Carol Lee, Alice Choi, Carl Cheng Conversation | Destined for Art

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Carol Lee Mei Kuen (Lee)

Alice Choi Wing Sze (Choi)

Carl Cheng Chi Ming (Cheng)

 

Cheng: When did your desire begin to study fine art?

 

Lee: I liked to sketch when I was a kid. You know how girls like to sketch models on paper and design fashion. It’s very typical and it’s cheap. A sheet of paper is all you need. I still enjoyed art when I was in secondary school, although there was no art subject at school after Form 2. Fortunately, there was an art club at school where I could go and have some fun after school. I took up Art, sat for the HKCEE as a private candidate, and got a ‘B’. Not bad I suppose.

 

Cheng: You got the best result among the three of us.

 

Lee: I applied at Lee Wai Lee Technical Institute to study design. That was as close to fine art as I could get. I imagined that I possessed an overwhelming artistic talent, so I used an alternative technique when I was told to draw a coin: I was supposed to sketch it, but I chose to crumple up the paper and scratch the coin on top of it. The result? I was not admitted into the programme. Those were the days when a headstrong desire to study fine art was not enough to get you in.

 

Then I happened to stumble across early childhood education and worked in that field for nine years after finishing my studies. But I loved fine art so much that I took up Chinese painting under the tutelage of Master 徐元佳. Other than my art teacher who was very nice to me during secondary school, I believe Master徐was the one who truly enlightened me. He’s a very serious Chinese painting teacher with many distinguished protégés.

 

Cheng: Did he set out to take on talented students?

 

Lee: I believe so. Passing on the tradition is very crucial in Chinese painting. Besides using the technique of copying, he would take us out to do outdoor sketches, be it squatting down to sketch rocks at a waterfall in Tsuen Wan or looking up to draw a large banyan tree.

 

Though I was learning painting while simultaneously studying at school and working, I still saw art as nothing more than a hobby. Then I met a group of street painters a few years later – Au Yeung Nai Chim and some others. At the time I had reached an impasse with my work in early childhood education. As I was also getting married, I decided to quit my job and devoted more time to street scenery. My teacher once asked me whether painting was a mere hobby or if I would like to be an artist. The question lingered in my mind. If I were to become an artist, how should I go about it? Every Tuesday and Thursday I met with this group of street painters and spent an entire day sketching and painting. Then we would host exhibitions like Hong Kong Depicted by Hong Kong Painters. That felt like a little step into the world of art.

 

Cheng: When was this?

 

Lee: It was around 1990 to 1995. But I began studying Chinese painting in 1983.

 

Cheng: So you had been painting for seven or eight years by then.

 

Lee: Correct. To be honest, it takes skill to paint street scenery with Chinese hairbrushes. It was quite a challenge to do it on the spot. To do so without any rudimentary skills would be impossible. Soon after, I gave birth to my child and put all artistic matters on hold. Three years later, I was struggling a bit, feeling as though I’d lost my own identity. It was a funny feeling, lthat everything I did was not for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I really loved my child and enjoyed taking care of him. Yet there was this itch which I believe exists in all artists. So I went to study art. By then I was pretty sure that I was going to develop along this path. The only difference this time was the motivation; that is, I wanted to develop my Chinese painting through other media.

 

Cheng: As for my opportunity… the thought of taking the Master of Fine Art programme at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Techology had never occurred to me. It felt too out of reach, as actual accomplishments in the artistic world are needed to even apply for the programme. But then I went to a seminar with Alice – who was enrolled in the BFA programme back in 2005 – and found out that Chris Chan Kam Shing and others were also enrolled in both programmes. It dawned on me that perhaps it was not as outrageous an idea as I believed. So I enrolled. Although I had been doing creative work, I still didn’t know for certain how to do it professionally. That’s why I thought I’d try to enroll, because I really wanted to study it.

 

Lee: The words ‘for certain’ are very meaningful. For students in our age group, we tend not to choose something we aren’t certain about. We want certainty about things – not so much knowing exactly what will happen, but at least knowing for sure that this is something one wants to develop further.

 

Cheng: I am certain that I want to execute art not only at amateur level but at a high standard. I am pursuing something on a slightly higher plane; it’s somewhat like writing an academic thesis.

