by Indonesian artist Iqi Qoror is similar to the Douglas Coupland’s Pop Head series paintings in that the face of the subject has been completely masked with a brightly-colored abstract pattern. The are several differences, however. In Iqi Qoror’s painting:
The subject in the painting is the artist himself.
The abstract pattern is created from wool (rather than the the dripping paint of Coupland’s portraits).
The background is not as plain and contains shadows and props.
There is a much starker contrast between the rest of the painting (with its dull and dark blues and grays) and the vividly-colored mask.
The last difference seems important. Besides hiding the artist’s identity, the wool ‘mask’ can represent the role of art and the imagination in adding color to a mundane existence.
Mini-bio: Indonesian artist Iqi Qoror was born in in 1984 Yogyakarta). He studied November Industrial Design at the Institute Of Technology (ITS) in Surabaya After graduating he began his professional career as a visual artist. To further develop his skills, he studies Fine Art at the Indonesia Institute of The Arts in Yogyakarta.
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.
The artwork on this page— a painting made from stickers, a dress made from shards of porcelain, a portrait made from wine corks, cute sculptures made from imitation candy—remind me of some of the art projects done in primary school in which we created things from everyday objects like tongue depressors, pipe cleaners and pasta.
These mixed media artworks tend to attract a lot of attention from exhibition-goers; however, with this approach to creating art, there is a danger that the viewer focuses solely on the process, asking questions such as ‘Is the candy real?, ‘Where did the artist get so many stickers from?’ and ‘How long did it take to put all that together?’ before moving on without further thought. Do these works have deeper meanings or are they primarily novelty pieces?
Li Xiaofeng (李晓峰): Past Presence No. 2 (ceramic shards)
Li Xiaofeng creates dresses, uniforms and suits out of shards of antique porcelain plates and bowls. Once he has a design in mind, Li selects pieces, cleans them, cuts them and then literally stitches them together through holes drilled in each piece. His larger pieces are wearable. The dress shown above was fashioned from shards of blue and white porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties and has a silhouette reminiscent of a Chinese wedding dress, with the western-style collar and short flared sleeves adding a modern touch.
The blue and white porcelain of China has a long and famous history in China (Cultural China: The Blue and White Porcelain) as well as in the West, with Chinese porcelain ware and imitations being especially popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries (Wikipedia: Chinoiserie). The patterns on the blue and white plates often refer to mythical symbols, like the phoenix, and historical figures. A few years ago,
Thus, in Li Xiaofeng’s dresses, shattered elements from China’s past— portrayals of myths and historical scenes, the centuries-old artistry of porcelain ware (with its echoes of the tea trade and Chinoiserie), silhouettes of traditional fashion—are revived and tied together to create something new, whole and beautiful. As such, his works can be considered a kind of allegory of present-day China—a nation gathering together remnants of a gloried past and building something new and vibrant.
Video Leading Chinese artist recycles ancient porcelain, February 2011 (by euronews): this is an introduction to the artist, his techniques and what makes his works popular. You can see the artist modelling one of his own ceramic suits.
El Anatsui is a Ghanaian artist based in Nigeria. This piece—entitled Resolution—is created from the discarded caps of liquor bottles. With its gentle folds and vibrant patterns, the sculpture is reminiscent of traditional textiles such as kente cloth.
The bottle caps having served their commercial purpose and having been tossed aside are turned into something vibrant and new, something which reaches back to find inspiration in tradition. Perhaps this process can serve as a metaphor for the aftermath of colonialism in Africa.
Video: Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui In this video by the Akron Art Museum, the artist discusses how he found inspiration for his work, the themes his sculptures express and the manner in which the work is produced.
Ye Hongxing (叶红杏): Order No. 8 (stickers on canvas)
Order No. 8, a mixed media artwork by Ye Hongxing, is created using plastic stickers—the kind children use to decorate their books and stationery. In Order No. 8, the stickers are arranged in patterns to create large bills in fictional currencies. The blue bill is modeled after Egyptian currency, specifically the 10 piaster note that includes a depiction of the Saladin Citadel.
When looking at Ye Hongxing’s sticker-paintings, viewers tend to stand within inches of the canvas, searching for stickers and plastic figures from their childhood: Crayon Shan-chan, the Disney princess Jasmine from Aladdin and numerous variations of rabbits, pandas and frogs. Close up, the focus is on the stickers—a shiny kaleidoscope of pop-culture cuteness. From a distance, however, the individual stickers disappear and only the intricate and formal mandala-like patterns of the banknotes can be seen.
Though the cute characters may inspire memories of childhood innocence, most of them were designed with a more practical purpose in mind—to sell toys, stationery and other products. It is fitting that they are assembled to depict what they were designed to bring in: money.
In Ye Hongxing ‘Order’ series, the juxtaposition of cute cartoon characters and highly stylized graphic patterns of banknotes highlights the commercialization of pop culture, with the ‘cuteness industry’ helping to turn children into brand-loyal consumers. The ‘Order’ of the title can be interpreted in different ways—as a commercial order (i.e., as an order to sell or buy products) or in terms of social order (i.e., the manner in which materialism is ingrained during childhood and the way in which society practises a near-religious devotion to money).
Art Basel Miami 2010 – Ye Hongxing at Art Asia, December 2010 (by Cynthia K Seymour): this is a very short video that briefly shows a couple of the artist’s painted portraits. She doesn’t just work with stickers.
