Meet Tommy Fung, The Artist Behind Hong Kong’s Most Iconic Surrealist Photographs
You might follow, or have seen some of his quirky works dotted around Instagram. From cyberpunk landscapes featuring flying taxis and spaceships, to imaginative scenes where snowfall exists and giant animals roaming the land, Hong Kong photographer and surrealist artist Tommy Fung (@SurrealHK) has been known to transform the way we see the city by telling visual stories with photoshopped images, challenging our idea what’s real and what’s possible.
With over 140,000 followers on Instagram, Fung’s viral artworks aren’t just a clever blending of reality and lively dreams that offers us an endless supply of eye candy. Creative and fun images highlighting Hong Kong’s traditions aside, his portfolio is also a form of cultural expression that aims to raise awareness across a wide range of social issues, including the housing crisis, air pollution problem and political events.
The talented artist will be participating in Digital Art Fair Asia Edition 2021—the first-ever, largest physical and online fair in Asia dedicated to new media art, NFT crypto art and immersive art technology, which is set to open in Hong Kong from September 30 to October 17. Prior to the exhibition, we sat down with Fung for an exclusive interview to talk about how he strives to inspire people through his surreal photos, participating in the art fair, NFTs, and the future of Hong Kong’s digital art industry.
Tells us a little about your background. How did your passion for digital art come about?
My passion for digital art can be traced back to four years ago when I just moved back to Hong Kong, after spending much of my early life in Venezuela with family. I have always loved art and have been working as a professional photographer there. Moving to a new city is very exciting for me and I wanted to experiment with new ideas and do something different, interesting. While I was looking at what Hong Kong photographers were doing that time, I discovered that not many of them were using Photoshop to create imaginative scenes. Photoshopped images were even used to play pranks with the intention to humiliate people, so I was determined to make some positive changes in the community by creating meaningful surreal pictures.
After mastering Photoshop, I began creating surreal photos and sharing them on my Instagram account (@SurrealHK). Since 2017, I have been constantly introducing my audience to possible realities which are tangible in dreams within everyday situations, using Photoshop as a medium to express my emotions and ideas through digital art.
Your work spans many themes—from Hong Kong’s urban landscape to cultural traditions and social issues. Where do you draw inspiration from for your artworks, and what message do you want to convey through your images?
I draw inspiration for my work from my daily surroundings. Everything seemed to be very new and interesting to me in this vibrant city after relocating from Venezuela—there’s never really a dull moment living in Hong Kong. From news to movies, cityscapes and cultural traditions, the idea can come at any time, anywhere. I love to take photos, look at them and imagine how I can transform an ordinary scene into something extraordinary.
Many locals seldom take time to appreciate the small things in everyday life and the city’s unique traditions, or sometimes may not have paid enough attention to societal issues. That’s why in my surreal world of photo manipulations, you’ll not only find works showcasing the beauty of our city, but also images touching on social issues such as the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and housing problem with my own point of view.
What artists or media would you say have been the biggest influences on you?
There are many amazing artists in the industry, but I don’t think there's a particular individual or art project that has influenced my work. I just want to do what’s uniquely myself and continue to develop my own distinct aesthetic style. It’s always important to be original and creative as an artist.
What have been some of the biggest challenges and most rewarding aspects of being an artist?
I think the biggest challenge for me as a digital artist is to create artworks that would resonate with the audience. If people don’t really understand your work or the messages behind them, it can be difficult to stay motivated and create. For me, it’s wonderful to make art that people really care about. That’s also probably the most rewarding part of my career, that I always love to connect with and inspire people through my art. Sharing those thought-provoking images on Instagram allows me to interact with a wide audience, and seeing them taking part in discussions of social issues reflected from my work, do encourage me in everything I do in the field.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the way you work?
Like many artists, the global pandemic has been a source of inspiration for my creations—from social distancing rules to handwashing and mask-wearing practices. But at this point, I believe Hong Kong people are experiencing pandemic fatigue and feeling stressed due to the lack of travel and challenges of maintaining work-life balance. So I don’t want to include pandemic-related themes in my surreal world anymore, but create something interesting that would cheer people up and raise their spirits. Now that Hong Kong’s pandemic situation is stable, I’m also more willing to go outside to look for inspiration and take photos.
