Interview: British Street Artist J.Fishy on his fruited figures in Hong Kong

British artist J.Fishy shares his process for creating the surreal ‘Fruit and Veg On’ pasteup series in Hong Kong.



China’s bustling Southern harbor city has recently experienced a new artist-in-residence crafting surreal encounters in urban spaces. Walking down the street in Sai Ying Pun, a vibrant neighborhood enclave West of Central, one might come upon a young man with an eggplant on his head. Or, for that matter, you could pass a young lady carefully balancing an ear of corn atop her crown. Further in Pok Fu Lam, a child can be found wearing a sprig of spring onion, and a couple has appeared in Po Hing Fong steadily balancing oranges upon their heads. The observer of street art on Hong Kong Island would surely have seen such phenomena by now, as you’re practically bound to meet one of these figures around town. An unsigned enigma, one cannot help but wonder of the origins of this exceptionally prolific series.

Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. Author’s image.

Turns out, the images are part of a new photographic portraiture street art series entitled ‘Fruit and Veg On’ by a British artist who prefers to be called J.Fishy. Luckily, UrbanDNA was able to catch up with the artist just as he wraps up his 6 month stint in Hong Kong. He shares insight into his latest work that can be found throughout the city (no, the fruits and veggies are not photoshopped in!) and his inspiration. Funny enough, the series was sparked simply by the artist’s friend playfully placing a carrot on her head. Of this he says, “It was so simple yet had this beauty to it that I kind of became transfixed with.” Also, if you have been candidly asked on the street to pose with a piece of fruit on your head, you might just find yourself featured as a work of art!

Read on for the entire interview with the artist.

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Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist, © J.Fishy.

:::::INTERVIEW | J.Fishy & UrbanDNA:::::

Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?

J.Fishy: I’m from London but also had the pleasure of living in Bristol for a few years and have now been based in Hong Kong for the past 6 months. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel through quite a few other countries and getting to experience different environments and cultures has definitely influenced what I make.

Can you describe your creative training? What mediums are you drawn to?

J.Fishy: I studied art at university and was initially interested in sculpture and installation work. At that time I was casting bits of my body and growing plants out of them. I then increasingly became interested in people rather than objects as such. It was at this point I started primarily working with video and photography.

A lady photographed by the artist with an orange in Bristol, U.K., displayed on a wall in Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. Author’s image.


Have you always been interested in ‘street art’? When did you begin making public artworks?

J.Fishy: While most of what I’ve previously made hasn’t been ‘street art’, I have always liked encountering work outside and been interested in its accessibility to a wider audience than art shown in a gallery. While I’ve got a lot of love for art galleries, I think for many people they are this cultural entity that they feel disconnected from. Putting work outside removes this barrier between ‘the art world’ and the general public. I also think there becomes a more natural dialogue between what is made, the viewer and peoples environment. The first work I put outside was a series of text based pieces about 5 years ago… I initially started by getting pieces of wood out of skips and spraying onto them and leaving them in places.. I then moved on to getting ‘for-sale’ sign’s and old doors, giving them a bit of a makeover and then locking them to fences or street lamps. I found this way they stayed where I left them for much longer. I’ve only very recently begun wheat-pasting.

A man with an orange photographed by the artist in Gokarna, India, displayed on a wall in the Poho area of Hong Kong. Author’s image.


How would you describe your practice – primarily studio based?

J.Fishy: While some stuff is studio based, the majority of what I’ve produced over the past couple years has been created in public. There is an immediacy between myself, what is being made and other people that seems to keep driving me to work in this way.

Why did you choose Hong Kong for your most recent street art series, and how did you select specific site locations?

J.Fishy: Hong Kong is where I’ve been living for the past six months so that’s where I’ve been producing work. That said, quite a few of the pieces I’ve recently put up are from photos taken in other countries. As far as finding specific locations for each piece, I tend to travel on foot and keep my eyes peeled for good spots.

A lady photographed by the artist in India, displayed in Poho, Hong Kong. Author’s image.


Can you describe your process for creating your Hong Kong series?

J.Fishy: The ‘Fruit & Veg On’ series started with a friend simply putting a carrot on her head. It was so simple yet had this beauty to it that I kind of became transfixed with. Two ordinary things (a carrot and someone’s head), took on this obscure relationship to one another through the simple action of putting one on top of the other. After this initial event of the carrot on the head, I decided to go buy some fruit and vegetables and walk around asking people to choose a piece to put on their head. While it takes me a while to ask the first person on any given day, once I start I’m hooked. I find the brief interactions with people somewhat therapeutic.

A man photographed by the artist in London with bananas, displayed on a wall in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Adjacent is a face painting by street artist Victoriano. Author’s image.


Are all the models posing with items on their heads, or is there any element of Photoshop involved?

J.Fishy: All the people are posing with the actual fruit or vegetables on their head. The only editing involved is blowing the images up and also slightly brightening them, as I generally choose to shoot slightly underexposed.

Do you know all the people who are subjects of your work? If not, how do you ask strangers to be photographed with fruits and vegetables on their heads? Have potential subjects ever refused your offer?

J.Fishy: Nearly all the photos are of just random people on the street. I simply approach them and ask if they’d mind putting a piece of fruit or veg on their head for a photo. Lots of people inevitably refuse but thankfully lots are happy to get involved.

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A man photographed by the artist with a green pepper in Barcelona, shown in the Poho area of Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist, © J.Fishy.


What is the resolution of your images – do you shoot in raw?

J.Fishy: I have never shot in raw until about a month ago… I use photo zoom to blow the images up to get them nice and big and it was only once I started doing this that I started to realise the benefits of shooting in raw for what I do.. I generally choose to shoot slightly underexposed and raw images respond much better to being brightened than jpegs.

I notice you don’t sign your street art works with your name or pseudonym – any particularreason for this?

J.Fishy: I feel the works being signed would slightly detract from their obscurity. I prefer the idea of people encountering a lady with a bunch of bananas on her head with no explanation of it being owned by anyone, or necessarily even being a piece of art.

Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist, © J.Fishy.


What type of printer do you use to create the Hong Kong paste-ups? Do you have access to this equipment in Hong Kong, or did you prepare your printed materials before leaving?

J.Fishy: The works I’ve pasted up so far have been made by splitting the images over lots of A3 pages and then printing them at a local printers in Sheung Wan. Each page is then cut out and stuck together before heading out to paste them up.

Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist, © J.Fishy.


What is your overall impression of the Hong Kong street art scene?

J.Fishy: I think the scene here is at an interesting point. It is much younger than in London but feels like it’s definitely growing. There seems to be a real interest and desire for more of it from the local people.

Have you ever had any problems with authorities when installing your artworks?

J.Fishy: Thankfully not yet.

Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist, © J.Fishy.


How long will you remain in the region? Will you be creating street art elsewhere in Asia?

J.Fishy: I leave in a weeks time and will be making a couple of other stops in Asia before heading back to the U.K.

Hong Kong. Image courtesy of the artist, © J.Fishy.


What is inspiring you now, and how has your time in Hong Kong affected you creatively?

J.Fishy: The biggest source of inspiration is people I encounter on the street, MTR or wherever. I love the peculiarities of people and how they interact and operate with one another. Prior to coming here I was simply taking the photos and occasionally showing them at exhibitions… I’m now taking the pictures back out onto the streets to exhibit which seems to make far more sense.

What’s next for you – can we look forward to further showings in Asia?

J.Fishy: I’m preparing 20 new pieces at the moment that will be going up in the next week before I leave.. keep your eyes peeled.


Check out more from J.Fishy here:

Instagram @J.Fishy

Erin Wooters Yip

Related Posts


Follow @Urban_DNA on Instagram for a running feed of Hong Kong street art.

Surprise – it’s illicit! Belgian artist Phil Akashi on his new Asian street art series – Interview

Belgian contemporary artist Phil Akashi catches up with UrbanDNA to discuss his new street art series begun in Hong Kong, his creative journey and why illicit art is just another creative medium.


Phil Akashi is a contemporary artist who sees no boundaries in expressive mediums. To this fine studio artist, creating illicit art on the street is just another way to convey his creative message – by happenstance, some of his creative works can be described as street art. The Belgian artist can be found most often working in his studio in the blossoming South Island Cultural District in Hong Kong, yet is undeterred by policy preventing his work from being seen in outdoor locations. Akashi’s most recent endeavor involving an unsanctioned element is his new ‘Legend of the Dragon’ street art project (with both illicit and permitted artworks) that will be displayed throughout Asia in nine different cities (one chapter corresponding to one city – with one or several artworks per city). The project reflects upon cultural identity through rethinking the use of traditional Chinese seals.

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First of the ‘Legend of the Dragon’ series at Deepwater Bay. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.
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Artwork detail. Courtesy Phil Akashi.

Two artworks from the ‘Legend’ street art project have already been created in mindfully chosen, unsanctioned locations in Hong Kong. The first piece was installed by the artist at the Deepwater Bay beachside boardwalk in March, during the week of Art Basel in Hong Kong. The timing of this first piece incidentally provides fascinating insight into the handling of high caliber street art during Hong Kong’s much-touted art week – would the art survive? Sadly, not. The unpermitted Deepwater Bay mural lasted hardly a week before city crews returned the wall to its original, blank (in this case, blue) state. This, despite the interest and thanks of the many onlookers who witnessed the work’s creation. On another note, the artist was surprised by the unwaning crowds of nighttime swimmers that continued through the wee hours of the morning. Hong Kong’s elderly do love a good evening dip and, apparently, street art.

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Second ‘Legend’ artwork in Wong Chuk Hang, courtesy Phil Akashi.
Street artwork by Phil Akashi in Wong Chuk Hang. Image © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.

