Hope artist Josh Hon recently held his first large-scale art exhibition in the Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.
From July 6 to 23, Hon exhibited a series of paintings under the Dead Water Convulsion theme. His art speaks to his experience of Hong Kong in the 1980s, upon his return from art school in Tacoma, Wash.
“Dead Water Convulsion itself indicated that kind of energy, that kind of ambiance I felt,” said Hon.
Hon described Hong Kong as “a very abrasive society” that had a “cold and wet” environment where people struggled to find a way out of their rut, hence the “dead water” part of his title.
“Convulsion, I’m sure I’m referring to how they reacted to their environment,” said Hon. “So, the absence of energy.”
His art critiques the lugubrious, tumultuous and oppressive environment he grew up in.
“You look at the police, it’s scary. You look at the British, you find you have this tremendous sense of disadvantage, you feel like the colonized” said Hon. “Even on the street, they seemingly have the privilege that you don’t have. Even as a young boy, you feel that.”
Hon expresses this in his 1987 painting HK as is. Most distinctly in that painting is what Hon describes as a “hollow man.”
“There’s tubes going in and out of him,” said Hon. “Just talks about the socio-political situation. If you are not in your own control, you feel like somebody has a tube, cuts you open, yanks it in. So you are mine just by doing that. Probably, colonization does the same thing.”
The hollow man also speaks to listlessness.
“One time when I was in Hong Kong, when I was about to cross the street, the person standing across the street from me hit me strong — well dressed, ready-to-go, very intense, smart-looking person, but I do feel the soul is not in him.”
Hon has kept these artwork sealed and untouched for decades, most of which were completed in his late 20s and into his 30s. Hon, now in his 60s, said unsealing the past allows him to revisit his art through new lenses.
“Now that I have 20-something years of distance to look at them again, it’s different,” said Hon. “I can look at them and say, ‘It’s pretty, it’s nice,’ without the burden of ‘am I just trying to make myself happy or not.’ ”
After moving to Hope in 1994, Hon said he has lost touch with the art world, but the July exhibition marked a path back into it.
“I do find the Vancouver audience to be very sincere, and very intelligent and communicative,” said Hon. “I spent quite a bit of time out there and talked with them.”
He noted that HK as is piqued the interest of women, while men would find Gentleman will not stand under interesting. According to Hon, the latter artwork tries to challenge the construct of Euclidean geometry, and “presupposed, or assumed, order.”
The two-and-a-half-week exhibition also brought him further interest from other art galleries. Hon said the Vancouver Art Gallery and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden connected with him.
“There are pending projects ahead, art shows ahead,” said Hon. “So I have to rethink.
“Where do I stand at this point? Do I continue doing counselling or do I want to go back to do art? Is my audience in Vancouver? Or do I need to go back? They have talked about sending this work back to Hong Kong and have another retrospective show.”