Hong Kong becomes a canvas for local and international street artists who bring their cans, colours, creativity and popular culture to the HKwalls street-art festival
One thing that Hong Kong has no shortage of is walls. And thanks to a thriving Hong Kong street-art scene and visiting international artists who attend HKwalls, the annual Hong Kong street-art festival, the city has hundreds of works of art on its walls. The names might not be familiar to the average gallery goer – Invader, Finbarr Notte aka Fin DAC, Jerkface, Hopare, Dan Kitchener (also known as Dank), Okuda – but many have international reputations.
An adjunct to Hong Kong Art Month, the HKwalls annual street-art festival attracts artists from all over the world to transform the city’s humdrum alleyways and building façades into their personal canvases. This year, the festival will take place in Wanchai from March 23-31. Jason Dembski set up HKwalls, a non-profit arts organisation that aims to create opportunities for street artists to showcase their talent and celebrate creativity, originality and freedom of expression. It also organises the HKwalls annual street-art festival and hosts pop-up exhibitions of short film screenings and workshops.The festival has attracted sponsorship from surf and skateboard fashion brand VANS as well as eicó paints, which supplies the festival artists with their environmentally friendly varnishes. This year, in response to Design District Hong Kong's goal of establishing Wanchai as a Design District, HKwalls is collaborating with the Hong Kong Design Centre, and by association, the Tourism Commission. More than 30 artists, including FLUKE from Canada, Iker Muro from Spain, and UUendy Lau and The Collective from Hong Kong, will create works on Wanchai's walls.
The HKwalls annual street-art festival attracts artists from all over the world to transform the city’s humdrum alleyways and building façades into their personal canvases
Dembski says he first met FLUKE in Wynwood, Miami where he was painting a giant wall on the side of an old factory: "That was one of the most memorable pieces I saw on that trip, and to stand out at Wynwood Walls and Art Basel, where every inch of the Wynwood district is being painted by artists from all over the world, is a big ask."Dimitri Loren, founder of Hong Kong gallery Avenue des Arts, has been influential in bringing international artists such as Matt Gondek and Hopare to Hong Kong and in establishing street art as part of the cityscape.
Lousy Jon is a prolific Hong Kong-based street artist and former collaborator with HKwalls. His work depicts neon-coloured monsters, gods and curvy women, and can be seen in Tokyo, London, Berlin and throughout the streets of Hong Kong.
Lousy Jon's art is all about projecting good vibes and grooviness, and while he was heavily influenced by the punk rock and psychedelic movements, his works combine elements of local beliefs with cultural mix-ups and globalisation. "Hong Kong youngsters blend global vs local trends very quickly given the city's affluence," he says.
With his easy-to-recognise traces, he has collaborated with Adidas, among other fashion brands. "My goal is to cover up everything, paint on all surfaces – bodies, aeroplanes. Streets is just another outlet. It's a creative and proactive process.”
French mural artist Elsa Jean de Dieu, now living and working in Hong Kong, has many impressive walls to her name and believes that street art brings colour and beauty into the stressful environment of a busy city like Hong Kong. "Every piece of street art is delivering a message from an artist to the people who pass by and see it, it brings moments of joy to people's daily lives," she says."The popularity of street art in Hong Kong is pretty new. Unsolicited graffiti and street art is considered illegal here as in Europe. But in France, we see much more unsolicited graffiti and street art because there are more people there who are happy to break the rules.
"Slowly we have seen a shift in the public perception of street art here, and now we can see more and more commissioned street artworks around Central, Sheung Wan, and Sai Ying Pun. HKwalls has been great in supporting street artists and in helping to popularise street art. Their annual festival gives a fantastic opportunity for artists to legally create street art in this city."
North Point retail destination WORFU has commissioned UK artist Camille Walala, a graduate of textile design and founder of her eponymous studio WALALA, to design a mural that is on display until mid- May and is sure to be among the most Instagram-adored attractions. Her style draws influence from the Memphis Movement, the Ndebele tribe and op-art master Victor Vasarely alongside a desire to put a smile on people's faces.
Legendary street artist Invader has made multiple undercover trips to Hong Kong and sadly many of his works have been removed. But his ghosts from Pac-Man in his signature retro video game-style sits proudly at the entrance in Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui with a further 18 recent works from 2018.
AWS (Afterworkshop), formed by a group of active street artists to exhibit and share their street art and its culture, has participated in activities and held exhibitions in different provinces and cities in China, Taiwan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom and they have recently completed murals at The Mills, a landmark revitalisation of a Hong Kong textile mill.Alexandra Unrein at Wanderlust Walks is a charming and extremely knowledgeable guide to Hong Kong's street art and neighbourhoods and is once again the official tour guide for HKwalls festival and is a street-art advocate.
"In comparison to other major world cities like New York, London, Paris or Berlin, Hong Kong's street-art scene is still comparatively young and still not as big," she says. "When I first came in 2010, it was difficult to even find stencils or paste-ups and murals were a rarity. But luckily the street-art scene has been growing steadily and is now more visible, in great part thanks to the annual street-art festival HKwalls and a few specialised street-art galleries like Above 2nd.
"Although the scene is still young and small, it is made up of a really diverse group of people with backgrounds from France, Italy, Denmark, Japan, Costa Rica, China, Australia and of course Hong Kong. This mix of expats and locals and East meets West creates exciting pieces of art."