Hong Kong artist Elaine Chiu's urban sketching and painting have gained her a loyal following in her home city. Exploring the themes of space, memory and community identity of the urban environment has resonated with a lot of young people like herself who also want to preserve the heritage and urban identity of Hong Kong.
Even as a student studying art history at the University of Hong Kong, Chiu has already settled on a motif to focus on: the transient and fragile nature of cityscapes. Her work is deeply personal as she injects her own memories and impressions about Hong Kong which have been deep-rooted in her consciousness and self-identity.
Now in her latest solo exhibition, titled Before Memories Expire from May 6–June 6 at the JPS Art Gallery, Chiu will showcase her on-site sketching and community art project that record the fleeting cityscape with her paintbrush over the past three years. She talks to Tatler about the memories she has growing up in Yau Tsim Mong and how her style has changed over the years.
Can you tell us how your new exhibition, Before Memories Expire came about?
My art practice has been focusing on urban spaces and the impact of urban redevelopment. When I was notified about a solo exhibition opportunity from my representative gallery, JPS Art Gallery, to exhibit in their main space in Landmark, I want to bring my daily sketching experience and the urban issue and spirit to the gallery space. The's exhibition main concept is to transform what’s happening in the communities in the past years: how the old buildings are being replaced by new ones and the alternation of the living environment due to urban renewal. I added my own observations so that I can connect with local and international audiences that may share the same experience.
I divided the exhibition into two parts, the main part, Before Memories Expire features 12 acrylic canvas works and one sculptural work, which is fresh from my practice. This part will explore how I “preserve” and present my fading memories of the city. Most of my paintings in this series have an unpainted white background. The disappearance of the surrounding background and context of a particular architectural structure makes the fading memories, flowing and the idea of coming back together appear in front of the viewer’s eyes.
There will also be a sub-part called, The Memory Library that will show 30 of my watercolour on-location sketches and photos of my sketching activities. The exhibition as a whole presents my recent artistic research and journey in the city during the past year.