The second unsanctioned installment in the ‘Legend’ series went up in Wong Chuk Hang in mid-May, and can still be viewed along the highway at 55 Wong Chuk Hang Road, at the opposite side of the street from the L Hotel.

Although Akashi’s creative repertoire may include street artworks, he identifies simply as an ‘artist’. He says, “I am just an artist… who likes to express myself from time to time through street art…” His use of unsanctioned space stands out as a solidly ‘post-graffiti’ practice, part of a new era of illicitly created, fine street art that has evolved beyond territorial markings and spreading one’s name into a recognized medium of contemporary art. Unlike some traditional street art, it isn’t concerned with its own illicit nature. Rather, Akashi is executing painstaking, studio-quality painted works with or without permission in highly visible locations that address cultural identity. Rather than being a street art purist who only works with or without permission, Akashi’s creative practice blurs the lines of placing importance on permission at all, offering a fresh freedom.

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A design by Akashi for ‘ARTE y MODA’, Fashion Art EU. Courtesy Phil Akashi.
The artist working in the studio on pieces for Fashion Art EU. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.
The artist working on pieces for Fashion Art EU. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.

Phil Akashi is a young artist to watch going forward. His exhibition with Fashion Art E.U., which selected him to represent Belgium, is currently on display at the European Parliament in Brussels and will soon begin traveling across European capitals. He also embarks upon a notable brand collaboration at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel Artist Residency in Shanghai – fascinating as Swatch is especially supportive of contemporary art and is a main partner of the Venice Biennale.

Style by Asia catches up with Phil before his departure for the Swatch artist residency in China, getting the scoop on his latest street artworks in Hong Kong. Read on for the uncut, exclusive interview with the artist.


UrbanDNA and Phil Akashi | May 2015

Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?

I am a Belgian-born artist based in Hong Kong. Born in 1978 and raised in Brussels in the multicultural capital of Europe, I quickly developed a curiosity and a passion for art. As a nomadic artist, I later lived in Los Angeles, Madrid, Wellington (New Zealand), and then Shanghai, where I enjoyed stimulating artistic environments and further deepened my interest in Asian cultures. I now live and work in Hong Kong. Passionate about Asian seals and Asian characters, I have built my artistic identity with an Asian essence. I chose the pseudonym “Akashi” for the vocal strength and for the diversity it represents. Living in China, I have also created a Chinese name, 涛程, meaning “big wave journey” and I intentionally reversed the two characters to play with the rules and to make my Chinese name unique. With these names, I play with paradoxes, talk about my inner world and how I view the world as a transcultural element.

Can you describe your creative training? What are your preferred mediums to work with?

I have never been to an art school but I have always been curious about art in general and experimented with creative things as a hobby. Four years ago during a trip around China, I fell in love with Asian seals and when I arrived in Shanghai, I decided to become a full time artist and started experimenting with Chinese chops. Today I reinvent the traditional use of Asian seals working with a broad range of media. My arts practice involves using the power of language with a transcultural and conceptual approach to question the contemporary world around me. As a result of my usage of traditional Asian seals, I forge my own artistic language that links East and West and places the past in the service of the present.

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The artist is inspired by traditional Chinese seals like this pictured. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.


What inspires you? Who are your favorite artists?

I am inspired every day by the life of all my grandparents who have been very hard workers and taught me very good values in life. I am also trying to be surrounded by optimistic people who live unconventional and unique lifestyles, who dare to take risks and who enjoy achieving their dreams.

My favorite artists are Axel Pauporté, Keith Haring and Ado Chale. Axel Pauporté is a big mountain snowboarding legend. He was such a creative artist in the mountains. I was following him when I was a teenager and he inspired me to take risks, follow my intuition and to do what I love early in my life. I have been passionate about Keith Haring since I was a kid for his widely recognized visual language and for his social activism. It’s probably thanks to him I do some street art projects today. Ado Chale is an artist, designer and most importantly sculptor of time – passionate about mineralogy, gems and stones. I visited his studio in Brussels when I was 15 years old and it was an eye-opening experience for me… I am also very sensitive to the work of Jaume Plenza, the collective Enra and Gregor Hildebrand.

How does your street practice fit into your overall creative practice? What came first for you – the street or the studio?

The street practice is one way to express myself and to escape my comfort zone and my studio. I need a lot of freedom and diversity as a person so it is good for me to change regularly of environments. The first painting I did, I wanted to do it on a canvas and I finally ended painting it on an entire wall.

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‘The Passage of Strength’. Courtesy Phil Akashi.
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Detail of ‘The Passage of Strength’ – revealing the tiny characters that create the bigger picture. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.

Can you describe your process for creating street art? What comes first, the content or the location?

My process of creating street art is the same as creating art in general. I have ideas everyday when I am thinking, when I am meeting people, when I am commuting, traveling, reading… then I take notes and ‘sleep’ on the ideas for a while. When I come back to my notes, if I still feel the idea has potential, I develop the concept and decide later to create a project or series around it. The content and the message are keys as I like to add meaning and symbols in my art. The way I do it and where I do it come next. In my street art process, the choice of the location is important. It has to bring me a special emotion, either it’s the environment, the location or the architecture. It has to be a bit funky or unique. I can also discover a cool spot and start to build content for it. It’s like making the spot your own and creating your own ‘carte blanche’ commissioned project. But I always do it with a sense of ‘respect’ and try to create something meaningful and aesthetic.

What themes or motifs do you usually paint? Has this focus changed recently?

For the moment, my arts practice involves using the power of Asian language with a transcultural and conceptual approach to question the contemporary world around me. So you can see some Asian characters, words, poems either from China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea appearing as seal imprints. That’s my way of creating a visual signature and to forge my own artistic language that links East and West and places the past in the service of the present.  It is also an exciting way to escape my comfort zone and to sustain the very old tradition of Asian seals with passion, emotion and innovation.

Phil Akashi at work on 'Tribute to Mandela'. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.
The artist at work on ‘Tribute to Mandela’. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.


What brings you to Hong Kong, and why is painting Hong Kong important to you? Does painting Hong Kong offer any special opportunities or difficulties that aren’t found elsewhere?

Two years ago while we were living in Shanghai, my girlfriend received a business opportunity to move to Hong Kong with an expatriate package. After 3 years in mainland, it was a cool opportunity for us to discover Asia from another angle so we decided to go for it. I feel really lucky to have the chance to be able to live and work in Hong Kong without having to worry about paying the rent. Hong Kong has so much to offer and it is all about finding the right balance to enjoy the best of it. I really appreciate the nature, the ocean and the central location in Asia. Painting Hong Kong is important for me to leave a trace of my passage. It is also a way to immortalize into my work the influence of Hong Kong as a cultural, political, social environment.

How does the graffiti scene in Hong Kong compare to other cities you’ve worked?

The graffiti scene in Hong Kong is still in its infancy. It’s the same for street art and the art scene in general. Hong Kong is so expensive that makes it almost impossible for locals to have the chance to express themselves as full time artists. The potential is here but it is just tougher compared to other cities. Also the government doesn’t seem to be 100% ready to understand the benefits of street art initiatives.

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Detail from ‘Tribute to Mandela’. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.


What is your ‘dream canvas’ in Hong Kong? Are there any particular obstacles that complicate gaining access to that space?

Well I do have a couple of funky street spots in Hong Kong I would like to appropriate but this is top secret information! Apart from that I would be very excited to create a monumental artwork on the entire bottom of the swimming pool of the Four Seasons Hotel, or on the entire floor at Pearl Lam, Gagosian or Galerie Perrotin. I don’t really see any obstacles, they just have to call me ;o)

Where else have you painted? What are your favorite cities and countries to work, and where do you plan to create work in your ‘Legend of the Dragon’ series?

I lived and created in Brussels, Los Angeles, Madrid, Wellington (New Zealand), Shanghai and Hong Kong. For the ‘Legend of the Dragon’ street art project, I plan to work in 9 different cities of China and S.A.R. You can follow me on Instagram (@philakashi) to discover every step of the journey.

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Akashi posing in front of completed ‘Tribute to Mandela’. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.


How fast do you generally work? How long did it take you to create the illicit piece in Deepwater Bay, the first in your ‘Legend of the Dragon’ series?

It depends of the artwork, the environment, the size, if it is legal or not…the longest artwork I did was the ‘Tribute to Mandela’ in Shanghai in the summer 2013. It took me three weeks and I lost 7 kilos! I attached a seal embedded with the Chinese characters ”自由” (meaning ‘freedom’) to a boxing glove, and imprinted a monumental portrait into a mural with 27,000 punches.

The piece in Deepwater Bay Beach took me one night. I started at midnight and finished with the sunrise. I was surprised to see so many people who were going to swim at every hour of the night in the dark.

Can you describe your experience creating the first piece in the ‘Legend of the Dragon’ series in Deepwater Bay? What about the second piece in Wong Chuk Hang?

Creating a monumental piece during the night along the Deepwater Bay beach was really unconventional for me. Having the “green” in front of me while hearing the noise of the ocean behind me made it a peaceful moment. I finished the piece with a wonderful sunrise. I was also impressed by the number of old people going to swim at every hour of the night in the darkness. The majority came by to check me working, they all were very kind and supportive of my work which was a good surprise too.

The second piece in Wong Chuk Hang was a bit less peaceful as it was on a main street. It needed a couple of hours to be achieved as I had to do it in several steps. I had to paint the backgrounds first then I had to wait 2 hours to make it dry then I added the characters with the sprays. One of my friends joined me to record some videos and we’ve had two funny moments. The first one was when a public bus with passengers stopped in front of me to observe me spraying. We exchanged a smile with the driver then he left with a long supportive claxon! Then an hour later we had a small stress when we heard a police car siren arriving. But it was finally an ambulance and after it passed, we just had a big laugh.