Tell us about your participation at Digital Art Fair Asia (DAFA), which images will you bring to the fair, which one’s your favourite, and what’s the story behind it?
I feel very honoured to be invited by Digital Art Fair Asia to showcase my artworks at the upcoming exhibition. I never thought I’d get the chance to participate in art fairs with my work, not to mention a large-scale event like DAFA. My artworks have also been exhibited at the Affordable Art Fair earlier, and I’m so happy to have these opportunities to share my creative ideas with the public. It still feels like a dream to me, but I’m really grateful to be recognised by these prominent art organisations. Participating in art fairs make me become more confident, and I know I’m on the right path.
At this year's DAFA, I’ll be showcasing something a bit different from the usual artworks you’d see on my Instagram. Instead of simply printing the photos out for display, the images are digitally animated to offer visitors a unique, immersive digital art experience. A more advanced level of photo manipulation is expected, and the usage of animation has made my surreal work appear more dynamic. Highlighted images include the floating buddha and Hong Kong tram with a snowfall backdrop, where the latter was amplified with the signature “ding ding” double-bell sound recording for an enhanced, more dramatic surreal effect.
The rise in popularity of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) in recent years has promised to revolutionise the creative industry. Digital artists are keen to know about the trend and learn how to claim formal recognition for their work and gain an additional source of income in the NFT art world, while collectors are eying unique digital art to their ever-growing collection.
What do you think of NFTs and would you like to have your work become part of the NFT art community? Why or why not?
Yes, artists these days, including myself, are becoming more and more interested in the NFT space. It was really exciting to learn about the behind blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency concepts, as the emergence of NFTs gives artists the authority to display, sell, rent their digital artworks out while being able to track each piece’s provenance, exhibition history, as well as the authenticity of ownership in a secure and permanent way.
This interesting trend has also become popular among art collectors and investors alike, as people are seeking new ways to diversify their collections and invest in some more unique works. Thanks to the innovative concept and new technology, people are also given easy access to virtual auctions and purchase artworks that are made available as NFTs on online platforms. I’m really looking forward to pushing the boundaries of my own artistic vision even more and growing my audience base in the NFT art world in the coming years.
For traditional art forms, the number of original editions and how rare a piece is will directly impact its value. Can you share your thoughts on what brings value to digital art?
The emergence of NFTs creates a new form of scarcity that each piece of digital artwork is valued as completely unique and whose authenticity can be easily verified through blockchain technology. But the number of copies the digital artist would like to produce would also affect the value of a piece of artwork—you need to think about is it being mass-produced or can be only owned by one person.
Similar to traditional art, I think the artist’s style and background also play an important part in determining the value of an artwork. And if your work is interesting enough that can elicit emotions from the audience, the piece can be valuable too, even it’s available in a large number of quantities.
What are some changes that you’d like to see within Hong Kong’s digital art space?
Digital art, like other fields of design, does require continuous support and resources for further development. It would be great if local artists are given more opportunities to nurture their talents and showcase their works at art events and exhibitions, just like the Digital Art Fair Asia 2021, which gives the artists a space to shine and helps to promote digital art in Hong Kong.
What’s your next project after Digital Art Fair Asia?
My goal is to continue improving myself, delving into the world of NFTs and mastering animation to fuse those elements into my creative process. I will keep producing works and sharing them with my fans on Instagram, and hopefully I'm able to participate in more art exhibitions to share my photos with a wider art community. I also want to experiment with more new tools and themes to create more unique, meaningful surreal photos.
Tommy Fung (@SurrealHK)'s works will be showcased at Digital Art Fair Asia 2021. The exhibition will run from September 30 to October 17 at G/F, Asia Standard Tower, 59-65 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong. Find out more about the event and purchase tickets at digitalartfair.io