(Original language: Cantonese)
HUMAN WU: Today, I’ll take you on a stroll through Central, following the subjects depicted in the paintings of local artist Wilson Shieh. Shieh grew up on Hong Kong Island and witnessed Central District’s transformation.
The landmarks here, such as Jardine House, the HSBC Main Building Bank of China Tower and IFC, naturally became the subjects of his paintings. Shieh studied architecture at HKU for one year, but he discovered his artistic inclinations. He then switched tracks to pursue fine art at CUHK. His artistic practice focuses on traditional Chinese painting while also incorporating modern elements.
He painted a series of ‘skyscraper ladies’ blending classical gongbi techniques and contemporary style.
How did he combine crisp architectural contours with the graceful delicacy of traditional feminine figures? Shieh transformed the features of each building into evening gowns of different styles.
For example, in Cheung Kong Center against Bank of China, the two skyscrapers wear gowns with different patterns. Who is this small figure beside them? It’s the former French Mission Building. It housed the Court of Final Appeal between 1997 and 2015. Back then, it was hidden behind the Hilton Hotel, which is now the site of Cheung Kong Centre. When constructing Cheung Kong Centre, an urban square was designed. This architecture can be seen completely by the public.
In Hong Kong City Hall sits at Connaught Road, the four ladies are positioned just like the arrangement of the four structures behind us. Between the AIA Central and the Hong Kong Club Building lies the now-demolished Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It closed down just one year after this work was created.
The City Hall in the painting appears as a fashionable woman. She wears a simple chequered mini skirt showcasing a modernist style. Back then, the colonial government wanted to bring this trendy, simple, yet functional style to Hong Kong to establish a new image for a new era. City Hall was the first world-class multi-purpose cultural centre in Hong Kong. It was declared a monument in 2022, becoming the city’s youngest monument. However, Queen’s Pier and the fourth generation of the General Post Office nearby faced a different fate.
In HSBC and Friends, everyone wears an evening gown except the HSBC Main Building. If you have been to the HSBC headquarters, you might recall its unique open atrium. It creates a public space in the urban landscape offering, the precious ground-level space to citizens. Buildings in the city are situated among neighbouring structures and serve the public. A good architectural design considers both the city and its people as top priorities.
It was Wilson Shieh’s appreciation for Hong Kong’s architectural heritage that led the artist to explore the city’s iconic landmarks in his signature gongbi (fine brush) painting technique. Between 2006 and 2011, Shieh delicately personified the iconic landmarks of the Central District as women.
Guiding us through the heart of this Hong Kong district, architectural designer and educator Human Wu explores the subjects portrayed in Shieh’s series and unpacks how the changes in Central’s built environment were captured within Shieh’s paintings.
- Produced by
- Presented by
Jiu Jik Park Limited
Hui Chi Sang
Mak Chi Ho, Yung Tsz Hong
- Camera Assistant
- Production Assistant
Lui Ka Suen Veronica, Ho Man Hin Alan
Hui Chi Sang
- Animation Designer
Lo Yuet Yui Joyce
- M+ Producer
Mimi Cheung, Rachel Chan
- M+ Text and Subtitle Editing
Amy Leung, LW Lam
- Special Thanks
Wilson Shieh, Tina Pang, Chris Sullivan, Fei Hung