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‘Legend of Dragon’ in Wong Chuk Hang. Image courtesy Phil Akashi.


Do you see a meaningful difference between illicit and permitted pieces within your street practice?

Honestly, no. When I create, I just want to express myself. I choose a location to add significance or emotion to my message. If it is an illegal location, I always try to respect it and beautify it. This is art. I am an artist, not a vandal. And if someone doesn’t like my artwork, wants to remove it or cover it, I respect that.

For the ‘Legend of the Dragon’ series, is the illicit nature important to the overall meaning of the works? Will all the pieces be unauthorized?

The meaning is in the technique, the message and in the choice of cities and locations. The location might add significance and emotion, not the illicit nature. I plan to have a mix of unauthorized and commissioned pieces but I will do with what I manage to get. I would like for instance to do a mural in Macau, why not for a casino, but it is not going to be easy. If you own a wall or know someone I could contact, please let me know through my website contact page.

Where will the next piece in your ‘Legend’ series be located? Will it be a permission piece or not?

It will be unsanctioned in mainland China but the precise location is a surprise…

Second installment of the 'Legend of the Dragon' series. Image © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.
Second installment of the ‘Legend of the Dragon’ series. Image © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.


What are your expectations for the illicitly created pieces? Does it matter they may not remain in situ for long? After documenting the art photographically, does it matter whether it remains intact?

Of course I would prefer an artwork remains intact for a certain time but this is street art and I respect if it is removed, covered, or not liked.

Does the source of permission matter within your understanding of street art? Do you perceive government authorized painting differently from private permission?

I am just an artist… who likes to express myself from time to time through street art. I respect the fact some artists are less opened minded about street art, commercial, or public commissioned artwork. But honestly I don’t have so much time to care about that. I know what I will accept and prefer to focus on what’s exciting or inspiring me.

Does the description ‘street artist’ apply to you?

Yes of course, even though I like the freedom to consider myself simply as an artist. The street practice is a real passion and one of my ways to express myself and to escape my comfort zone and my studio.

Where do you see as the center of global street art culture– or is there one at all? Where do you see as the biggest graffiti scene within Asia?

I am not an expert of the street art culture and the graffiti scene. I am just an artist.

Have you ever experienced legal issues for creating work without permission in the public space? How was this resolved?

No, but if it happens I will try to explain I am doing art with respect and passion.

Do you abide by any street art ‘code’ or etiquette? How do you evaluate a site’s propriety for displaying your work?

I just follow my intuition and try to respect others.

invitation Fashion Art EU Exhibition

Where are your works available? Are you working with any particular galleries?

I am still in the early stages of my artistic career as I started only 4 years ago. I have spent my first two years in Shanghai experimenting with techniques and mediums. Then I focused the last 2 years on creating various series of more elaborate and collaborative projects. At the same time, I have participated in solo and group exhibitions in Belgium, China and the United States, which was good experience – not to sell high volume but rather to pay the bills, to learn and to build up my CV. So I was not ready to be represented. Today I feel I know more about who I am as an artist, about where I want to go and I feel my work has started to become more consistent. I start to have more and more interest from collectors, curators, galleries and media from different parts of the world. So I feel ready this year to start talking with galleries and I believe the next twelve months will be exciting for my development. Anyway, finding galleries is not complicated but finding the right long-term matches requires some patience.

Regarding exhibitions, I am participating right now in the Fashion Art E.U. exhibition in the European Parliament in Brussels till the end of May 2015. Then the show will travel to several capitals in Europe. This ambitious project aims to gather “ARTE y MODA” to promote creativity in Europe. This exhibition is curated by the Fashion Art Institute that has selected 28 artists from the European Union – each of the artists using their personal technique to communicate European values in their particular manner. I have been selected to represent my country, Belgium and I created a dress mixing Japanese sumi ink and cinnabar paste with seal imprints with Chinese characters: 文/“culture” and 乐观/”optimism” as I hope Europe will start to re-build together a culture of optimism. You can find more information on my website.

What’s next for you, and where are you working? When can we expect you back in Hong Kong?

In May, I will embark on new challenge and join the Swatch Art Peace Hotel Artist Residency in Shanghai as a residing artist for a 6 month period. I have been selected by the Swatch Artists Selection Committee, composed by François-Henri Pinault, George Clooney, Nayla and Nick Hayek, Esther Grether, Mikhail Kusnirovich and Sir Francis Yeoh. Thank you guys!

I have my studio in Hong Kong in Wong Chuk Hang in the South Island Cultural District, a new destination for contemporary art in Hong Kong. However, it will soon be temporarily closed for 6 months. After Shanghai I will come back to Hong Kong probably around November this year. Apart from that, I am in discussion for a commissioned project of sculpture in Japan in a ski resort so I might have the chance to go to Hokkaido this summer. I am also preparing a street art project in Bali for 2016!


Check out more from Phil here:

Instagram: @PhilAkashi


Erin Wooters Yip

Related Posts

Street artist interview: San Francisco’s DYoungV on his Asian artmaking tour – March 2015

Street artist interview: Victoriano on painting the town – March 2015

New York/ Parisian artist ‘JonOne’ reinterprets urban calligraphy in Hong Kong – Interview – May 2014



Follow Urban_DNA on Instagram for a running feed of Hong Kong street art.

Next level: ‘Invader’ scores at ‘Wipe Out’ show in Hong Kong – Exhibition Review

Invader returns to the scene of last year’s infamously removed ‘invasion’ to present ‘Wipe Out’, offering exciting new LED light artworks.


In a windfall for street art in Hong Kong, French graffiti mosaic artist ‘Invader’ has ceremoniously returned to the scene of last year’s infamously removed ‘invasion’ to present ‘Wipe Out’, an exhibition exploring his work in the city and beyond. The non-profit show is the third project presented by HOCA, the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, which launched in 2014. Curated by Lauren Every-Wortman, the event is held within the expansive Qube space at PMQ – a rare 600 square meter multi-function hall in the Central district of Hong Kong. Within this abundant space, Invader and Every-Wortman have constructed an engaging sensory experience that simultaneously educates and amuses whilst offering the artist’s exciting first foray into sculptural LED light art.

Image © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation.
The entry view of ‘Wipe Out’, an ‘explosition’ by Invader presented by HOCA Foundation. Image © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation.
Image © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation
Image © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation

A walk-through of Wipe Out presents a series of different aspects of Invader’s creative work. In addition to the display of countless material examples of the artist’s mosaic artworks displayed in Hong Kong and on streets around the world, the show also conveys his conceptual work ‘gamifying’ the discovery of the works in urban spaces worldwide through his ‘Flash Invaders’ mobile application. Further, a thorough historical documentation is recounted of the artist’s Hong Kong invasions spanning from 2001-2014– including a full-scale reenactment of the artist’s street mosaic HK_58 (better known as ‘Hong Kong Phooey’) in its original in situ placement.

'Wipe Out': Documentation of the 'Invasion of Hong Kong' from 2001-2014. Image © Erin Wooters Yip.
‘Wipe Out’: Documentation of the ‘Invasion of Hong Kong’ from 2001-2014. Image © Erin Wooters Yip.
© Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation
A young man interacts with the recreation of the in situ placement of Invader’s Hong Kong Phooey, HK_58. Image © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation

The center of the exhibition space also holds a must-see treat within the ‘Wipe Out Cinema’– a video documentary relating how the artist effectively ‘invaded’ his dream frontier– outer space. The improbable journey of Invader’s mosaic hitched upon a weather balloon is breathtaking, inspiring, and indeed a bit magical – audible gasps could be heard as the artist’s signature mosaic character floated away to reach the unthinkable and then survive falling from the top of the earth’s atmosphere. In the end, it is an elegant metaphor for the boundless capabilities of the persevering spirit facing insurmountable challenges; the documentary film footage capturing this unearthly journey was eventually retrieved from Florida swampland after the literal threat of poisonous snakes, insects, and (yes!) even an alligator. +10,000 points!!!

The 'Wipe Out Cinema', offering the worldwide debut of original film footage.. Image © Erin Wooters Yip.
The ‘Wipe Out Cinema’, offering the worldwide debut of original film footage.. Image © Erin Wooters Yip.
Sculptural animated LED works by Invader, the first venture into the medium for the artist. Image © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation

It was, however, the artist’s debut works of sculptural LED light art that stole the show. The medium translates perfectly to the artist’s nostalgia for early gaming technology, elevating his work to new frontiers of possibility. With a firm understanding of Invader’s past work challenging the boundaries of public expression worldwide, this new experimental use of sculpted, animated light proposes a future of dazzling possibility.


WIPE OUT: An ‘Explosition’ by Invader

Dates: May 2-17

Venue: The Qube, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong

Open Monday to Sunday, 10am-8pm



 Erin Wooters Yip

Related Posts:



Follow Urban_DNA on Instagram for a running feed of Hong Kong street art.

Artist Interview: ‘Invader’ on Hong Kong’s ‘Wipe Out’, street art policy – Exclusive

In an exclusive interview, Invader shares his feelings on Hong Kong’s ‘Wipe Out’ and whether street art should be legal (spoiler: he says, “it has to stay illegal”).


It was only last year the Hong Kong government removed the most prolific public art project ever undertaken by the renowned French street artist ‘Invader’, which proved to be the catalyst for a series of unprecedented twists for the art world and the increasingly favorable position of street art. The removal of a popular, meticulously crafted mosaic by the artist of Pac-Man even inspired the local arts community to rise up and recreate the piece in posterity, although this effigy also eventually met its demise. Clearly the cheerful glimpses of video-game themed nostalgia had captured local hearts, but urban policy was more uncaring – in the eyes of the government, the rules are the rules, and who is to judge what is art?

