29 April, 2016

ghost alley

When I posted Art Promenade last month, I did so partly because I found the idea of decorating footpaths with painted images interesting, and partly because I thought the practice unusual. However, it turns out that this practice is not as unusual as I had first thought.

During the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring an area northeast of my house that was, until the beginning of the year, part of the so-called ‘closed area’, meaning that it was off-limits to casual visitors like myself. And in the course of my attempts to establish a contiguous cycling route through the area, I ventured down the usual quota of tracks and footpaths that turned out to be dead ends.

One such venture took me down a narrow path to a point where several paths converged to form an extensive flat area, and to my surprise I found that the ground was covered in painted images:


Behind me—I would never have noticed if I hadn’t stopped—there was a house that had been painted in a brash, colourful style (the decoration extends around the corner on both sides):


The next photo shows the house on the right in more detail. If you look closely at the insects that have been painted here, you will see that they are cartoonish rather than realistic in style. In fact, I suspect that whoever painted this drew their inspiration from a children’s book rather than from nature, because there are no ladybirds in Hong Kong.


Also in this area is a disused well, which has been extensively decorated. It appears that each segment has been painted by a different artist, and it seems likely that this entire display of public art is the result of a group project rather than the work of a single artist.


Leading away from the area I’ve just described is an obvious path that disappears into the distance, and this is also extensively decorated with painted images. The first photo is a general view of the path, while the second is a close-up of one such image.



Finally, just before the path reaches Ping Yuen Road, it passes alongside a wall that features my favourite images here. I took the first photo, which provides a view along the entire wall, on my first visit here, while the second photo was taken on a subsequent visit when travelling in the opposite direction. It provides a more detailed look at some of the images.



You may be wondering about the reference to ghosts in the title of this post, especially as it does not appear to have been the anonymous artist’s intention to paint ghosts, but in my book disembodied faces are ghosts. There is certainly an ethereal element to these images. Finally, decorating the environment in this way may be more widespread than you might expect—I came across another path, nearby, where similar but faded images had been painted on the ground—but I certainly think that the artwork here knocks the artwork featured in Art Promenade into a cocked hat.

However, while I know who is responsible for the artwork featured in Art Promenade, there are few clues as to who actually painted the images featured here, although I don’t think they live in the area.

05 April, 2016

optimistic pessimism

I imagine that most people are familiar with the informal definition of optimists and pessimists: that an optimist would view a glass as half full, while a pessimist would consider the same glass to be half empty. However, I do wonder how many would give more than a cursory thought to this dichotomy, because if they did they would quickly realize that this a simplistic definition, possibly even an inaccurate or misleading representation of the two poles of what is in fact a continuum of attitudes towards a given situation.

Think about it. If an optimist assesses the glass in terms of its fullness, he or she is likely to be disappointed that it is only half full and not fuller, while a pessimist, who assesses the same glass and its contents in terms of its degree of emptiness, is likely to be pleased that there is still half a glassful remaining.

I was reminded of this question only the other morning, when Paula looked out of the window and remarked that she could see “half the hill”, referring to a prominent hill that we can see from our balcony (on a fine day). I felt bound to comment that this meant there was half the hill that we couldn’t see:


Notice that Paula’s comment was not so much an optimistic assertion as an idealistic one, while mine may have sounded pessimistic but was based on a realistic assessment of the situation. In fact, I would suggest that this is universally true: optimism is nothing more than another word for idealism, the mindset of the idle dreamer, while pessimism, although widely regarded as a negative attitude in popular culture, stems from a realistic appraisal of circumstances. Whether this is true as a general proposition, or I am simply trying to justify what others will deem unjustifiable, the weather was always more likely to deteriorate on that particular day than it was to improve, and guess who was correct:


In conclusion, I’d like to offer a contemporary take on the optimism/pessimism duality: an optimist is someone who hopes that Hillary Clinton will not win the US presidential election in November; a pessimist is someone who believes that Donald Trump will win that same election and become the next president of the United States.

01 April, 2016

photographic abstraction #18

Although there is only one new motif in the latest group of images in my Photographic Abstraction series, the two photographs that are based on stained or discoloured walls are nothing like previous images. The same can be said of the two images based on cut tree stumps, while Surface of the Moon is sufficiently unusual that I don’t expect anyone to guess what it is actually a photograph of.

However, Follow the Flag is clearly a picture of peeling paint on a wooden door. In it, I see the shape of someone holding up a flag while glancing back over his shoulder to remind everyone not to wander off. It is a less than subtle dig at the lines of Japanese or Chinese tourists that I often see in Hong Kong and the rest of China diligently following their tour guide, who is invariably holding aloft a flag as a point of reference for his/her charges to follow.

follow the flag

Although Reclining Nude is not remotely on the same level as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or Braque’s Grand Nu, I do think of it as being cubist in style:

reclining nude

The title of the next picture should be self-explanatory, but you will have to look closely to see that it is derived from a sawn-off tree stump. The unexpected colours are a result of the wood being soaking wet at the time.

fire in the hold

Like Reclining Nude (above), the next picture is of a wall, but it is unlike any other wall I’ve ever photographed.

schism

The next image is very obviously a section of a tree stump, but the lines of short cracks perpendicular to the growth rings look to me like musical notes on a distorted stave, hence the title.

symphony in red and gold

Finally, everyone knows that the moon is made of green cheese, and here’s the proof:

surface of the moon

If anyone is interested in trying to work out the source of this image, here’s a clue: it is from the same type of source as Blood, Sweat and Tears (Photographic Abstraction #16). If you need another clue, look out for Sheep May Safely Graze in the next instalment in this series.

previous posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction #13
Photographic Abstraction #14
Photographic Abstraction #15
Photographic Abstraction #17

21 March, 2016

the fall

The fall is my favourite season here in Hong Kong, but to avoid confusing my American readers, I should point out that your name for autumn, while perfectly suitable as a way to describe the time of year when the leaves fall from the trees in your country, is totally inappropriate here in Hong Kong, because leaves are falling from the trees now. They didn’t in autumn. I imagine that this is an effect of the territory’s subtropical climate, because photosynthesis is possible throughout the winter, and the only reason they fall in autumn in temperate climates is because trees there go into hibernation in order to survive the winter.

To illustrate my point, I took the following three photographs yesterday morning while walking from my home to Fanling railway station:




In describing the fall as my favourite season, there is an unmentioned caveat: the transition from winter to spring is marked by a period of about three weeks when the humidity is so high that all our windows steam up, and condensation forms on our stone and tile floors and runs down the tiled walls of our kitchen and bathroom. However, once this admittedly grim period is over, the birds start singing and wildflowers pop up all over the place. Actually, thanks to the influence of El NiƱo this winter, birds have been singing since the start of the year—magpie robins have been in full voice since Christmas, apart from a period of a few days in late January when the intense cold shut them up. I heard one as early as 8th December, even though in a normal year they would just be starting now!

There is another negative aspect to this time of year, one that most people will not be aware of: all the leaves in the above photos will have been swept up by lunchtime and stuffed into black plastic sacks, which I have no issue with. However, these sacks will eventually end up in landfill. Nobody in Hong Kong appears to have heard of composting!