Painting like an Artist
The story began when I was doing the Art examination in Primary 2. I was drawing a flower with crayons, layering different colours on the pedals. I thought that the layers of colours would become a rainbow by scraping, but they were mixed into a dreadful tone. “This flower looks so ugly,” my teacher told the whole class loudly, and then I got a Grade D for Art, in contrast to the grades A and B for other subjects. Since then, I had not paid any attention in the Art classes in school and got no confidence in painting or drawing at all.
I have been asked whether it is too late to have my first solo exhibition after working as a visual artist for 10 years. As a ‘self-taught’ artist who has no path to follow, I am often labelled as ‘performance artist’ and do not belong to the family of any art school. I do not see myself fitting into the very kind of fine art exhibitions either. I enjoy detouring around and getting lost. If the world is said to be a competition, I am destined to be a loser at the beginning.
I do not mean to be aloof; I just seek to deal with and reflect on the reality of life through my practice of art-making.
In a utilitarian society, art is a rather marginal thing. The more marginal it is, the more it has developed a set of self-contained rules and norms that are superior and cannot be overthrown easily. The system of art examination is indeed the reinforcement of these rules and norms. The notion of competition, winner and loser may sound like a joke in art-making practices, especially in the context of contemporary art which embraces openness and diversity. However, as the art examinations are still focusing on one of the most traditional media, that is painting, we would follow the rules and carry on reluctantly.
Once, examination seems to be the inevitable route for us, and taking public examinations is a must too. One may run away or forget about it after going through them. Nevertheless, for an outsider lingering along the border, examinations are to be explored and tested by one’s participation.
So, I decided to take the last two public examinations remained behind by the colonial system and started learning painting from zero. I look forward to the tests for having no more chance of re-taking them in future.
In 2011, I sat the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) together with all other young students pausing before the reformed education system,. I took with me some poster colours left over by my previous projects, paint brushes used during school time, Chinese ink and brushes that I use for calligraphy practising at leisure, as well as a copy of the free newspaper I grabbed in the train station that morning, while other students all prepared well their easels, drawing boards, etc for the exam. I was so anxious to draw with ruler and copy my newspaper so as to answer the question in the exam paper: An Amazing News Item. That year, I was indeed relieved to get a grade D, and after that, I decided to start learning painting from Yanny, an art teacher graduated from the renowned Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing.
To humbly learn an entirely unknown skills (and haunted by traumatic experience at the same time) has been more uneasy than imagined, when one has well developed one’s own creative skills, and especially for me who do not follow conventions from time to time. From lines to panes, from seeing to hand-drawing, from copying to re-creation, from confusion to aesthetic exploration, the shock I have experienced informs my reflection upon art. With the unsophisticated painting skills I have acquired genuinely for 2 years, I took with me the easel, drawing board, paints, etc and sat the very last Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE) in 2013.
Indeed, can the destiny of a grade D artist be challenged easily in such a rigid system? Talking to other practising visual artists in Hong Kong, one can see some of them proudly present how they drilled their skills or did the trick so as to obtain high marks in the exam. There are also others who do not care about or laugh off their grades C and D. How about me?
After a long detour, I now arrive at the door of the Academy of Visual Arts. It is the time for me to stake all my long-reserved creative energies on one – will I remain spiky or get stuck within the institution? Thanks to the HKALE examiners who give me almost full marks to my portfolio. However, I score even lower marks in the painting/drawing papers than the HKCEE one after 2 years of art training. “Grade D artist” is not a joke, but a reminder of my original intent of becoming an artist from time to time, no matter where I stand up or down. Hurray.
From 2011 to 2013, wen yau studied with an art teacher graduated from the renowned Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, for the fundamental painting technique.)