Original Pac Man by Invader in situ. Image © Erin Wooters Yip, 2014.

Although administrators have been unwilling to discuss the artistic merits of unsanctioned public works, the commercial market happily weighed in. In January of this year, an ‘alias’ work (a studio-made reenactment of an illicitly created piece) removed by Hong Kong street cleaners from its original placement, sold on the Sotheby’s Hong Kong sales floor for just shy of HK$2 million – achieving US$252,000. Regarding the success of his work in this elite commercial space, the artist comments, “It is a step in my career and an evolution. Some people don’t look at me the same way now. I am taken more seriously which is actually a good thing. It is also a significant symbol that street art is gaining increased attention and credibility in the art world and that’s a good thing.”



In the wake of his successful exhibition ‘Wipe Out’ with HOCA, the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, the artist describes himself as an ‘ULA’, or ‘unidentified living artist’– perhaps a new way to understand contemporary artists whose work relies upon anonymity?  In an exclusive interview with Style by Asia, Invader shares his feelings on the legality of street art (spoiler: he says, “it has to stay illegal”). However, he also provokes the mindful reconsideration of urban policy, adding: “The people who have ordered my pieces to be removed should have asked themselves before if they were artworks or vandalism. A piece like the Kung Fu Dog in Happy Valley for example was obviously to me an artwork to be protected, not to be destroyed!”

Read on for the entire, uncut Style by Asia interview with Invader.

::::: INTERVIEW :::::

INVADER & UrbanDNA | May 2015

Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?

Invader: I define myself as an ULA, an unidentified living artist. I chose Invader as my pseudonym and I always appear behind a mask. As such, I can visit my own exhibitions without any visitors knowing who I really am even if I stand a few steps away from them. Since 1998, I have developed a large-scale project, code name: Space Invaders.

What brings you to Hong Kong? How many times have you visited and created work here?

Invader: This is my fifth time in Hong Kong since 2001, and up to now I have launched four waves of my “invasion”. My latest invasion wave of Hong Kong in 2014 was one of the biggest and the nicest I’ve ever made, even worldwide. The pieces were bigger and I really thought about their iconography. I spent 3 weeks on site just dedicated to this invasion!


Why is creating work in Hong Kong important to you? Does creating in Hong Kong offer any special opportunities or difficulties that aren’t found elsewhere?

Invader: Hong Kong is a nice playground for my street pieces as the architecture is very different from my home city.  It’s also a great opportunity to take place in a dynamic city of the global art scene.

What is the message of your show with HOCA at PMQ? 


Invader: The idea was to create something big after the wipe out of my work in Hong Kong by the government. The message could be that after the destruction of my work I am here again and still creating. Nothing can stop an artist from creating. I also wanted to offer a nice show for all the citizens who have defended my work and were saddened by the artworks’ removal.

© Kitmin Lee, courtesy HOCA Foundation
Scene from Invader’s ‘Wipeout’ show in Hong Kong with HOCA Foundation. © Kitmin Lee, courtesy HOCA Foundation.


What are your plans for Hong Kong this visit? Do you plan to create more public works? How might this ‘Invasion’ differ from previous times? 

Invader: Yes, absolutely I already have put up 7 new pieces (with the one inside the show). It is a continuity of my previous work with new directions, new themes. For this 5th wave I have worked around the figures of Dragons and Ming vases.

Do you abide by any street art ‘code’ or etiquette? How do you select locations and evaluate a site’s propriety for displaying your work?

Invader: It is an essential part of the invasion and it is a very subjective decision. I need to identify the nerve center of the cities I visit. It takes a lot of time as it is a long scouting process. I often compare it to urban acupuncture. It takes a lot of scouting.

A couple walks past an Invader work in Hong Kong. © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.
A couple walks past a work by Invader in Hong Kong featuring a dragon. © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.


Do you install the works by yourself or ever have assistance? How long does it generally take to install a work? 

Invader: I am surrounded by a small team and this is a very confidential operation. The time taken to install a work depends. I have developed several techniques that allow me to adapt myself to different situations such as the time and the place of the invasion, the size of the mosaic, the height of the wall…in order to be the quickest and the most discreet possible.

You had the honor to meet a revered Hong Kong street artist, the King of Kowloon, during a previous visit to Hong Kong – can you describe your exchange with him?

I remember him as a very nice and kind person. We spent some time together and he offered me several objects that he covered with his calligraphy. I also installed a space invader in his home!

A new work by Invader installed in Hong Kong. © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.
A new work by Invader installed in Hong Kong. © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.


You’ve created some ambitious pieces in Hong Kong, notably the Pac Man in Tin Hau and Hong Kong Phooey. Are these Hong Kong works at all unique from pieces created in other places? Do any pieces created for Hong Kong represent a new or special endeavor for you?

Invader: Each piece that I put in the street is unique. I never make the same piece twice. For Hong Kong, like for every city where I have worked, I try to adapt my work to the culture and the ‘colors’ of the city.

What is the most ambitious – or tricky – piece you’ve ever installed in any public space? 

Invader: The one which was sent to the International Space Station a few month ago. You can learn more about it by the watching one of the films at the exhibition.

Reenactment of Hong Kong Phooey, HK_58, on display at Wipeout in Hong Kong. © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation
Reenactment of Hong Kong Phooey, HK_58, on display at Wipeout in Hong Kong. © Kitmin Lee, courtesy of HOCA Foundation


It has been well over a year since the January 2014 ‘Invasion’ of Hong Kong – how many pieces do you estimate still remain in situ, and does this number surprise you? How did you feel about the government’s campaign to remove your work? 

Invader: Something like 5 of the 55 pieces I’ve installed in 2014 are left. I am surprised by the reaction of the government because most of them were so beautiful that I was sure that nobody would remove them… It is as if they have destroyed a gift I was offering to them. But it actually had a positive effect because that gave me the energy to set up “Wipe Out”, a big show about that destruction.

Your work became an accidental symbol for street art policy reform in Hong Kong after the ‘resurrection’ of Pac Man in Tin Hau. How did you feel about the Hong Kong local arts community rallying around this removed work, recreating the piece to protest its removal?

That really warmed my heart! It was nice to see that the local artists were sensitive to what happened and wanted to show that they were on my side. I even think that this was the case of a big part of the population.

 © Erin Wooters Yip - Invader 2014

What insight does your art offer a city like Hong Kong, which perceived your last large-scale ‘Invasion’ as a breach of policy? Do you see a need for technical street art policy reform or a stronger culture of tolerance for unsanctioned public art? 

Invader: I think that street art is illegal and it has to stay illegal. I have played and I have lost! That said, the people who have ordered my pieces to be removed should have asked themselves before if they were artworks or vandalism. A piece like the Kung Fu Dog in Happy Valley for example was obviously to me an artwork to be protected, not to be destroyed!

What is your ‘dream canvas’ in Hong Kong? Are there any particular obstacles that complicate gaining access to that space?  

Invader: Playing with the light of a huge building (like the ICC) but another artist has already done it!

Sculpture by Invader on display in the courtyard of PMQ. © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.
Sculpture by Invader on display in the courtyard of PMQ. © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.


Is the illicit nature important to the overall meaning of your public works? Have you ever installed work on the street with permission?  

Invader: I like the illicit nature of street art, but I won’t miss the opportunity to make a nice piece because it is legal. I’ve for example just installed 2-pieces on the pillar of the PMQ with their permission.

Have you ever experienced legal issues for creating work without permission? How were these situations resolved? 

Invader: I’ve been arrested a few times, but I’ve never been in real trouble. Because what I do is art and even if it is illegal, Art is a universal activity, and artists are generally respected.

Regarding your works available on the commercial market, how did you come up with your concept of creating an ‘alias’ of a publicly installed piece of street art? When did you begin this practice, and how do you determine which of your illicit works has a commercially viable alias?

Invader: I’ve always done this, from the beginning. I create one alias piece for each work I place on the street. I like the idea that the mosaics sold on the art market are linked with the ones in the streets. I think it is conceptually strong. But it took to me some years to find a perfect form for this. Now, my aliases are perfect. The mosaic is fixed on a black perspex panel which has a slot in which to place the ID card with all the information about the street piece.

You have indicated in past interviews that you are not interested in the ‘art establishment’ as an aim in itself, although your recent auction success in Hong Kong has set you firmly within the realm of ‘established’ contemporary artists and set new world records. What are your feelings on the success of your work in an elite commercial space?

Invader: It is a step in my career and an evolution. Some people don’t look at me the same way now. I am taken more seriously which is actually a good thing. It is also a significant symbol that street art is gaining increased attention and credibility in the art world and that’s a good thing.

An alias by Invader sells at Sotheby's Hong Kong in January 2015. Image © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.
An alias by Invader sells at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in January 2015. Image © Erin Wooters Yip, 2015.


How do you feel about your street installed pieces removed from in situ placement – are they still art? And how are such works kept from the commercial market – do you certify works similar to Banksy and Pest Control? 

Invader: Once removed from their situ placement, my pieces become nothing–just some pieces of tiles that you could buy in Mong Kok for few dollars. I, myself, could not even authenticate a piece taken from the street because a tile looks like any other tile.

Do you sell your work in the gallery space – if so, where? And how might this work differ from your street work?

Invader: I now have an exclusive gallery that takes care of the all of my artworks. I want to stay focused on the art and of creating and let my gallery take care of the more commercial aspects. What I am doing is what you can see at my show: some mosaics pieces (alias) but also many other things and continually experimenting and innovating.

What’s next for you? What’s inspiring you now, and where are you working? When can we expect you back in Hong Kong?

