Hector Chan was shortlisted in Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019 for his work, No Paul Please. The painting is an unusual, cinematic portrait that activates the viewer’s eye with expressive brushstrokes, and leads it in the same direction as the subject’s gaze. There is an engaging sense of movement in the work and this energy abounds across all of his paintings. We spoke to Hector about his unique use of pleather, martial rhythm and exploring the desire to see.
Above image: My Strength is Flying Dagger (1 of 4), 2018, Hector Chan, Oil and acrylic on pleather, 50 x 70 cm
Clare: Tell us a little bit about your artistic background/education.
Hector: As educational background, I finished my master degree (MA Fine Arts) in University of Arts London – Chelsea College of Arts in 2018; graduated from Hong Kong Baptist University – Academy of Visual Arts (BA Visual Arts) in 2015; and I took the exchange program in Accademia de Belle Arti di Bologna in 2014. I took traditional training in painting and sketching for 4 years in a private studio before going to university. Currently, I work as a painter and curator independently and also collaboratively with peers in Hong Kong and London.
Clare: How would you describe your practice?
Hector: My practice is about exploring how the picture, painting and drawing process could capture the fluency, rapidness and quantity of dynamic images, and hence catch up and assemble the desire of seeing and memory. Dynamic is a fluent extendibility for images which summons our desire to see across the present image. Furthermore, it is not only an extended desire but also a symptom of desire itself for the rapidness and quantity of seeing in the image-flooding era. For me, painting is an action responding to the desire of seeing.
Sometimes I condense painting’s content to extend the capacity of painting body and catch up the quantity of images; sometimes I disperse complexity into multiple paintings and drawings to improve the fluency of painting process and catch up the freshness of desire. Well, in simple words, currently I am keen on making the painting process casual and fluent as drawing; and making drawing tolerant and patient as painting. Generally, let say painting is the topic of my practice, which brings me to enjoy the tension between border and freedom.
Clare: Can you talk about why you choose to paint on pleather? What are the advantages of this material to you and how does it inform your work? Do you stretch your own pleather canvases or have them custom made?
Hector: The surfaces of canvas and wood are too frictional for me to make fluent mark-making and brushstroke for dynamic gesture. Also, because of the absorbable properties, they need at least 2 – 3 layers of paint to build up plump and gentle materiality, which is time-consuming for waiting. Waiting and the change of intention during waiting is a romantic factor of painting, but for me, it is also a limitation of painting.
During waiting, the immediate desire of depiction would be taken place by aesthetic decision and planning, making the painting too heterogeneous and mature. I want a fresh, young and casual experience of painting with less intensive composition decision, so I had explored suitable materials for painting since undergraduate. The smooth surface of pleather smoothens the process of painting and every brushstroke, which is very suitable for my approach. I stretch my own pleather canvases. I’ve tried several ways to make a smooth painting surface, and pleather is the most efficient and flexible choice currently.
Clare: Can you tell us about how you set up your palette and how you approach colour in your work?
Hector: I decide the main colour tone by drawing and sketching before the painting starts. I prepare several dishes of main colours and make subtle colour modification by palettes. Usually, I handle less than three colours on one palette to ensure freshness of colour.
I regularly inspect what colours I have in order to consider what composition I could approach. And if some film scenes touch and inspire me but I don’t have ideal colour to represent it, then it’s time for me to explore new colour.
Clare: You have studios in London and Hong Kong. How does each studio affect your process or approach to your work? Do you paint differently or have a different subject matter?
Hector: My subject matters are usually from films and movies, so it doesn’t change a lot. Studio in London was bigger than the Hong Kong one. Now in Hong Kong, because of the space limitation, the works go smaller, and I need more plan and organize for a sequence of works and storage, somehow make the practice less casual. Hong Kong is my homeland, and everything gets plump context and narrative in homeland, which makes the meaning of casualness be different. I need to adapt my emotion and adjust my attitude for practice.
As a metaphor, I make the same type of pizza in Hong Kong, London and Italy because I really like it, but the taste of the tomato from those sources are different, so I need to adjust the method.
Clare: I’ve read that in your Martial Rhythm series, you are tracing a balance between figuration, body and expression. From your brushstrokes, I imagine your painting process to be quite active and lively in itself. Is this true? How do martial arts relate to your work?
Hector: I took martial arts as subject matter visually related to the reaction of seeing and reverie, so I don’t make the painting process like a martial performance. For sure, Martial Rhythm series is quite expressive and even abstract, which doesn’t have a concrete subject for the depiction to lead painting process, so it does need to stay more active to catch the intuition and decision.
The relation between martial art and my work is based on the fluency of martial gesture following natural mechanism, which accelerates the process of seeing and imagination. In the compositional aspect, I study the visual impact of martial gesture and the ways to depict stretching body. In the painting aspect, I challenge the capacity of painting in Martial Rhythm series, to see how much momentary impression in our eyes and mind could be carried by one painting.
I watch lots of martial films, animations and comics when I was little because of pop culture in Hong Kong at that period, perhaps the pressure to such fluency of seeing and desire is one of my aesthetic core, leading my painting approach, the freshness and energy of depiction.
Clare: Do you maintain a practice of traditional sketching for your reference imagery? If so, how often and what kind of materials do you use?
Hector: I’m not sure what “traditional sketching” means here, but if it means “the sketching makes detail texture to build mass and volume for the subject, and makes depth of space in the picture”, I do traditional sketching for impressive painting as a process to feel the composition and make connection with the painters.
My reference imageries from films attract me not because of the detail or texture, but by the atmosphere of fluid moment, so I do drawing for mark-making to test the composition, but not caring the mass and volume. I use variable materials for sketching and drawing, including pencil, charcoal, acrylic, markers, ink and collage etc.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Hector: For me, not specific tools, but the clear and smooth brushes in different sizes are the most important. Without them, I can’t enjoy painting. For sure, a clear and fresh working space is also important.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Hector: It’s unexpectable, and it’s not that important for me at all. Sometimes I make good work when I think it’s a bad day, sometimes opposite. Well, the minimum requirement is to keep healthy.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or mythological artists?
Hector: My work is influenced by film, animation, comics, dramatic gesture and any interesting moments. As I mentioned above, perhaps the pop culture in Hong Kong when I was little had built my core of aesthetic and pressure of seeing. I like El Greco, Fran Hals, Goya, Matisse, Van Gogh, Willem de Kooning and Luc Tuymans.
Clare: In the studio – music, audiobook, podcast, Radio 4 or silence?
Hector: Sometimes music and sometimes silence, but never heavy metal.
Clare: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?