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Recent art reviews & articles on exhibitions by AICAHK members will be posted here. Reviews will be published in the original English or Chinese.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of AICAHK.

Lok Ka-chung: Wandering in the Labyrinth of Stamps
by John BATTEN
at 10:50pm on 19th March 2018

1. Lok's drawing on envelope with stamp.
2.-3. Lok Ka-chun drawing in Green Wave, February 2018.
4. An installation of envelopes in the shape of China. 

 (原文以英文發表,評論碧波押之〈郵謎浪蕩 - 駱家驄給香港的一萬張手繪封〉展。)

Traditionally, there has been debate between the merits of ‘art’ versus ‘craft’. Generally, the art world itself has given higher status to ‘art’ over ‘craft’, arguing that an artist has an individually creative vision whereas an artisan follows the traditions of his or her craft. However, to achieve an artistic project sculptors would rely on the anonymous expertise of workers in a foundry to cast a bronze sculpture. Or, nameless master printers would assist artists unfamiliar with printing techniques to pull a print and achieve a higher level of technical competence. Nowadays, the art world has accepted that the fabrication of artworks conceived by established artists relies on the expertise of other professionals and assistants in the art-making process. Increasingly, artists will jointly list those professionals as co-collaborators in art projects. Greater automation has also made the work of an artisan rarer. Consequently, ‘handmade’ now has great prestige and is replacing the notion that handmade items are mere folk craftsmanship.

Nearly a decade ago, I was asked to edit a book on architectural model-making. I was handed a manuscript by its author, King Y. Chung, with the pragmatic title, My 32 Years of Model Making in Hong Kong. Although the text was modest, Chung, myself and the publisher spent great time adjusting the text and developing a story. When the book was finally published in 2012, the title had now become My 36 Years of Model Making in Hong Kong! The book showed many images of the architectural models that Chung had carefully made. Seen through these different residential, commercial and engineering models an alternative history of Hong Kong’s urban development was portrayed. Underlying this presentation was Chung’s skill and artistic vision as a professional architectural model-maker, whose beautiful and skillfully constructed models expressed a unique art-form. His work is as skilled as any artist’s own 3-dimensional constructions. An example of his advanced modeling skills is the “exploded view” of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which can be seen in the main lobby of the building.

If Chung expresses a version of Hong Kong’s built history through his architectural models, then the remarkable stamp-on-envelope collection of Lok Ka-chung with his added illustrations gives an alternative visual history of Hong Kong and the mainland. Lok’s collection is so large that he exhibited his work in three phases at Green Wave Art in Yau Ma Tei. Lok’s skills as an illustrator were honed when he worked in Hong Kong’s jewellery industry. Now aged 70 years, Lok has spent the last forty years collecting stamps and adding related illustrations on the envelopes on which stamps are attached.

His subjects cover China and Hong Kong’s major events, festivals and anniversaries and feature leading political and social figures. Predominant is the depiction of Sun Yat-sen, the first President of modern China after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. The story of Sun and his efforts to raise funds in Asia, USA and Europe for the armed overthrow of the Qing Dynasty is succinctly told by Lok in a series of illustrated envelopes. He expands on that past history by depicting modern China and the many upheavals that have governed its history – including such controversial events as the recent Umbrella protests.

Lok’s art derives from commercial illustration techniques, but the boldness of his approach and his eclectic portrayal of life in Hong Kong and China gives his collection more than just archival or documentary interest. His artistic style has great personal expression and the sheer bulk of this forty-year project makes Lok’s collection a unique compendium of Hong Kong. It is akin to the China Trade paintings of the 18th and 19th-century – the artisans who painted life in Hong Kong, Macau and Canton evolved in history to be seen as respected painters. No doubt, Lok Ka-chung will similarly be honoured for his alternative portrayal of our contemporary times.

This review was originally published in Artomity, March 2018

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