Invader: I am still in Hong Kong and I am about to stay a bit more to install some new street pieces… After that I will have a rest because this show took me six months of hard work!


WIPE OUT: An ‘Explosition’ by Invader

Dates: May 2-17

Venue: The Qube, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong

Open Monday to Sunday, 10am-8pm


 Erin Wooters Yip

Related Posts:


Follow Urban_DNA on Instagram for a running feed of Hong Kong street art.

HKwalls 2015: Promising Growth for Hong Kong’s Street Art Festival – PHOTOFEAST

HKwalls, Hong Kong’s first street art festival, has come a long way in just 2 years. UrbanDNA looks at the promising growth of this young festival and asks artists about their ‘dream canvas’ in the city.


Street art aficionados in Hong Kong have undoubtably noticed the colorful new additions to the Sheung Wan area in the second installment of HKwalls, an independent, not-for-profit effort aimed to bring art to the streets of the city. Organized by Jason Dembski, a designer and professor of Architecture at the University of Saint Joseph Macau, the sophomore edition of Hong Kong’s street art festival went up mid-March during Art Week in Hong Kong. Style by Asia ponders the promising growth of this young festival, including the possibilities for ever-larger pieces, and asks artists about their ‘dream canvas’ in Hong Kong.


Spanish artist DEMS at 9 Tai On Terrace in Sheung Wan.
Hong Kong based British artist Szabotage at 9 Tai On Terrace.


For HKwalls, 2015 held a few key differences from the first endeavor. In particular, a partnership with Agnès B. witnessed an increased momentum to the overall effort, which produced more than twice as many works this year. An audience gathered to watch artists in Sheung Wan (the weather this year was perfect!) and a buoyant festival-like atmosphere surrounded the street painters. The mood in Po Hing Fong was positively celebratory and buzzy as both local and international painters took to the walls to create original, self-directed works in the outdoor public space donated by private property owners. While this year’s Sheung Wan installment included some newly volunteered surfaces, some walls were also offered up again. In true ‘street art’ fashion, some previous works proved ephemeral, making way for new art.


Wais 6-story painting at 41 Sai Street, Sheung Wan.


This latest edition also raised the bar in terms of the sheer scale of a project HKwalls is capable of undertaking. In the largest canvas yet donated to HKwalls, Wais, a Russian artist who splits his time between Hong Kong and Saint Petersburg, painted one side of an entire 6-story building on Sai Street in Sheung Wan, scrambling upon bamboo scaffolding to complete his masterwork. Perhaps this ambitious addition will be a catalyst stirring the local imagination, as the prospect of such work begs how far the concept of adorning the city with artwork can be taken – and whether a neighborhood in Hong Kong envisions its high rises in magnificent colors. If indeed there is a unified community interested in becoming a work of art, it could become a visual feast like nowhere else the world has ever seen. Regarding the future of HKwalls and the prospect of more large-scale projects, Dembski comments, “We hope Wais’ giant piece will help to open the eyes of people in Hong Kong to really big scale works of art and more will offer up their entire buildings, rather than just the ground floor.”


Spanish artist Felipe Pantone on Tai Ping Shan Street.


HKwalls organizers also managed to bring in more international artists this year. Of the 32 artists involved (listed on HKwalls), 16 were non-local, or without a Hong Kong connection. Artists flew in from as far as Spain, France, South Korea, and Thailand for the opportunity to paint the city. When asked by Style by Asia why painting Hong Kong is important, Felipe Pantone, a participating HKwalls artist from Spain, responded: “Hong Kong is a historically strategic trade center in the world, therefore it’s an important place to leave your mark if you’re interested in the graffiti game!”


Felipe Pantone in Stanley Market.


When asked about their ‘dream canvas’ in Hong Kong, artists reveal being inspired by Hong Kong’s vertical architecture and iconic harbor landscape. Felipe Pantone shared with Style by Asia that his ‘dream canvas’ in Hong Kong is “a large skyscraper” despite the complications of working at great height upon scaffolding. Meanwhile, Rukkit, a HKwalls artist from Thailand, revealed he wishes to paint a wall around Victoria Harbor. “I think it would look great when they show the Symphony of Lights,” he said, yet also expressed doubt the government would allow such painting.


Bangkok-based Thai artist Rukkit working on Upper Station Street.


This year’s edition of HKwalls also represented an important growth of the event to a new community – Stanley Market. In a new twist, community organizers requested permission to paint upon the metal shutters of the shops in Stanley Market, a top Hong Kong leisure destination. The beautifully transformed shutters of Stanley Market add a new dimension of artistic interest to the thriving seaside area, which is already a major draw for tourists and local fun seekers. Although artists were given free reign to create original artwork, the Stanley Market imagery especially reflects a strong sense of pride in Hong Kong. However, seeing Stanley’s painted shop shutters – which are rolled up when the market is open from 9 am to around 6-7 pm– will take a bit more planning than the Sheung Wan pieces, which can be viewed anytime. If you’re keen to see the Stanley Market paintings for yourself, it is recommended to go early, as the light is better and the individual shop closure times can be unpredictable in the evening. If you opt to see the paintings in the morning light, arrive no later than 8:30 am if you want to catch them all, as the shops indeed open promptly at 9am, and then the shutters are rolled up and away from view. The market is open everyday of the week and all public holidays, so it’s unlikely to find a time when all the painted shutters will be viewable at mid-day. So, it’s best to take in this artwork on a gorgeous Southside morning, followed by a stop at one of the multiple restaurants in the immediate area serving early morning breakfast.


South Korean artist, Xeva, for HKwalls in Stanley Market.


OBSEK (from France) at Pinoy Restaurant in Stanley Market.

After such a promising second installment, one wonders what the future holds for HKwalls and the evolution of painting with permission in Hong Kong. Dembski comments, “This year I think we really took it up a notch in Sheung Wan, and adding Stanley was a good test of what it would be like to move neighborhoods.  Of course we always want to go bigger and better, but I think the bar is set pretty high in Sheung Wan now so we are considering other areas for next year… but nothing specific yet… In the case that we do move somewhere new next year, it will be based on enthusiasm for HKwalls in the immediate community there because we really need someone in that community to be our man on the ground and make introductions and help organize.”


Egg Fiasco for HKwalls Stanley Market, from the Philippines.


For HKwalls and Hong Kong street art, it seems anything is possible – all that’s known for certain is the incredible wealth of creative talent and initiative in our midst. Calling all Hong Kong visionaries: your neighborhood could be the next work of art.


Stern Rockwell (USA/HK)
Left: 4Get (HK) Right: Sautel Cago (France)


DEMS (Spain)


Left: Mr. Mena (HK) Right: Rookie (Taiwan)


Wais (Russia / HK)
4Get (HK)
XEME (HK) and KB
Devil (HK)


Gas (China)
Bao (HK)


Barlo (Italy / HK)
EXLD (Philippines)
Cath Love (HK)
Roes (HK)
Xeva (South Korea)
Bao (HK)
Gas (China)
Hopare (France)
Barlo (Italy / HK)
Egg Fiasco (Philippines)
Jay Flow (South Korea)

Erin Wooters Yip

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Artist interview: Kate MccGwire on her Venice Biennale debut and Asian influences

In an exclusive interview, British sculptor Kate MccGwire discusses her upcoming Venice Biennale exhibition and how experiences in China have influenced her work.


Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor without comparison. Her innovative use of materials and complicated creative process, which can involve years procuring the materials for a single artwork, is refreshingly different from anything else in the vast art landscape. MccGwire has honed her immense creative talent to make hauntingly beautiful and shockingly unique works of sculpture using humanely sourced feathers and natural objects, and the art world’s elite have indeed taken notice. The artist’s 2004 M.A. degree show at the Royal College of Art in London sold in entirety to the Saatchi Gallery, and there have been many commissions of her work on behalf of the National Trust and Arts Council UK. Her exhibition history reads like a list of the finest arts organizations and museums in Europe; given the quality and sheer ingenuity of her work, perhaps the only surprise is she is just now making her Venice Biennale debut.

In stark contrast to joining the buzzy excitement of Art Week in Hong Kong, Kate MccGwire is instead flying to Italy this week to begin work on her first Venice Biennale exhibition installation. In collaboration with the Berengo Glass Studio, MccGwire will create a large-scale floor installation sculpture in her signature medium of feathers as part of the 56th Venice Biennale in Glasstress 2015 Gotika. Furthermore, MccGwire reveals she will be working with crow feathers, as these birds are traditionally thought to be a bad omen, reflecting the ‘gothic’ theme of the show.

Sybaris, Kate MccGwire, 2015. Mixed media with crow feathers and quills in antique dome. Photo credit JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.

The artist’s work is on display for the first time in Hong Kong with Coates & Scarry at Art Central. Notably, MccGwire’s previous showings in Asia include the Cheongju International Craft Biennale 2013 in South Korea, and the Shenghua Art Centre in Nanjing, China for her residency exhibition in 2006.

On bringing MccGwire to Art Central, Coates & Scarry comment: “We are thrilled to be working with Kate MccGwire to exhibit these evocative works, such as ‘HASP’ and ‘SYBARIS’ to Art Central Hong Kong. Once we found out this prestigious groundbreaking fair was happening during the biggest week for art in Asia we knew it would be a fantastic opportunity to bring something a little different to the discerning eye of the Hong Kong / Asian collectors. The Art Central Hong Kong fair is positioning itself as bringing something fresh and exciting to the art market and Kate is very much one of the most innovative artists working today. As curators and a gallery we pride ourselves on pushing boundaries and giving the artist freedom to create extraordinary, innovative work. We are thrilled to showcase Kate MccGwire this year at our booth.”

