【Intimate Portrait】The Life of an Artist / Halley Cheng

(2016 March) Some people are merely alive, and some people live their lives. We often imagine artists to be in the latter category - stereotypically romantic, struggling and poor. Not in our minds Halley Cheng, who is young but already quite successful. “I don’t take what I have achieved so far for granted. There is always give and take, win and lose that other people don’t see.” says Halley. Quite so, especially in the boundless realm of artistic pursuit.  


The present

This month, Halley will be presenting two of his latest works at “Art Basel Hong Kong”. On the day we visited his JCCAC studio at L7-01, he was full steam ahead finishing one of the works to be exhibited. We were shocked to see real gaping holes on the canvas, but he calmly reassured us that “they are just for growing some salad leaves – they will form part of the work.”


Behind the canvas, an artificial hydroponic system will be installed to grow some salad leaves. “I am inspired by the movie The Life of Pi, especially the ‘island’ section metaphoric of jungle laws and karma." says Halley. Translated onto the canvas are his views on the economics of supply and demand, fair trade, global food crisis and other social issues.


The past

Halley Cheng is now a sought after “brand”. His artworks are privately collected by The Philippe Charriol Foundation and the Bank of China, and hold auction records at Sotheby’s. He is winner of The Philippe Charriol Foundation Art Competition 2006 (when he was still a second year university student), Jakarta Art Award 2010 and the Hong Kong Young Artist 2012 Grand Prize. He has been actively participating in solo and group exhibitions at local and international art exhibitions and fairs, including “Art HK”, "The Past is Continuing” presented by Hong Kong Heritage Museum, “Art15 London” and “Art Basel Hong Kong” where his works were first featured in 2013.


“Limitations provoke creativity.” Halley likes to set parameters to push his creativity. He is deeply influenced by the techniques and philosophies of traditional Chinese painting, which he had studied from a young age but allegedly not in a very structured manner. He admitted that he knew little about western fine art medium, such as acrylic, watercolour, installation and multimedia art, before studying for a Bachelor Degree in fine arts at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Chinese traditional painting usually adopts a generic or universal view on the subject matter, thereby rendering it rather formulaic. What I attempt to do is to go beyond what Chinese painting represents by focusing on the uniqueness of the present. It is also a journey of reflection on myself, my identity and my relationship with Chinese painting as a genre.”


The future

Halley does not paint self-portraits. “I paint with my left brain (rational mind) and seldom project personal emotions into my works. Through art making, I express my views on or interpretation of issues or problems that interest me.” That covers a wide range of subjects and creative medium including painting, photography and installation. Like Pi, he sets sail on a journey into the unknown.


As an independent “full-time” artist, Halley produces on average 15 to 20 pieces of new work each year. However, his ambition extends much further beyond this scale of operation. “I have been thinking about the scale of development for Hong Kong artists.” With scale, he was referring not only to the physical width and height of artworks but also their penetrative effect on society. Halley is concerned not only about his own career development, but the overall arts ecology in Hong Kong and the possibilities for artists’ development. “Artists with international influence, like Ai Weiwei, operate not only as an individual artist but as a business with sizeable human and capital support. That is mind blowing.”


 “How deep and far can Hong Kong artists reach with their creativity?” In the artistic world, perhaps the possibilities are only limited by the artist’s own imagination, potential and tenacity.


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