 

Choi: As for me, this was a childhood dream with many hurdles along the way, because I wasn’t very good at drawing or painting. Even with the help of teachers, there were things that just didn’t make sense to me. Among the three of us, my HKCEE result was the worst: a ‘D’ grade for Art. It was a big shock because I got distinctions or merits for all other subjects. Art became the blot on my report card, which seemed to show that fine art was just not my forte, even though I worked really hard to study painting. When I was in Form 6, my wish was to get into the Department of Fine Art at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. During the orientation day, I was still hoping to get into New Asia College – I had actually attended the first-ever Art Camp hosted by the Hong Kong Arts Centre when I was in Form 5. I was the youngest at the camp.

 

Lee: You took it seriously.

 

Choi: Unfortunately the HKCEE result seemed to prove that I was not cut out for it, that art was not my path to tread. It is fine as a hobby, but not as a profession, because I felt inadequate. Thus I studied other subjects when I was at the Chinese University. Then I started working in administration. This line of work paid well, but it was very mundane, so I started learning photography and painting.

 

Art was purely a hobby until I came across the Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain course that he was teaching. I’ve already read about it in Form 1 from Readers Digest and have even tried to use it. Yet I have never seriously read any books on drawing on the right side of the brain… then we got married and he read that book…

 

Cheng: In 2003.

 

Choi: He was contemplating going to the States to study it and to negotiate a license to teach the course. I followed him and we studied drawing on the right side of the brain together. This course was critical because it helped me overcome a psychological barrier I had had for more than a decade. It helped me believe that I could paint. It helped me understand my problems. This experience, I believe, is one that many truly talented artists do not have.

 

Cheng: The conflict between the left and right sides of the brain.

 

Choi: Indeed, like perspective and other problems. To some extent, this course opened a window for me. With other courses I have taken here and there in my free time, I have accumulated some works of my own. I took the courage to compile them into a portfolio and applied to RMIT, and I was accepted! It felt like I was finally fulfilling a childhood dream. I never thought about actually developing professionally along this path.

 

As a result, I was very focused on exploring certain techniques since I didn’t arrive with very good skills. Nevertheless, I mastered a few techniques for contemporary art rather quickly. I wasn’t the best, but I discovered that I had certain insights. Because I was able to observe certain things, those three years of study were a joy. During that time I also came to terms with my faith and my relationship with him. I did a lot of thinking and got some answers. When I finished the course, I never thought I would return to my alma mater and teach visual arts. This really led me to believe that there is an invisible hand behind this.

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When my parents were young, 2001, Acrylic on board
爸媽年青時,1996,塑膠彩紙本

 

 

Lee: You hadn’t taught visual arts before?

 

Choi: Never.

 

Lee: So you started teaching after you finished your Bachelor of Fine Art?

 

Choi: Exactly. I graduated a tad more than four years ago, and that’s exactly how long I have been teaching. I have let go of some old baggage, like ‘how could I teach others if I do not have superb technique?’ The time I spent studying boosted my confidence that the techniques I learnt are actually quite viable. But more important is understanding what art is… you know, you can’t just teach the technique. Since I didn’t start teaching until I was a little more mature – as well as getting to know other artists like you and all the others I met through him – my strength is not so much in technique but in my resources and knowledge of how to look for things outside the box. When I teach art, I can also draw on my knowledge in psychology and counselling. For instance, some children have problems in their upbringing. When I teach them, it is like life-coaching and trying to help them discover who they are. As a result, their works are very honest. I never coerce them into doing any artwork based on any particular current issue. Rather, I let them decide for themselves, which is far more interesting.

 

The red line of creativity

 

Cheng: I felt a little lost when I was studying art. Did you guys experience this?

 

Lee: Not when I was doing the Master of Fine Art programme, because by that time I had already gone through that when I was doing my Bachelor’s. To me, taking this course was for new knowledge and how to apply it in Chinese art. Therefore, my motivation was fairly clear. However, Western art began to look pretty exciting to me as well in the process. To be honest, I was a little torn between the two. The evolution and passing on of Chinese painting – painting flowers, birds, mountains and water… even using modern techniques to draw locales and cities already seemed like a small breakthrough. But when you are confronted with a real society and real life, those things seem rather remote.

 

For example, I was thinking about a way to record the growing up of my child. I was hard-pressed to think of a way to do so using Chinese painting as a medium. Then I thought about the nature of these restrictions. Why can’t I just directly and freely express what’s on my mind through this medium? Of course I could choose to paint however I wish, but it would still just be a painting. It was during my study that I began to realise that there are in reality many other choices apart from traditional painting. There are various media for me to express my thoughts directly and thoroughly in my work.