Although MccGwire is a fiercely busy artist, she found time for an extensive chat with UrbanDNA before the opening of her solo show in Berlin and then jetting off to make on-site work for the Venice Biennale. In an exclusive interview for Style by Asia, she discusses this climactic point in her journey as an artist, her past residency experience in China, the distinct possibility of an upcoming gallery show in Hong Kong, and the fashion brand collaboration she has in the works. While she is mum on exactly which designer she has made plans with, there are apparently some beautiful things to come on the catwalk in Autumn/Winter 2016. Read on for the interview in its entirety below.

Find Kate MccGwire’s work at Coates & Scarry’s booth G2 at Art Central Hong Kong, March 14-16, 2015.

::::: INTERVIEW :::::

Kate MccGwire & UrbanDNA | March 3rd, 2015


Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?

KM: I am from Norfolk, which if you look at the U.K. map, it’s the bump on the right hand side of England. It’s a very rural area with quite a lot of wetlands and consequently a lot of rivers and lakes. My father built boats as his job on one of the [lakes], and so as children we spent a lot of time playing around in boats and being next to wildlife. The rivers there have no road access at all – it’s an amazing place because there’s no disruption of the wildlife. The rivers go through reed beds so you have a phenomenal amount of wildlife. My parents were constantly telling me that I was always very observant as a child, seeing lots of birds and animals that other people wouldn’t see, looking through the reeds and things. So I’ve always had an interest in animals and specifically birds. I was constantly collecting feathers as a child..

Secrete, 2014
Kate MccGwire, Secrete, 2014. Mixed media with magpie feathers. Photo credit Alexander Brattell. Image courtesy of the artist.


Oh? So feathers have always been this constant source of fascination for you?

KM: There was a painting that I made when I was 13 of a peacock feather. So yes, it is an ongoing thing. But I think natural objects and any sort of natural material is of interest. When you look at the water when it’s changing levels, you get different currents in the water that I’m always fascinated by. So they’ve always been in the back of my mind.

I moved to my studio in 2005… [which is] on a boat on the Thames. So again, we get this sort of lying alongside nature all the time. At the moment the river is running quite fast here in the winter, so you get some very beautiful but treacherous patterns in the water, as the currents could take you underneath if you fell in, but actually on the surface they look very beautiful. So I think of my work as being sort of beauty and treachery at the same time.

Kate MccGwire, Plight, 2014. Mixed media with rooster feathers. Photo credit JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.


Can you describe your creative training? Have you always been drawn to sculpture, or dabbled in other areas of the visual arts?

KM: I’ve done two degrees. My first degree was in interior design when I was 18. I did it because my parents were worried about me going to do an arts degree and what was the job at the end of it. They wanted me to do an arts course that had a vocational element to it. So I worked as an interior designer for quite a few years but always wanted to do fine art.

I decided when I was 32 to go back to college. I had young children at the time and my son was 6 weeks old, my second child, and I went back and did a part-time degree. So that was 2 days a week for 5 years. In fact, I took 6 years to do it, but it was meant to be a 5-year course – which I absolutely loved. I went there thinking I was going to be a painter… But actually when we did the three-dimensional part of the course, that was really where I realized that my forte was making and assembling things. It was during that degree course that I found that I wanted to do sculpture.

I then had a year teaching and I applied for the Royal College of Art for an M.A. and I got in. There’s only 15 people a year in sculpture in the Royal College and they had over 800 applicants so I was very lucky to get in – especially because I was a part-time student. I think I was the only one that they’d had in about 10 years that had studied part-time. So that was very exciting, and very different, and very intense for the 2 years during that course. That was full-time. And then when I graduated I moved to the studio. My work, my complete degree show, very luckily sold to the Saatchi Gallery and within weeks of the course ending at the RCA I had been commissioned to put up a piece at the County Hall of the Saatchi Gallery, which was on display for 6 months in the Galleon and Other Stories exhibition. So it was incredibly lucky.

Kate MccGwire, Brood, 2004. Photo credit Jonty Wilde. Image courtesy of the artist.
Kate MccGwire, Brood, 2004. Sculpture detail. Photo credit Jonty Wilde. Image courtesy of Kate MccGwire.


Regarding the materials you used in your MA degree show, how did you manage to source the 20,000 chicken wishbones used in the piece ‘Brood’? And what was the symbolism of these bones?

KM: Well in the UK the symbolism is – I don’t know what it means in China or if it means anything at all – but that particular bone is a bone you pull on a Sunday with your family when you’ve had your family roast, and the person who gets the largest part can make a wish. There’s only one of those bones on each chicken, and when I realized I was going to make a piece of work I’d been collecting them for awhile just from family and friends and had a few hundred, but then realized I wanted to do something on a much larger scale. So, I contacted catering and meat suppliers and talked to them about what I wanted to do and they kindly cut the wishbones off for me when they were boning the meat for restaurants. And so I was collecting about 7,000 bones a week which then had to be boiled up and washed and cleaned and dried. I’ve got a pretty amazing photograph of the 20,000 wishbones drying on my kitchen table.

A lot of the materials I use you cannot buy. It is a process of negotiation and coercing of people that have the things that I want, but they would normally throw away… For example, for the pigeon feathers, I send envelopes to pigeon racing people. I send them drawings and letters telling what I’m doing and thanking them for the letters they’ve sent me before. There will be a stamped addressed envelope so all they have to do is put the feathers they would normally throw away in the envelope and send it back to me in the post. But otherwise these things would just get thrown away, so I like the fact that it’s a recycling. Sometimes it alarms people, they think I’ve been going around killing thousands of birds to make the work, but it’s very important to me that every bird that I use is a form of recycling. They are birds that are disregarded.

Kate MccGwire, Brawl, 2014. Mixed media with pheasant feathers in antique dome. Photo credit JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.
Kate MccGwire, Covert, 2014. Mixed media with white dove/pigeon and swan feathers. Photo credit JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.


It is very labor intensive to establish these relationships to acquire your materials, so is the process itself of acquiring your materials an important aspect of your overall art?

KM: Yes, I would think so. I think it gives me time to think about what I want to make, so that ongoing collecting is a meditative thing in a way, with the storing and the sorting and categorization of the feathers as we put them into boxes. I have some assistants that will help me with that. It gives me a chance to look at them very closely and think about how I want to use them. So yes, it’s all part of the process… Really the collecting process is quite a major part for me but you don’t really realize that when you see the work. I never really know how to talk about it so that it doesn’t overpower the work but informs the process.

You’ve been working with feathers for many years now – does the medium of feathers have any particular constraints or limitations that have complicated your work?

KM: The biggest piece that I’ve made so far, which is a crow installation called Gyre, I probably collected feathers for that for 4 years, and it was only once I had enough feathers that I could embark upon that piece. Actually, the piece that I’m making for the Venice Biennale is made with crow feathers as well, and so we’re having a sorting session this week trying to get everything in the right wardrobe trimmed and ready to go because I’m going to Venice next week to make the piece in Venice.

Kate MccGwire, Gyre, 2012. Mixed media with crow feathers. 415D x 770W x 275H cm. Photo credit Tessa Angus. Image courtesy of the artist.


Can you talk more about your upcoming plans for the Venice Biennale?

KM: I’m doing a collaboration with the Berengo Glass Studio, and they do an exhibition each Biennale which is Glasstress, they have major artists from all over the world in it. I was very flattered to be asked to be part of it as well. I’ve been over there twice with the glass maestro, the specialists, and we’ve been working to make shapes which are organic forms that are curved, tubular, and bulbous. They are made in black glass and the surface is going to be etched and then sanded, and that produces a beautiful silk-like surface which looks remarkably like skin. So suddenly this shiny thing that’s very iridescent in a way is transformed into something that looks more human and skin-like. And these forms will be the starting point for me making a feather section for them, so it will be like an oil slick or a flood emanating from these tubular shapes… I’m not entirely sure what the size will be but I’m thinking 3.5 meters long and maybe a meter and a half wide. So it will be a floor-based piece.

Why did you choose crow for the Venice Biennale?

KM: Well, the theme of the exhibition is gothic and crows can be regarded as a bearer of bad omen.

What does the Venice Biennale represent to you going forward?

KM: Well I think it’s an amazing opportunity. Most of the work I’ve done thus far is in Europe – I’ve exhibited a lot in the U.K., and quite a bit now in France, Germany, and Holland. This is a fantastic opportunity to get my work to a wider audience than that, different curators. It’s a real leap in the dark, you just don’t know what’s going to happen, but something will happen. So it’s very exciting from that point of view.

Kate MccGwire, Sneer, 2014. Mixed media with pigeon feathers in antique cabinet. Commissioned by the National Trust and Arts Council UK. Photo credit Galerie Michael Haas. Image courtesy of the artist.


Can you tell us about your residency experience at the Shenghua Art Centre in Nanjing, China? What initially drew you to Asia?

KM: I was asked if I’d like to apply for this residency and in the end I applied with a tutor of mine… Although she was a tutor of mine we were around the same age and got on very well. We both applied for this residency and went out there together, and it’s a vast space. It’s a very wide-open space and I hadn’t really understood that it was going to be quite so cold. So it was quite difficult to work in the space, but there were some smaller studios as well, and we had the chance of making anything we wanted for an exhibition at the end. I think I was there for about 7 weeks in total so it wasn’t terribly long. But I really enjoyed walking around and just getting a sense of how people lived and the essence of it.

