【Intimate Portrait】Suspence in ink / Tristan Ng Sum-chi

(2016 November) The name of Tristan Ng Sum-chi’s studio - “Atelier of Atmosphere” (JCCAC Unit L7-06) sums up all that is inside; the space is filled with the smell of ink, acrylic paint, resin, Xuan paper (rice paper) and canvas, diffusing the elegant simplicity of mystery. The studio is sparsely decorated. Other than art supplies there was not much else, except for a 4 by 2 meters new ink wash painting which catches and pleases the eyes.


This painting entitled Endless Isolation (a set of 2) will be in the public’s eyes again at JCCAC Festival 2016. “Even if the painting was composed with ink, it is still very much manageable, so in case you smudge some fingerprints on it, they can be easily wiped off with a piece of cloth.” Tristan explained calmly. “So that is the reason behind coating it with resin? For easier cleaning?” we asked jokingly. “Well, if that is the case, I would have never been allowed to graduate!”


T: Tristan Ng Sum-chi


J: Endless Isolation was your graduation artwork 2 years ago. It makes use of calligraphy ink, resin, acrylic paint and Xuan paper, and set the tone for the development of a series of work. Pairing up calligraphy ink and resin is an interesting combination for both Chinese and Western painting. How did you come up with this idea in the first place?


T: The combination of calligraphy ink and Xuan paper is very common in Chinese painting, while acrylic and canvas are traditionally used together in Western painting. I combine them to create a new kind of ink wash to reflect my self-identity. I was born in the mainland China and grew up in Hong Kong; on my travels I was often mistaken for Japanese. I really wanted to explore my self-identity through artistic creation. I think materials are just like people, they have their own souls. So allowing materials to express themselves is analogues to waking up their soul.


Resin by nature it captures space and history. While we are talking in this room, different stories are happening simultaneously on different floors of this building. You see, from the side of Piece you can view the different layers. (Tristan shows to us.)


J: Sounds quite mysterious! But the compression of space seems to complement concepts in ink wash painting. Did you have any early training in ink wash painting?

T: No, art was not part of my young life at all. It just happened that I was not particularly good with my secondary school studies, so I was worried about the options I had for higher education. I chose art because it was the one subject that did not require as much “studying”. As was normal for secondary school curriculum, the focus was on Western painting. I only started to study Chinese painting when at university. The realisation that the key to ink wash painting is about controlling the water and not the ink has a huge impact on my creative thinking.


J: What an insight!


T: But there is so much more to learning about art than what is technical or taught in class, like organising arts events. During form 4 and form 6 in secondary school, I had the chance to join “Art Focus” (a joint school organisation), and organised the “Art Focus Joint School Visual Arts Exhibition” at Hong Kong City Hall. I thought that learning to work with people and acquiring administrative skills were so important for my growth as an artist too. And widening my network of friends who were similarly passionate about art opened my eyes to appreciating art and creativity from different angles. I discovered that one cannot become an artist by being casual about it. Even artists need disciple and administrative skills to manage their own development and work.


When I got accepted to study at the Academy of Visual Arts of Hong Kong Baptist University, I knew that university education was not just about learning things academically, but should be an opportunity for opening the eyes and mind to wider perspectives. I wanted to go out and explore, so I applied for a summer course organised by the university to study Italian in Italy during the summer of my first year at university. I had the chance to visit the Venice Biennale which took my breath away.


J: To see the Venice Biennale is such a dream for any art student!


T: It was so amazing! From classic to contemporary, Renaissance to conceptual - I never knew that artistic creativity has so many possibilities! I started to create works in the ink medium after returning to Hong Kong and went through a series of experiments on materials. I tried different approaches to express the same artistic concept and came up with a series of 45 paintings called Time. This series of work was selected to participate in an exhibition in Germany. So that year I also went to visit Documenta for the first time.


After the summer in Germany, I took a year off as an exchange student to study art and psychology at Tunghai University in Taiwan. The fact that I was hospitalised for a period of time when I was small affected my outlook on life. But studying psychology allowed me to understand memory and time from a wider perspective. It provided me with artistic focus and made me want to overcome my internal fears through artistic creation.


Upon returning from Taiwan, I went straight to Canada to take up a graphic design internship exchange programme organised by the university. Whilst there, I went to visit museums and art galleries in Toronto, New York and Washington. To complete my final year at university, I opted for part-time study so that I could hold down a full-time graphic design job in order to support myself financially while creating my graduation artwork.


J: You sure are very well-travelled! Your works were exhibited in Dresden, Germany and Nagoya, Japan respectively in 2012 and 2013. Your graduation artwork was nominated for both the Tuna Prize and Hong Kong Contemporary Art Award in 2014.  Then you won a place for residency at the Royal College of Art in London. You seem quite particular about materials, abstract composition and monochromatic themes. Did your overseas experience shape your art and style?


T: The chance to travel and experience new things fundamentally shaped my artistic creativity. The residency in London was especially important to me. I submitted my application not believing that I have much chance of being chosen. I merely thought that it would just be a nice opportunity to hear the critique on my works from well established artists on the panel. The competition was fierce, with only two young artists being chosen from Hong Kong. I was so lucky to have been one of the selected.


During my residency in London, I benefited from the weekly critiques on my work from various local artists. It not only helped us young artists to learn and develop, but also has a positive effect on the whole art scene by driving forward artistic creativity and development. I also went to Poland for the first time and fell in love with it.


J: Everyone can see how much you have achieved! You and your works remain very visible in recent exhibitions, including “SHIFT: AVA 10th Anniversary Exhibition”, “Affordable Art Fair” in New York City, “Futuristic Ink”, “Ink Asia 2016” and JCCAC Festival 2016 in December. And congratulations to you on being shortlisted for “Cliftons Art Prize 2016 Hong Kong”. What are your thoughts and plans for your personal development?


T: Not many artists sign exclusive contracts with galleries anymore. Nowadays most artists work independent and enjoy more artistic freedom. But it also means that self-discipline becomes very important, especially with managing practical matters yourself. For instance, framing. Sounds simple enough but you have to attend to all the details yourself, including sourcing materials and discussing with suppliers, and overseeing the whole process from start to finish. It is pretty exhausting. On top of that you will also have to arrange and go to interviews, photoshoots and promotion activities.


To support myself, I am working full-time as a school administrator. It is an intentional choice to separate my artistic life from how I earn a living. I need to reserve all my energy for artistic creation, as it takes a lot of physical strength to create large paintings.


I do not exactly have any long term plans right now, but am hoping to study for a master degree abroad. I have already been accepted by a few universities, but could not go yet since I am still saving up to pay the tuition fees. No matter what, I enjoyed the interviews. They were great learning experiences. It was so inspiring to be able to talk about your work and get constructive feedback. One way or another, I am determined to go abroad to study for a master degree. It is just something that if you do not do now, you will never get around to doing it.


Recommended Activities
Cliftons Art Prize 2016 Hong Kong (Finalist)
Exhibition period︰12 / 10 - 9 / 12 / 2016
Venue︰Cliftons Hong Kong(Rooms 508-520, Hutchison House, 10 Harcourt Road, Central)

JCCAC Festival 2016
Date︰26 / 11 - 31 / 12 / 2016
Venue︰L2 Terrace


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


More【Intimate Portrait】articles,  click here