 

Cheng: Have you abandoned the Chinese medium and switched over to Western ones?

 

Lee: At that time I really did give up on the Chinese medium. However, after years of training, I still believe it impossible to completely abandon it. Hence, there are still Chinese elements in my work. When I finished my Bachelor of Fine Art and started the Master programme, I realised that my past training would surface in the way I express myself. These so-called ‘Chinese elements’ can then truly break away from the old framework of Chinese painting. This is far more interesting.

 

Cheng: Chinese elements and the Chinese ‘spirit’ are not restricted to hairbrush and ink.

 

Lee: Exactly. Perhaps my understanding was rather simplistic back then. Anyway, when this is manifested in other areas, I find it becomes even more amusing and convenient.

 

The assignments in the early days of my Bachelor of Fine Art programme oscillated between the East and the West. That just simply didn’t work. Forcibly juxtaposing Oriental and Western elements together for the sake of artistic creation is a dead end. Even though I laboured intently, in hindsight I have to concede that this was no way to move forward. We can do it purely as a form, but it is so passé… not to mention this is not what Chinese art is all about.

 

Choi: For me, I seldom felt lost. I imagined myself as a blank sheet of paper constantly having new things printed on top of it, so I didn’t really have much baggage. Since art was given free rein as a hobby, I did not impose any set target on myself and so I struggled less in my pursuit. It was only at the very beginning when I wasn’t quite sure of what the teacher wanted or of the par set by the university that I briefly felt a little lost. It was pretty much smooth sailing afterwards.

 

Cheng: My disorientation was rooted in the desire to produce works of a higher calibre in order to affirm my direction, trying to see if I had it in me. Yet I wasn’t confident, not knowing what is considered good by others. I also cared about getting the recognition of others. I could paint, and I thought I was pretty good at it, so I discussed it with my tutors. But they either gave me ambiguous feedback or questioned my plans. I was really quite lost back then. In the very beginning I only had painting in mind because that was the only technical training I’d ever received. During the Master programme course, being required to produce new works in short order was something to grapple with.

 

Lee: Same here. Even with my background in Chinese painting, I still felt I was very far away from academia. If I had not gone through the experience of doing a Bachelor of Fine Art, I would never have understood or be exposed to so much. Chinese painting is still a very traditional medium. Even back in those days in art school, I felt the two media are from totally different worlds. They cannot be mixed and have their own development and form. Form is not only that of the paintings but all that are involved. How Chinese painters do exhibitions and their ways of organising them are totally different from Western art even today. This why I think studying art was so marvellous, as it allowed me to learn all these new things.

 

As to whether I struggled or not… it was like someone getting to know art all over again and learning new things. Basically it seemed like I had left Chinese painting behind, yet I would still ponder about how Chinese painting could be modernised. What an outdated idea. But after about a year, I just totally left it behind. Instead of waiting until I reached the dead-end, it was better to let go right then.

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Cheng: I had a similar experience of letting go of something rather than hanging onto it, becoming willing to venture out of a comfort zone of familiarity. My experience is… I have to thank my tutor Fran from Australia. It was her who asked me to try. I had a few projects on my mind. One day, I was talking to Stella Tang Ying Chi about not knowing how to carry them out. Ho Siu Kee happened to be listening in and said that I was not making sense. I was contemplating doing some portraits of my parents, but he thought that was not much of a concept.

 

Lee: How come no-one has ever questioned my work?

 

Cheng: Perhaps they never dared challenge you? I got it because I was a newbie. That was a rather unsettling experience. Ho Siu Kee asked if I had any other ideas, so I showed him the one about cities. I agreed with the comments he made. Actually the one about family is new, and the one about cities has been brewing for years. Frankly, the idea on cities is something I couldn’t take my mind off, so I continued to create works along this line. Fran, on the other hand, felt that I would just be doing more-or-less the same old things this way. She encouraged me to try something new, namely 3D, something of which I was totally unfamiliar. Initially I just put my toe in and got some wooden sticks as buildings…

 

Lee: I reckon that’s the difference a Bachelor of Fine Art makes. During those three years, rudimentary knowledge was required before we could create our own work. Having heard what you said, conceptualising one’s work is required at the outset of the Master programme. I just had to try things out during the Bachelor of Fine Art programme. It was not until the Master programme that I seriously created some works through sporadic experimentation and had them compiled into a project. That way there wouldn’t be a gap from 2D to 3D.

 

Cheng: I had a realisation – obsession breeds appreciation. If I got all the affirmation 10 years earlier, then perhaps I would only repeat the same kind of work and forget about trying other things. Why get into fine art at my age? Because there are things I want to say, to study, to express, things that I am truly interested in. Up to this moment, the reason I still haven’t thought seriously about how to sell my works is because I want to create them simply for their own sake, at least for a while longer. I am no longer in school, but I am still studying these things. I feel like these exhibitions are my theses, and that’s the main influence the Master of Fine Art programme has on me.

 

Lee: My works are drastically different from yours. Yours have lots of references in the background, but mine are freer and from the heart, inspired by personal life and the subject matter.

 

Cheng: In the past, doing creative work was more-or-less an attempt to prove how good I was, to win and to be known. Fortunately, my first show-worthy painting was really from the heart. The form was alright. That piece was done purely for its own sake. But there are times when I had to create a piece just for seeking an opportunity for exhibition or competition. Having finished my first piece for the Master programme, I began to understand the meaning of creating a piece with dedication and devotion.

 

Lee: That’s what art is all about.

 

Cheng: Exactly. I understood and began to know why I did what I did. I had done works that were sentimental, but I seldom put them on display. Back in 1997 and 1998 I showed pieces that were my diaries, but I did not plan on developing them further. They are too simple, but also very genuine and sentimental. It’s rather strange for a full-grown man to keep putting sentimental things up for display. It dawned on me that doing complicated things was like doing research, and being a rational person, I found this more interesting.

 

Lee: As a sentimental person, I don’t think I can create a piece that is not based on something I feel deeply about or have experienced. Every artist has a different trigger. When I am at work, sometimes I don’t even know what I am doing. Interestingly enough, I could do anything while I was doing my Bachelor of Fine Art programme. Sometimes things worked and sometimes they didn’t. There were a few instructors who had a big impact on me. Jerry Kwan taught me rudimentary skills, including concepts and the development of Western art. Francis Yu Wai Luen inspired me to think and tore apart my preconceived ideas. During my studies, my work received high praise without any particular criticism. It was he who slapped this on me: ‘passé’. But it was not meant to be derogatory. He taught me to seek a red line, and for this, I was rather moved. A red line. That’s it. No explanation given.

 

So I began to think, what does this red line represent? It is to find my own language and use it as the building blocks of my work, using this red line as a common thread as an interconnection among all of them. He helped me to gain a new vision. Francis’ art is about wordplay – this is his language. So what about mine? It took me a year to arrive at a breakthrough, which was during my Master of Fine Art programme.

 

????: When did he say that to you?

 

Lee: During second year, I think. During the first creative art tutorial, I had already told Ho Siu Kee that I needed to find this ‘red line’. However, creating a piece was painstakingly slow for me. I reviewed the notebook I brought along and found a piece that I had started in 2005 from an idea that I’d already jotted down back in 2000 or 2001. It was like walking through a maze before I finally found it.

 

Cheng: And that’s solid.

 

Lee: Sometimes I am asked how to get to that stage. I feel – and I rather like – the fact that the work is a complete series. I am neither good at organising how to begin my work in a logical fashion, nor do I need to find any connection among my works. According to my diary, I was already thinking about the influence time had on me. While I was organising my bookshelves, I came across a set of paintings I did back in 2005. I spent six months working on this set in my workshop, and I stuck them up after I had finished each one of them. After six months, I spotted colour variation in the drawing papers. Originally I was going to do print and the paper was of better quality. However, I was not comfortable with that particular kind of paper – it was too good. Why should I use paper that good? Shouldn’t it be more like a diary? That’s why I chose newspaper-grade stock. After seeing it, Yung Sau Mui encouraged me to use this kind of paper more often. When I saw how the colour of the paper would fade over time, I began to play with it. On top of that, the yellow spots on the paper I found on the bookshelves were the traces left behind by time. Ideas which seemed oceans apart were then linked together. As far as an artist is concerned, if I weren’t contemplating the theme of time, such ordinary things would not have meant much to me.

 

Cheng: I began to paint cities in 1996, and like you said, there were things I had written down already as I looked back at my works in the 1990s. If that is real and integral to my life, then I could find that ‘red line’. Otherwise, these artistic creations run the risk of not being true to oneself, but are a kowtow to the market and the judgement of others. If it is congruent to the artist himself, he must be able to find it. However, the main issue for me during my Master programme was the change of the creative media. That, to me, was a big leap forward. It was also a big boost for courting contemporary art which led to the exploration of languages.

 

Lee: I was a step ahead of you because I had already found it during my undergraduate days.

 

Cheng: So your struggle was earlier and mine was not until I did my Master’s. Fortunately I found the solution within half a year.

 

Choi: How did the idea of using your family in your work actually come about?

 

Cheng: I simply wanted to paint those whom I am closest to.

 

Lee: I have never painted my own son because I am not very good at doing portraits.

 

Cheng: Fran questioned me too when I was talking to her. She saw my paintings and the photos I took. She asked if I had thought about presenting my ideas straightforwardly through photography. I said I had never thought of it as my creative medium. She told me to try, but I did not continue with it. Frankly, I just wanted to paint. I had painted many things and not only portraits. It was only that I had never painted my parents and family members. I found the idea of using paintings of family as part of an installation art rather intriguing. And that’s how I started. You can say there is no ‘red line’ here. It was just serendipity, and I acted on it.

Choi: I find it rather normal that they had their query. The idea about your family seemed to have come out of nowhere without any context. On the contrary, you had been working along the line of cities, including the one using the wooden sticks. The only difference was going from 2D to 3D. Thus exploring this further during the Master programme was a natural step, and it is something he had been doing. That’s why I think the instructors were right in questioning you and it was really good fortune that you did not insist on your original plan of painting your family. That set of work would have been quite hard to develop, albeit interesting, and the ‘red line’ is nowhere to be found.

 

Lee: You had only two years to develop either the old or the new idea, and even the one that’s been there would need quite a lot of preparation. Moreover, why not choose to focus on something you have been looking into all along instead of something totally new? That’s why I think they opted to support you continuing your cities series. To be honest, it is impossible to launch a series of artworks without rich content. Portraits, for instance, requires new concepts in many aspects to enrich the content. Instead of simply painting your family, you would need lots of new ideas as substance. You had shown them the ample materials you had on hand, so they felt you should continue with the theme on cities.

 

Cheng: And that’s why ‘In Cold Blood’ in white wasn’t finished until the end of year one when I had finally decided on what to do, being able to make out what I wanted to do and what I had to do.

 

Finding direction in art

 

Cheng: It’s already been a few years since your graduation. Have you looked for something new in your creative work?

 

Lee: Of course. In fact I have always been looking, even though it has been slow during the last year or so. Other than some minor pieces, I have not accomplished much at all nor do I have any plans to do any major work. I guess I was burnt out doing the newsprint project and I am feeling a little dejected these days. Between 2008 and 2010, I managed to turn everything I had seen into a project. It was a truly productive period, but I became somewhat lax afterward. I am feeling rather zoned out and not being able to focus recently, especially since I have been doing quite a bit of travelling. My creativity seems to have become stagnant, but then I feel this is rather normal. This semiconscious twilight zone is a transition into a new dimension. It has always been so. The jumble in my mind will eventually become another composition.

 

Cheng: You are more an observant and hands-on type.

 

Lee: My only virtue is that I am certain about art as my destiny. Be it a success or failure at the end, art will follow me along. This certainty is crucial – because somehow I will produce something instead of nothing at all. To me this path is perpetual, although I might be slow in my production.

 

Choi: As far as creative work is concerned, I will have something to say when I actually return to doing it. My take though is to integrate art into my teaching – the artistic aspect is being realised through my teaching but not my own creative work. It is about passing on a tradition through transferring my artistic knowledge to another life.

 

Lee: Would you rather be very famous in the artistic community, or reap no benefits after producing a myriad of masterpieces?

 

Cheng: I don’t really care about either. What I care about is whether I will have new inspiration after completing a piece. I hate the idea of looking at a piece as the end. If a piece inspires me and provides me the momentum to do the next one, I can find the joy in the creative process. I do of course need to survive in the world of art, to look for funding and to do exhibitions. I am like a scholar hiding inside his lab doing research, only that my field is art.

 

I am feeling that something in my art is not yet mature even though the content is. I am still looking for other ways of presentation, but have yet to find them.

 

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李美娟(李)/ 當代藝術工作者,澳洲皇家墨爾本理工大學文學士(藝術)及藝術碩士(香港藝術學院合辦)

蔡頴思(蔡)/ 藝術教育工作者,澳洲皇家墨爾本理工大學文學士(藝術)(香港藝術學院合辦)

鄭志明(鄭)/ 澳洲皇家墨爾本理工大學藝術碩士(香港藝術學院合辦)

 

鄭:從何時開始想要學藝術?

