In the Studio with Kristy Chan

The holographic works of Hong Kong artist Kristy Chan explore notions of displacement, movement, and change. We met with Kristy to talk a little bit about her artistic practice, influences, and where she began her journey.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

Possibly when I was first surrounded by artists on the first day of Slade and I felt like I belonged, and like we were a group of artists. The word “artist” somewhat intimidates me; there’s this common perception of differentness and mysteriousness that I don’t identify with. Being surrounded by fellow artists made me feel grounded, that I’ve found my identity. 

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

I’m originally from Hong Kong. My upbringing was unfortunately mainly about grades, occasional piano lessons that I hated, and rugby. I always enjoyed crafting and drawing but my art teacher at school told me I wasn’t creative enough to be an artist. Funnily enough, the only reason why I left for the UK was that my Chinese Literature wasn’t up to standards for the top universities at home, so my parents sent me here for A-levels. A-level art was where I fell in love with painting and have discussed extensively with my art teacher from boarding school in the UK about how the rigid curriculum kills artists.

Growing up in such a fast-paced city charged with constant change has influenced my work, which explores the notions of movement, change in my surroundings and the displacement of self. My paintings are often like a wonky jigsaw, pieced together from completely different puzzle boxes of memories and thoughts. It’s kind of like if I were different store owners putting up different neon signs and the photograph you take of the street full of neon signs is my painting (if you google Hong Kong Neon Lights?) Does that make any sense?

Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong The Medium.com

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. Have you gone through the traditional route of art school and what was your experience? 

I went to Slade for my Bachelor’s immediately after I graduated from high school in 2016. Art school was very relaxed. The people were lovely, we just sat around, chatted a lot, ate, snacked, drank loads and made art. It allowed me to really focus on my own practice and to find my own voice and I learned a lot from just being around artists at school. 

What’s the message of your work? Are there themes/narratives/purpose? 

I think that ultimately my works are about appreciating things around us. People are very hard to satisfy these days. My paintings mostly depict man-made things. Bathtubs, trains, restaurant food (sashimi and pizza mainly), it’s pretty awesome that we can easily access these things because someone went out of their way to make our lives so convenient (maybe too convenient)  and everything around us deserves to be appreciated. 

Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

The idea of displacement. Displacement of the body, of thought, place, colour, but not in a troubling way. It’s like, the first person who thought of putting chilli flakes in chocolate, weird but great. 

Who and what are your greatest influences? 

Ancient Greek vases, Heidi Bucher, Albert Oehlen, Sigmar Polke, Elmgreen and Dragset. 

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

I don’t plan my works because I know that they will not end up looking like what I had in mind an hour ago or two months after. They keep changing and I have a hard time keeping track myself. 

As I said before, appreciating things around you and also appreciating weird and random thoughts that you have, because that is creativity right there, and you just have to harvest it.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you stick to one medium? Do you experiment? Do you see any parameters to your work?

Life’s been really nice to me, so I just make work to record and document these snippets of wholesomeness. Every work has a story or a collection of personal stories and it’s hard to get the full narrative because it’s so personal. I’ve got a painting of me admiring a beautiful staircase that leads to a terrifying dentist appointment on Euston Road and another about falling off a hammock and all the things I’ve experienced in rural Finland. 

Apart from painting, I also love making etchings, but sadly I don’t have the equipment for it at the moment. I’ve also been thinking of making another stop-motion animation, just not quite sure what yet. 

Wake up, have breakfast, paint. Leave life admin to the afternoon. I’m very productive in the morning as I wake up at 5:30-6:30 am every day (mental clock). So I try to get some painting action going before I do anything else. It makes me happy and sets the day right.

Amphora Pods, 2020

Oil on canvas
120 x 90 cm

Nail Eyes, 2019

Oil on canvas
120 x 99 cm

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

Good breakfast, warm water, good mental health. 

What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)

I’d love to do more residencies as I love to self-displace. Responding and adapting to new environments are so fun to me. I try to achieve that by moving furniture around every 1-2 months at home. 

How has your art practice been affected by self-isolation?

Now that I don’t have to get ready in the morning to go to lectures, I’ve actually gained more structure to my day and the momentum to make work, as my studio is inside the flat. I don’t get to experience and make memories as much, but I find myself going into my memory achieve, which is rather lovely. 

Are you creating new work while social distancing?

Yes, I’m making a lot more work than I used to as I’m less busy!

The Bathtub I've Always Wanted No. 1, 2018

Oil on canvas
80 x 60 cm

How are you staying creative?

I just let my brain do what it does and wait for it to give me random thoughts that I want to act on. Looking out of the window helps too. I love people watching. I’ve been thinking of painting a series about me becoming my furniture as I spend so much time on it now.