More works by Ye Hongxing During the last two Art Central exhibitions, the Art+ Shanghai Gallery has been featuring work by Ye Hongxing. Her most recent works seem to be taking on more political overtones with scenes from the news juxtaposed with political imagery, traditional Japanese erotica, scenes from movies and other forms of pop culture, images from mythology as well aspictures of weaponry, TV test patterns and wild animals. These works seem to present a chaotic vision of the world—as if alien being were receiving broadcasts from earth and trying to form a picture of the culture that produced them. They present the word as a a jungle or ocean—full of life, full of color, full of energy, but also full of danger. See these works: artjouer.wordpress.com/artists/ye-hongxing/
Isabell Beyel: Callas (mixed media, wine corks)
To create this large portrait of the famed Italian opera diva Maria Callas, German-born, Dutch-based artist Isabell Beyel uses wine corks for the singer’s complexion and coca-cola bottle caps for her deep red lips. Strips of metal and stripes of black acrylic paint on plexiglass are arranged like vertical venetian blinds and serve to outline the singer’s features. Viewed from an angle, the image is unclear; viewed head-on, the face comes into focus. Moving closer, the viewer’s attention is drawn to the individual elements used to create the portrait.
This work is based on an iconic photo of Callas (Wikipedia: Maria Callas) and is part of a series of portraits of women. The following photo shows a close up of the mixed-media portrait. Aluminium pull-rings and the top of a can are used to create a ring on the singer’s hand. On the paper background are printed excepts from the librettos of Italian operas: Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Verdi’s Luisa Miller and Puccini’s La Boheme.
Many of the elements used to create the artwork—wine corks, ring-pulls, aluminium cans and bottle caps—are simply waste materials that are discarded either as soon as the product is opened or as soon it has been consumed. In contrast, the body of work represented in the portrait—the operas of Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti and of course the image and performances of Maria Callas—lives on and thrives. Thus, the portrait juxtaposes product design and disposability with artistic expression and timelessness. These two ‘sides’, however, are not opposites. In the design of consumer products, is there not a certain level of artistry? In the careers of great performers and composers, are there not elements of commercialization? These are questions Isabell Beyel’s work invites the viewer to ponder.
The deer sculpture shown below is entitled Heavenly Messenger, a reference to the the belief that deer are messengers to the Shinto gods (Wikipedia: Kasuga Grand Shrine). I particularly like the effect of the dark purple eyes set against the pastel-coloured imitation candy.
Unlike the other works featured on this page, Japanese artist Osamu Watanabe’s works are not created from actual everyday objects. Rather his candy sculptures are created from fibre-resistant plastic that is molded and painted to look like candy. In other words, he makes likenesses of cute things using plastic imitations of artificially-coloured sweet things. This process involves Inceptionesque levels of artifice.
Viewing these sweet pieces, I was reminded of the monologue by Momoko at the beginning of the film Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma Monogatari), in which she explains why she embraces the frilly doll-like lolita aesthetic:
‘I wish I had been born in the Rococo era…. Rococo, 18th century France at it’s most lavish. It made Baroque look positively sober. An obscure, neglected period. Rarely mentioned in class, Critics called its art “cloying”… Shallow, vulgar and indecent. Life then was like candy. Their world, so sweet and dreamy. That was Rococo.’
In the film Momoko goes on to describe the dreariness of her daily life, her tawdry family background and how she found solace in her devotion to the fragile sweetness of lolita culture.
‘Sour things taste foul. I want to fill myself only with sweet things.’
Toward the end of the monologue, however, Momoko states:
‘So what if I was deceitful? My happiness was at stake. It’s not wrong to feel good. That’s what Rococo taught me. But actually my soul is rotten.’
Are Osamu Watanabe’s plastic sculptures similarly deceitful, offering nothing more than sweetness and kawaii? Perhaps they are, but isn’t it possible to just appreciate the happiness brought by a few moments of escape into sweet sweet cuteness?
Video Osamu Watanabe Exhibition: Sweets Kingdom Sweet Fantasy Quest, uploaded June 2014 by 渡辺おさむ
Lee Kwan Woo (이관우): Condensation (seals and stamps)
In this mixed-media artwork entitled Condensation, Korean artist Lee Kwan Woo uses traditional Korean seals and stamps to create a portrait of Buddha. Through centuries of Korean history, seals have functioned as personal signatures and as a kind of official certification of status and authority. They were used to sign personal and official correspondence, artwork, edicts and contracts.
Each seal used in the portrait, therefore, represents a specific person or office and each holds thousands of stories—not only the stories of the people whose names or titles are engraved on the seal, but also the stories of those who were were somehow related to the things the seals were affixed to: those who received the correspondence, those who inspired or who were inspired by the artwork, those where were affected by the edicts, reports and contacts. For the most part, these thousands of individual stories have long been lost to time, but the seals remain, the stories they represent condensed to fit within a single portrait.
In this way the painting is related to the Buddhist concept of impermanence (annica). The rough idea of impermanence is that as everything is continuously changing, coming into being and ceasing to exist, we shouldn’t become too attached to things. Though the seals still exist for the time being, the people they represent and the stories behind them are long forgotten. Whatever power each seal once carried is long gone. From a distance, the individual names and titles on the seals cannot be distinguished. They are unimportant. Assembled together, however, the seals make up a pattern and it is in this overall pattern that meaning can be found. The same can be said of people. As individuals on this speck of a planet we are exceptionally unimportant. However, we are part of the large pattern of life itself.
More on Lee Kwan Woo These two pages have insightful articles about the artist’s worK and philosophy:
Videos [MBC문화사색-전각, 현대예술이되다] 이관우 (in Korean), uploaded January 2014 by Do Lee
Yes, these made-from-every-objects do carry meaning and are not just gimmicks or novelties. In most of the works, the deeper meanings come through in the relationship between the subject of the artwork and the materials the artist used to create it.
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries.
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at: