THIS EPISODE, ORA-ORA VISITS HONG KONG ARTIST SZELIT CHEUNG'S STUDIO, AS HE REFLECTS ON HIS JOURNEY AS A LOCALLY BASED ARTIST.
Odetti Tse as Odetti
Szelit Cheung as Szelit
Odetti: I’m very happy to be visiting your studio today. I have always loved going to different artists’ studios. It is a very rare opportunity to be able to have a behind-the-scenes view of an artist’s creative process and working environment.
Szelit: Hello, everyone! I am Cheung Szelit. I specialise in oil painting, pencil sketching, and multimedia photography work. My artworks typically explore the relationship between presence and emptiness utilising simple forms, colour, and light.
Odetti: Did you already know you were going to be an artist when you were a child?
Szelit: When I was really young, I loved painting and drawing. It was a very compelling hobby for me. I was fortunate enough to have a good art teacher when I was in secondary school. He gave me a lot of insight on drawing techniques and theories and introduced me to the concept of being an artist. It was at that time that I started thinking whether I could turn my passion into a career. It started this way.
Odetti: You went on to university after graduating from secondary school. It seems that you were very clear about what you wanted to do. Did you know you would want to commit to studying art in university? You studied in RMIT.
Szelit: The most challenging part of the whole process was learning to face yourself. At school, you have teachers who would guide you and give you good advice and help you develop your work. You no longer have all these when you graduate. You are responsible for every step of the creative process. You would have to think by yourself, to find your own direction, and to develop your own work. When there is no one with you in this daunting process, it’s very easy to feel disoriented and helpless. I did, for some time, doubt my abilities and my confidence in myself wavered. I feel like a lot of artists have had experienced this stage in their lives. However, I do believe that this is a rite of passage. As the Chinese saying goes, we need to “cross the river by feeling the stones.” This is a way for us to grow and develop as artists. Throughout the process, you can gain new knowledge and see things in a different light, which would allow yourself to develop the necessary skills to solve your own problems. If you didn’t tackle this problem properly, it would be very hard for you to continue with your path. Once you get more practice, you would know what you really wanted to do.
In Hong Kong, you have to accept the reality. In my opinion though, “reality” can be an element in my own artworks. When I was finding part-time work in university, I would make sure that my jobs were art-related. My fascination with biaohua began when I was at university. I did 2-D drawings most of the time, but framing paintings is an important part of my work. A good frame can accentuate the beauty of a painting and make it feel more complete. I started to frame my own paintings. My artist friends, knowing that I have framing skills, will ask me to help them with it. They tend to come to me for help because I am an artist as well. They know I can help them frame their paintings using an artist’s perspective. From what I know, most handymen who frame paintings out there are not trained in art.
Odetti: Other than framing, you also teach art.
Szelit: Yes, I believe I have been teaching for around 20 years already, having started my teaching career in 2010. I have taught painting in art schools, I have also had the opportunity to teach the mentally handicapped and the elderly at Tung Wah Group facilities. These new experiences all have had a profound impact in my life. I have been teaching a very elderly student recently which had to take a pause because of the pandemic. He is my oldest student, and he is 105 years old. He is in a wheelchair and his hand shakes when he draws. But I can clearly see his passion and determination. He is very proactive and knows what he wants. I feel inspired by him and I can feel both our creative juices flowing when we paint.
Odetti: You have four artworks that you would like to show us that represent you as an artist.
Image: Szelit Cheung’s Artwork — Mercy (Image courtesy of Ora-Ora and the artist)
Szelit: This is a portrait of a weeping Virgin Mary. I like to observe religious sculptures when I visit churches or museums, I love their facial structures and the various emotions they convey. I especially love sculptures like the crying Virgin Mary. You can see clearly the light reflecting off of the tears, the tears are sparkling, signifying hope. At the same time, her facial expression is mournful. There is a strong sense of conflict and tension between the feelings of hope and pessimism. I wanted to present this kind of feeling through my artwork. This artwork directly affected my works that follow. It made me want to create artworks that can tug at the audience’s heartstrings and can make them reflect and think.
ABOUT ORA-ORA LIVE
Each week, Ora-Ora will speak with various members of the art community - including artists, curators, academics and other professionals working in the cultural sector - to address topics of interest related but not limited to Hong Kong's art and cultural scene. The series aims to be an outlet for creativity and a means to connect with peers who share similar interests. The episodes will also available live on Ora-Ora's Instagram (@galerieoraora), Facebook (Galerie Ora-Ora) and later on Ora-Ora's YouTube channel.