(Original language: Cantonese)
YEUNG TONG LUNG: To paint is to create a space beyond words. Does that make sense?
MAY FUNG: This is a photo, right?
YEUNG TONG LUNG: It is. I see them as photos.
There is a limitation of the frame per se. When you have a limitation, you can do something to remove or transcend it. There can be many ways. Let me add- Shut up. Shut up. I mean the limitations of living beings. Everyone, whether a painter or a maker, has to come face to face with their limitations, and choose their language. The reverse also works. Your choice [of language] exposes your limitations.
INTERVIEWER: So you have been waltzing with limitations?
YEUNG TONG LUNG: I like this term. Waltzing with.
MAY FUNG: This could have been left out.
YEUNG TONG LUNG: Right.
MAY FUNG: But you placed it here.
YEUNG TONG LUNG: It looks good there. [Laughs] It looks really good.
INTERVIEWER: As simple as that?
YEUNG TONG LUNG: Yes. If you see something good you don’t need to find an explanation for it. Right?
I was talking too much about this. This one should be an earlier work among this batch. This one should be earlier, around 1995 or 1993, 1994. This one is similar to that.
Some paintings look formless but their texture and depth are usually interconnected with those of figurative paintings. For example, I have been deeply interested in the ways that light transforms when it’s projected on a human body or object. I have always been interested in this. From abstract to so-called figurative styles, it is always applicable. The floor [in the painting] that you mentioned just now is to me also abstract. If you remove the upper part the bottom part is abstract, isn’t it? [Laughs]
INTERVIEWER: Why would you suddenly wish to become closer to the real world [in your works]?
YEUNG TONG LUNG: It’s practical. I am a father now. It’s very simple. What can you talk to a baby about? Art history? A child’s vision develops from obscurity to clarity. [My daughter] started to chase after light with her eyes drawing something for her near the lamp. She should know about it. I hardly tell anyone this story. Her godfather exposed it.
Kit. This one. Let me do it.
INTERVIEWER: You have painted a lot of large-scale works. What have you done with them when moving [to different studio locations]?
YEUNG TONG LUNG: I threw away plenty [of works]. That’s it. When you can’t move them, you can only throw them away. I think quite practically sometimes. If I had decided to keep all the paintings, perhaps today I could only have carried them around but not be able to paint. Right? It is only because I threw them away that I had the room to paint new ones. So I did. Yes, two more to go.
I believe anything of value will be resurfaced in my works, perhaps even without my knowing. There are many ways of discarding paintings. Some people really destroy them. I might have tried this, too, but very soon I did it differently in a much lazier way. I just put them on the street corner. Anyone could take them if they liked.
Oil painting is really a craft. You’ve always got something to do. What is your subject of the painting? I don’t really know myself. I just choose an entry point and the rest comes in in the process. For me, a painting is not about if the audience can or can’t understand anything about it. Rather, it’s about the intellectual space it creates for you to think. I think this is more important. As you paint you enter this state in which you don’t know what you are painting. Then you ask yourself, is this state real? It is a kind of struggle, a struggle with reality.
The reason why I draw figurative paintings is also a struggle. In figurative paintings, you start with something external, but what they try to convey is not about the external. They create other meanings. What matters to me is not artistic exploration, but the meaning of life. I simply bring out the meaning of life through artistic exploration. My life is finite. I would rather take this medium seriously and invest in it than switch between different media. It is a lifetime commitment to me. [If you describe] painting as being for passing time, it is not wrong, but there is a presumption to it. What does ‘passing time’ mean to you? You have to be responsible for your life so that you can pass your time in whichever way you like and no one can judge.
In 1990 Yeung Tong Lung established the Quart Society, now considered to have been the first autonomous art space in Hong Kong. It provided a platform for artists to show art outside of the mainstream and in particular to respond to the conditions of pre-handover, post-Tiananmen Hong Kong. As such, Yeung played a significant role in Hong Kong's avant-garde movement of the 1990s. Largely self-taught, he is part of a generation of artists recognised for their distinctly local response to modernism.
In this video, Yeung discusses different aspects of his practice—from abstract to figurative—and shares his thoughts about art and being an artist.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
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