【Intimate Portrait】The artistic nomads / Dirty Paper

(2016 September) Severe shortage of land and space is one of the most challenging issues faced by the inhabitants of this city. Except for the lucky minority who are studio owners, most artists, especially developing ones, face the same uncertainties shared by all renters. Many are like artistic nomads who periodically relocate their studios; like herding nomads and economic migrants, they move and flow with resources and opportunities to chase their dreams.


Established in 2010, Dirty Paper is co-founded by a pair of artist friends, namely Chan Wai Lap (Ah Lap) and Yau Kwok Keung (Ah Keung), who specialise in illustration and design. They have used various studio facilities in the past 6 years. Their current stop is a return to JCCAC, establishing studio in unit L6-14. Embracing the reality of periodic studio “migration” and the uncertainties (and opportunities) of being an artist, they seem to be flourishing thanks to their positive attitude, gumption, resourcefulness and ability for creative problem solving.


J: The name “Dirty Paper” is rather intriuging!


D: Illustration and drawing are our practice. Our thoughts and ideas are expressed through sketching and brushstrokes on the paper, rendering the blank sheet no longer “flawless”. Hence, “dirty” paper.


J: Art making is perceived to be extremely personal and individual. Curiously, you have always worked as a two-person collective. How do you manage to work together? Don’t you fight and have arguments? 


D: Of course we are often at each other’s throats when it comes to artistic differences! (Laugh) We each have high expectations for ourselves and our art and naturally one does not want to compromise for fear of losing his individual style and character. However, we are also in a team and have to learn to collaborate. Synergy has always worked well between us, which is amazing. Whenever we have a new project opportunity, we will firstly put our heads together to decide the theme, then go off independently to come up with our own ideas and interpretation, which we then discuss until a consensus is reached, before working together to create the actual piece.


J: It has been 6 years since the establishment of Dirty Paper. You have participated in no less than 20 group and solo exhibitions, including “Affordable Art Fair”, “Affordable Art Basel”, “2015 New Art Wave Expo”, “Yesterday’s”, “Dirty Classroom”, “Gone But Not Forgotten”, etc. How did you embark on this remarkable journey?


D: Thanks to “JCCAC Handicraft Fair”. When it started a trend and movement back in 2010, we were graduates from Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI) and studied Graphic Information Design. It seemed a natural progression for us to want to sell our designs by printing them on simple products (like tote bags, mini books and stickers) in order to achieve wider exposure. So we made our debut at “JCCAC Handicraft Fair” in 2010 and were pleasantly surprised and much encouraged to see people actually adoring our designs. That really gave us the impetus to continue pursuing the creative arts.


To increase public exposure of our illustrations and drawings, we actively explored exhibition possibilities. We can still remember the first exhibition at Kubrick APM. With nothing to lose and tons of sincerity and enthusiasm, we proactively approached them with a proposal for collaboration – and luckily it got accepted.


J: You have “migrated” with your studio once every few years. Can you share your experinece with us?


D: For budding artists like us, finding space for creative work is not easy but so necessary. After we graduated from HKDI, when Ah Keung was studying for a degree in Communication Design at The Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (Poly U), we became quite skillful at making use of vacant timeslots of the lecture rooms as our makeshift studio! We knew that we needed a better solution, but the rent for a studio at Fo Tan was out of our reach and Kwai Chung was affordable but a bit inconvenient in location and environment. So when we heard about JCCAC’s open invitation for “arts student/graduate” tenancy and discovered that we were eligible for application (Ah Keung was still studying at Poly U while Ah Lap had just graduated in Visual Communication from Birmingham City University by distance learning), we submitted a proposal, which after assessment luckily got through into the waiting list. After some further waiting, we were offered a studio unit.


Knowing that JCCAC’s limited number of “art student/graduate” studios, offered at concessionary rent, carry a maximum term of 2 years, we started actively looking for our next studio well before our tenancy expired. When we heard about tenancy opportunities at Foo Tak Building (FTB), we made enquiries and went through the usual application procedures: application submission, interview, etc. We were granted a 2 year tenancy, with mandatory annual reports to be submitted about our development and studio use. So we moved into FTB, enjoyed our 2 year tenancy and 1 year renewal, then had to move out to allow other budding artists the opportunity use the studio. We knew it would happen as the FTB management had explained early on that the tenancy there would only be one of the stepping stones along our artistic development path. So when we heard JCCAC was opening application for “artist/art group” tenancies, we jumped at the opportunity to submit a proposal. We made it into the waiting list after assessment, then waited around a year before a suitable studio was available. We have just moved back and is still settling in.


J: So now, are you no longer a fledgling and ready to fly?


D: We did gain plenty of valuable experience. During our time at FTB, we initiated an “Open Day” event to enhance public engagement in the arts and got to be acquainted with professionals in the fields of curation, writing/editing and journalism, which helped open up opportunities for us to collaborate with galleries, publishers and commercial organisations. We even plucked up our courage to make a cold call to a commercial gallery to propose a solo exhibition. Our effort was fruitful and culminated in the exhibition “Yesterday’s”.


J: You must be rather good at proposal writing! Do you have any secret strategies for success?


D: I wish there is a shortcut! But may be sincerity is important. While aesthetic judgement and personal taste on art is subjective, it is relatively easy to see whether a lot of serious thought and sincere effort have been invested in preparing a proposal, as demonstrated in how it is structured, and whether the artistic concept and implementation plan are clear and persuasive. For our proposals, may be our competence in visual communication also helped to make an impression.


J: Welcome back to JCCAC! What are your plans?


D: In the past few years, we have worked hard to create new works and participate in exhibitions because we wanted our art to reach a wider public. Although to make ends meet we both have freelance teaching jobs (respectively at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity and a commercial studio), our work hours are quite flexible, allowing us to fully utilise our studio at JCCAC. Hence, apart from using the unit as our artist studio and development base, we shall create an open area for exhibition, pop up store and art classes/workshops.


J: Your illustrations often present a humorous take on collective memories, personal experiences and the absurdities of everyday life. Perhaps the most iconic is your school memories series, conveying both personal nostalgia and a social critique on our educational system. The current exhibition at chi art space “Everything’s Alright” showcases 40 pieces of artwork (including paintings, installations and sculptures) arranged in 6 series. What is the source of your inspiration? Which is your favourite work from the series?


D: We were rather flattered when we received the invitation 2 months ago, but also a bit lost as we seem to be at a bottleneck in our artistic development – we are no longer green but neither do we consider ourselves very experienced and established. So where do we go from here? We thought, why not use art to reflect and respond to our current dilemma? That is the inspiration behind “Everything’s Alright”.


Among the series is an art piece about swimming pools. One day, Ah Lap could not find any creative inspiration and did not want to work. So he headed for the swimming pool to procrastinate. Under water, he became fascinated by the tiny tiles lining the pool which sparked an idea to visit different swimming pools and to count the tiles!


Art making (such as painting and drawing) can be so meditative! We first focused on how we swim, then noticed the tiles and started quietly counting them. Afterwards, we reflected on our experience and projected it with pen on paper, slowly and meticulously drawing one tile at a time. Wouldn’t you agree that it was quite a “Zen” experience of self re-assessment and discovery?


Recommended activity

 “Everything’s Alright” Exhibition

Date: till 8 / 9 / 2016

Time: 10:00 - 19:00

Venue: chi art space (8/F., New World Tower, 18 Queen’s Road Central)


Please click here to download《JCCAC PROGRAMMES》(2016 Sep issue)


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