I did lots of different types of work. One of them was a video piece which I’ve never really shown. It was sitting underneath a bridge on the Yangtze River in a park which was where the old men went with their nightingales in baskets. You would hear the beautiful song of these birds and then suddenly that would be overwhelmed with the train noise from the bridge above. And then the noise of the train would disappear, and you’d get the noise of the ships going along on the Yangtze River and honking their horns and things. So it was this multilayered sound experience, which I thought was rather beautiful really. I love the idea of these men spending their days listening to their birds singing. And I liked the way the elderly Chinese were treated with great respect, it all seemed to be a rather beautiful…

The language barrier is actually quite interesting with China, and I still have my notebook from then. The technician of the Shenghua Art Centre didn’t speak any English at all, and of course I didn’t speak any Mandarin. He and I communicated entirely through drawing. So, I’d have my little notebook and say, what I need today is an angle grinder, or … He’d see me trying to make something and scuffle away and the next day he’d have made the tool that I absolutely needed. So our bond was an absolutely incredible bond, but through no language at all apart from drawing. So I really cherish that experience… He was so intuitively connected with what I did… When we said goodbye we didn’t quite cry, but we felt so close to each other and knew we couldn’t communicate over a distance because we had no shared language. He was so incredibly helpful and in tune with what I did. So I would love to have another technician like that!

Kate MccGwire, Field, 2006. Installation at the Shenghua Art Centre in Nanjing, China, made entirely of particularly long noodles. Image courtesy of the artist.


Consume 2006
Kate MccGwire, ‘Consume’, 2006. Red plastic shopping bags knitted into a Chinese flag, symbolic of the consumerism powering the country’s growth. The piece was made during the artist’s residency in Nanjing but censored by the Chinese authorities, banned from the exhibition. Image courtesy of the artist.


How did the experience affect your work? How did your work evolve during your residency in China?

KM: I couldn’t rely on any of the things I had worked with previously, because I wasn’t allowed to bring any bird element into the country. So, I couldn’t bring any wishbones with me to work with those, because they had the bird flu epidemic at the time. So that was quite a good thing actually, I had to make work in quite a different way. So initially I was walking around and looking at things that don’t exist in the UK, or do exist but in a different way. So I noticed there was a lot of red string all about, and when you talk about ‘red tape’ in the UK, it means that it’s a process that blocks things. For instance, legal processes – if you say something is tied up in red tape, it’s not possible for it to move forward. Which I thought was quite an interesting thing. There was lots of red tape tying up fishes in the market and red tape tying people’s bikes together – everything seemed to be tied up. So I made a big installation with the red string. And actually, part of the process of that was that the gallery was so, so very cold and making this enormous piece where I had to walk up and down the gallery and thread this string for it to be turned into rope kept me warm during the time I was in the gallery.

I was very fascinated by the fact that some things in China are considered lucky. Long noodles were something used in Nanjing for celebration and good luck. Through a translator I managed to talk to the local noodle maker and he made me these particularly long noodles that I could make an installation out of. So everyday he would make a specific quantity for me and I would go pick it up on a motorbike. Then I would lay these noodles out over large bamboo poles and during the day the noodles would dry and retain the form of this undulating under and over the bamboo poles. The next day I would remove the bamboo poles and then make another section. The length of this piece specifically related to how long I’d been at the residency, and it finished the day that I ended the residency and the exhibition was on. So I was looking at things that were considered auspicious or lucky or had specific meanings within Chinese life.

… It was a bit of culture shock as Nanjing is not terribly sophisticated, so it felt like I was experiencing a very authentic Chinese experience. I was in awe of the recycling processes and how everything is used and how wasteful we are in the UK. That’s what really struck me when I got back, that we’re incredibly wasteful. I liked the ingenuity of the Chinese in the way they recycled everything.

Kate MccGwire, Red Tape, 2006. Installation at the Shenghua Art Centre in Nanjing. Image courtesy of the artist.


Is Art Central in Hong Kong your first experience showing in Asia, aside from the Shenghua Art Centre in Nanjing?

KM: Well, I showed in South Korea. I had a solo show there the year before last as part of the South Korean craft and art biennale. That was an amazing experience. It was in an old tobacco factory, so absolutely vast, vast rooms. Each artist had a solo exhibition within these vast spaces. I made a big installation there and had about 20 pieces within the show. So that was an incredible experience. Quite difficult in a way because of the language barrier. I wasn’t really sure heading out there that everything was going to be organized properly or anything, so I was a bit worried. But actually, we were made to feel incredibly welcome and the show was organized particularly well. It was a very good experience.

… I’m really sad not to be coming out to Hong Kong, as I’ve never been!

Cheongju International Craft Biennale 2013 (1)
Kate MccGwire’s solo exhibition at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale, 2013, in South Korea. Image courtesy of the artist.


So your works are shown throughout Europe and now works are being taken physically to Hong Kong, have you ever encountered any technical difficulties in transporting your works? Are they fragile or particularly heavy?

KM: They’re not very heavy but they are fragile. I have had a problem when I took something to the States that a sniffer dog was allowed to have a go at one of my sculptures. So it got spoilt – it was able to be mended but it did get spoilt. They are fragile. The thing with feathers, they can be stroked and preened back into place on the whole unless they’ve been really badly damaged. But yes, it is a slight concern.

Were there any physical limitations that determined which works were brought to Art Central? How were the works shown in Hong Kong chosen?

KM: I made 3 new pieces for Art Central and to a certain extent size was an issue. So they are smaller pieces of work generally. Obviously I make absolutely enormous pieces as well, so it was impossible to bring something on that sort of scale. I think it’s an adventure for Coates and Scarry to see what will happen in this new art fair. I just wish I was coming out to see it and to get an idea of the scale of it. I have no idea, really.

Kate MccGwire sculpture
Kate MccGwire, Swell, 2014. Mallard speculum feathers on archival board. Photo credit JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.


Can you describe your studio setup? You mention you have assistants how many assistants do you have and how involved are they in the production of your sculptures?

KM: It depends. I have two assistants who help me on a regular basis and they tend to be in Monday and Tuesday. They generally trim and sort and categorize the feathers and prepare them for use so that when I’m ready to make a piece, I have everything there on hand, in the right boxes. Otherwise you’d pick up something and it would be the wrong shape and you’d have to find something else, and it would make the whole process a lot slower. So generally, yes, I make all the work, I just get assistants for preparing for the work to be made.

How close is your studio to the city?

KM: It takes me about 40 minutes to get to the city from where I am, so I’m in a very beautiful and quiet and remote space, but it’s not so far from the city.

CLEAVE (sketch)
Kate MccGwire, process sketch for ‘Cleave’ sculpture. Image courtesy of the artist.
Cleave, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Cleave, 2012. Mixed media with dove feathers in antique cabinet. Photo credit Tessa Angus. Image courtesy of the artist.


Can you describe your creative process?

KM: I do a lot of drawings. It’s difficult to draw in three dimensions so I can draw visuals of what I think a piece will look like from one side, or maybe two sides. However to make drawings that actually connect and are three dimensional is quite difficult and I don’t do that on the computer – I find it much slower on the computer. Each piece is individual so it would be a waste of time I think to try to do it on the computer. So I do lots of drawings before I make a piece and then I normally find an antique cabinet or dome, and then I make work that will fit that space, and make the work look like it’s been trapped. So there’s very little space between the dome and the glass sides and the piece itself. So it looks like it’s squirming around within that space. I never make a piece of work and then try and find the dome, because it would be impossible to find one that absolutely fits the shape that I’ve made… I want the shape of the enclosure to really impact the shape of the piece.

Kate MccGwire sculpture
Kate MccGwire, Sybaris. Mixed media with crow feathers and quills in antique dome. Photo credit JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.


What meaning does this cramped enclosure carry for you? As you have called it in the past, why do you want this feeling of ‘suffocation’?

KM: Entrapment. I want the piece to look like it’s writhing, that it’s tormented within a smaller space, that it’s alive and it wants to get out. I think of these pieces as being a three dimensional manifestation of a state of mind, so constantly, slightly in turmoil, but beautiful, but anguished at the same time. There’s this constant sort of aesthetic and discomfort at the fact they look alike but they’re trapped.

When I look at your work, it feels very textural, beautiful, haunting, and also luxurious. It has inspired fashion designers before, notably Helmut Lang in 2013. Who are your favorite fashion designers, and would you ever consider a crossover brand collaboration?

KM: Well, funny enough I am in the process of organizing that at the moment with a designer that I absolutely love. But I can’t tell you who it is until it’s all announced. It’s a secret right now… it will be part of the clothing but it will also be part of their catwalk launch for Autumn/Winter 2016. It’s very exciting but it hasn’t all been signed and sealed yet so I better not! The exciting thing for me is that it’s a beautiful make of very, very subtle clothing and beautiful fabrics and all the things that I try to achieve with my work – it encapsulates it in clothing, so that’s terribly exciting.

Kate MccGwire sculpture
Kate MccGwire, Hasp, 2015. Mixed media with pheasant feathers. Photo courtesy of JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.


How does your latest work represent something new and exciting for you?

KM: The work is always developing. I’m using more pheasant feathers at the moment and enjoying the brilliance of those colors. It’s amazing to me, the pheasants are shot for sport and for food and the amount of meat you get off one bird is tiny. Yet, all these beautiful feathers are just discarded. So I’m getting my feathers for this from gamekeepers who would be throwing them away. And they’re absolutely stunning, so to make something permanent with these absolutely stunningly beautiful feathers that would just be chucked away… It seems completely the right thing to do, and I’m reveling in the color. One of the pieces that I’m showing with Coates and Scarry in Hong Kong is made from pheasant feathers and it’s called Hasp. There will be 9 pieces in total at Art Central, three of them are new and the rest I’ve done over a period of time. Hasp and Sybaris are absolutely recently finished so I’m very excited to be showing such new work there.

Besides pheasants and crows, are there any other birds that are catching your interest lately?

KM: We have a particular economy here in the UK of green ring-necked parakeets. They’re not indigenous to our country but the story goes they were used in a film at Shepperton Studios and they escaped, and there’s now a massive colony here of these birds, and they molt quite a lot. So I find feathers but not a reliable enough source yet to make something. They are – I don’t know what color you’d call them, a sort of lime green and the tails a bluey-green. They would be quite exotic to do something with but obviously only if I can get enough.

Kate MccGwire, Perihelion, 2014. Mixed media with pheasant feathers in antique dome Commissioned by the National Trust and Arts Council UK. Photo credit JP Bland. Image courtesy of the artist.
Kate MccGwire, FINE (Fucked-Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional), 2012. Mixed media with crow feathers in antique cabinet. Photo credit Eduardo Leal. Image courtesy of the artist.

You seem to love birds so much, do you keep birds yourself?

KM: No, we’ve got enough birds on the river here. With just the drop of a crumb into the water, suddenly I’m surrounded by geese and ducks and seagulls, coots, grues. There’s a phenomenal amount of birds around here. We even have a kingfisher that comes by, which is quite rare in this area.

What’s next for you, and what can we look forward to regarding your showings in Asia?

KM: Weirdly yesterday I was asked to do something in Japan and I might be doing a solo show in Hong Kong next year, but I don’t know the details enough to be able to talk openly about that yet. I’m going to come to Hong Kong I think in April and have a look at the space. So there’s things in the pipeline.

I’ve got so many things on at the moment. This Friday, March 6th, I open my solo show in Berlin, and there are 30 pieces in that show. I’ve then got the Venice Biennale, and then I have a 2-person show organized in Bristol in June with a fantastic artist called Peter Randall-Page, who I’ve admired my entire life. So that’s a great delight to be showing with him. I’ve got shows in London during Frieze, so it’s all ‘go’. So, I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going to happen next!

Erin Wooters Yip

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Street artist interview: Victoriano on painting the town – Hong Kong

Victoriano shares with UrbanDNA his artistic process, penchant for painting in the fair harbor city, and what it’s really like to make art without permission.


An ongoing enigma on the streets of Hong Kong, the (mostly) illicitly created paintings by Victoriano transform their urban environment with expertly-honed, stylized surrealism. With high caliber street artwork still a relatively rare occurrence in Hong Kong, Victoriano is among the most ubiquitous of the city’s street painters and stands alone in his ability to quickly execute large-scale, painterly aerosol images as unsanctioned public artworks. Based in Marbella, Spain and experienced in luxury branding, the artist shares with UrbanDNA his artistic process, penchant for painting in the fair harbor city, and what it’s really like to make art without permission.

Victoriano is showing ‘legitimate’ artworks in Hong Kong at illicit / legit, a group showing of 16 artists whose creative practices all contain an illicit element. The show opens on March 10th, 6-10pm, and is on till March 15th.

illicit / legit street art exhibition opening

March 10th, 6-10pm

LOT 5  

No. 5 Staunton Street

Central, Hong Kong

Victoriano in Mongkok, Hong Kong.


::::: INTERVIEW :::::

UrbanDNA & Victoriano | March 2015

Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?

I was born in the north of Spain, but have spent some years in different cities across Spain and England. I started drawing as a kid, my dad was very good at drawing but always discouraged me from becoming an artist, he would say they all die poor, so I never had any training as a child. As a teen I was living in a small city divided by the rail tracks, and had to cross these tracks to go to school everyday as the bridges were too far away. There were a few paintings from the first generation of graffiti writers of the city and I loved how the paintings stayed there over the years for everyone to look at them. I guess I then wanted to do the same and leave something for me and the future generations. Professionally I did a bit of everything graphics related, 3d modelling, animation, branding, for over 10 years, specializing in design for luxury brands. Then I quit everything to became some sort of entrepreneur, it was only recently when I started pushing my personal artwork further, and I guess it reflects what I have done until now.

Can you describe your creative training? You have a unique ability to create photo-realistic imagery from aerosol paint – how did you develop this technique?

I remember wanting to paint something realistic with spray paint as a teen and couldn’t understand how, I was more of an illustrator so everything was line-based and shadows, so it was impossible to get all the fine detail that way. It took me awhile to realize that I had to paint with light to achieve realistic results, meaning dark colors first, light colors last, and a whole new way to look at things. For the last 12 years I have been developing this technique, how to decompose anything into simple light shapes, as opposed to complicated shadow work that looked dirty and too soft for my liking.

Illicitly created work by Victoriano in Mongkok, Hong Kong.


How does an illicit street practice fit into your overall artistic practice? What came first for you – the street or the studio?

Street came first obviously, all I wanted is to paint and didn’t have any ambition for becoming a studio artist until recently. Painting walls without permission gives me this amazing feeling of freedom that I can’t get from studio work. Studio work gives me money so I can keep painting walls when I please.

What inspires you? Who are your favorite artists?

I’m hugely inspired by luxury brands and how they have become so strong in a declining economy, going up at an exponential rate, I see them as the gods of today, visually striking and powerful. I don’t have many favorite artists, to say one technically I love the work of Craig Mullins.

Can you describe your process for creating street art? What comes first, the content or the location?

Location first works for me best at the moment, I can see the space and work with it. I have done it the other way around and it’s great to come up with crazy concepts but then finding the locations is a very difficult task.

‘Panda’ by Victoriano, illicitly created at the Mongkok Wall of Fame in Hong Kong.


What brings you to paint in Hong Kong? How often do you travel through Hong Kong and Asia?

My father-in-law lives in Hong Kong, so I have been visiting for the last 6 years. In these travels I have made some great friends and feel like home every time I go. Last year I started Graffiti4hire Hong Kong with a few friends, a Hong Kong version of a company I founded in England 6 years ago. So now I have more excuses to travel to Hong Kong and Asia often to participate in different projects.

 How is the graffiti scene in Hong Kong different from other cities you paint?

It is quite different as most of the artists are expats, with a few amazing local artists as well. This makes a very interesting mix and although it is a small scene there are always great artists visiting and leaving something around Soho.

 Where is your favorite spot to paint in Hong Kong thus far, and why?

Hollywood Road, I love it, mostly illegal but the juxtaposition of old and new is awesome with so many quirky walls to play with.

‘Reclining Lady’ by Victoriano, in Central, Hong Kong. Commissioned through Graffiti4hire Hong Kong.


 How fast do you work? How long did it take you to create the ‘Sashay’ Reclining Lady and the Eyes on Shing Wong Street? What about the Panda at the Mongkok Wall of Fame?

The ‘Reclining Lady’ took me a day, rain included, the ‘Eyes on Shing Wong Street’ was done in only a few minutes and the ‘Panda’ in Mongkok just a bit longer.

 Do you see a meaningful difference between illicit and permitted pieces within your practice?

The main difference is the time I can put on each. Normally illegal pieces are painted fast so they don´t have a lot of detail and sometimes not a lot of thought.

In this era of technology, when work is documented photographically and shared online with the graffiti culture, are you concerned with how long an illicit work remains in situ? After documentation, does remaining ‘up’ even matter at all?

For me it depends of what kind of work. I like the street pieces to stay up for everyone to see when they walk or drive around. The work on abandoned buildings, etc, is there for a few selected people to see, mostly other artists, and I’m not very concerned if it stays up or not as far as I have a photo.

The illicitly created ‘Eyes on Shing Wong Street’ in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.


Where do you see as the graffiti cultural capital of the world – or is there one at all?

Possibly Berlin or Miami.

 In your experience, what are difficulties and complications of an illicit street art practice? How have these constraints been limiting?

It does stop me from painting in the town I live for example. I try not to do illegal street pieces as it’s a relatively small place and everyone will know it’s me, but it’s relative, as sometimes I will be glad to pay the fine if I would be caught if the piece deserves it.

Do you worry about apprehension by authorities or intervening citizens while you are painting in Hong Kong? Is this a concern in any particular city you have worked?

I do worry about the authorities anywhere I go, I’m amazed about people that don’t worry at all. I wish I was like them but I’m not. The response from the people in Hong Kong is usually great, it is like somehow what I’m doing is legal. Recently I had a round of applause from people in the nearby bars after finishing a quick painting on Hollywood road.

Another illicitly created artwork by Victoriano on Shing Wong Street in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.


Have you ever experienced legal issues for creating work without permission in the public space? How was this resolved?

I had a couple of incidents, the first time when I was 16, painting the outside of a local swimming pool. They took me to court but everything got sorted out as the owners didn’t want to press charges after they saw the sketches of how the piece was going to look. After that I had been more careful and only got caught another time, lucky for me it was a full detailed mural and the officers didn’t know if to arrest me or not as they were impressed with the work. They finally arrested me but let me go in a few hours.

Is travel and the ubiquity of your imagery in different places an important component of your practice?

I think so, as mentioned before I don’t do much where I live so traveling is a must, plus I love to see and get seen in new places.

Victoriano street art graffiti
A quickly rendered illicit portrait by Victoriano in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.


Do you abide by any street art ‘code’ or etiquette? How do you evaluate a site’s propriety for displaying your work?

I wouldn’t paint without permission on people’s houses or historic monuments and I prefer displaying my work where it doesn’t annoy the owner too much, especially if it’s private property. I like to think that it brings value to someone else’s wall, but acting without the owner’s consent you can never know how they will react to it.

What’s next for you? What inspires you now, and where are you working?

I am working on my first big solo show to be held in June, consisting in loads of designer shopping bags with a Victoriano twist and meticulously framed. The show will be held in Marbella, Spain, an amazing place where I’ve lived for the last year and a half. In the meantime I will be painting a few big murals with the council’s consent around here, and will be visiting China, hopefully Hong Kong in the next month or so for a new project.

 Erin Wooters Yip

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