 

李:小時候我很喜歡畫公仔。女孩子都喜歡紙公仔、設計時裝──最普通、最便宜,一張紙就能搞定的玩意。中學時我還是喜歡藝術,不過到了中二已經沒有美術這一科了。雖然如此,幸好還有個美術學會,放學後可以去玩一玩。我自修美術報考了這一科,會考成績也算是不錯,拿了B。

 

鄭:我們三人中,你的成績最好。

 

李:中學畢業後去報考李惠利的設計,這是最接近藝術的了。我自以為很有藝術才華,主考官讓我們畫硬幣的時候,我用了其他方法畫出來──主考官讓我們素描,就是希望我們把硬幣描畫出來;然而我不是如此,而是弄皺了紙,然後刮,這樣弄出一幅畫。

 

最後當然是不錄取我了。在我們的年代,並非能一往無前地說要讀設計就能讀的。然後我無緣無故的去了讀幼兒教育,讀了以後也做了九年。可能是因為真的喜歡藝術,所以跟徐元佳老師學國畫。除了中學時對我很好的美術老師,我認為他就是我的啟蒙老師。他是一位較為認真的國畫老師,有許多優秀的徒弟……

 

鄭:他特意收優秀的徒弟?

 

李:是的,國畫的傳承是很重要的。他不只用臨摹的方法,還會帶我們出去寫生、寫景,或是蹲在荃灣三疊潭畫石,或是在樹下畫大榕樹。

 

一邊學,一邊讀書,又顧着工作,一直都當藝術是一門興趣。數年以後,認識了一群畫街景的人──歐陽乃霑他們那一群畫家,碰巧覺得幼兒教育的工作很難再有更好發展,加上結婚就沒做了,於是去畫街景。老師曾問我是不是只想當畫畫是興趣,還是希望成為藝術家?這個問題在我的腦海裏盤旋──如果要成為藝術家,路該怎麼走?我跟香港畫街景的人每逢星期二、四都會聚在一起,出外畫一整天,畫完以後會舉辦一些展覽,像「香港畫家畫香港」之類的,這樣好像往藝術的世界踏進了一小步。

 

鄭:那是什麼年代?

 

李:大概是一九九○年至一九九五年間。但學畫國畫是一九八三年開始。

 

鄭:也就是說之前已經畫了七、八年那麼久。

 

李:是的。說實話,用毛筆畫街景是需要功底的。在現場用毛筆畫的話,有些難度。如果沒基礎,在外面基本上是畫不了的。後來因為生了孩子,要照顧孩子,便停下了藝術方面的事。但三年後,腦裏有些掙扎,好像迷失了自我,感覺每一分鐘都在依附着另一個生命存在一樣。這種感覺很有趣,像是做的所有事情都不是為了自己。我當然很疼愛、很樂意去照顧自己的孩子,但……我想藝術家都有一種內在的特質,蠢蠢欲動,所以我去了讀藝術。讀藝術的時候已經頗肯定自己是往這方面發展的,只不過讀的時候動機有少許不一樣──看看如何藉別的媒介幫助自己發展國畫。

 

鄭:我的契機其實是……原本我沒想過讀皇家墨爾本理工大學的藝術碩士課程,覺得遙不可及,感覺是要在藝術界有些成績才能入讀。但因為Alice在二○○五年進了皇家墨爾本理工大學讀藝術學士課程,我和她一起去聽研討會,陳錦成他們也說了自己在讀些什麼,讓我覺得好像沒有想像中遙遠,於是便報讀了。由於自己有做創作,但一直都不知道也不肯定該如何專業地做,就試着報讀——真的想讀。

 

李:「肯定」這兩個字是有意思的。對我們這些年紀的學生而言,如果不能肯定,有些東西就不會選擇去做。自己一定要對某種事物有所肯定──這並不是指肯定將來發展得如何,最基本的肯定是肯定自己想在此發展。

 

鄭:我「肯定」想要高水平地做藝術,而不是滿足於業餘的創作。我追求一個稍微高一點的層次,較為學術的說法是做論文般。

 

蔡:對我來說,這真的是兒時夢想,不過經歷了許多挫折,因為畫得不好。即使有老師教,有些地方還是無法開竅。在我們三人中,我會考的美術科考得最差,D,猶如晴天霹靂。因為其他科目考得很好,都是優良,美術科在我的成績單上成為一個污點,這似乎證明了自己在藝術方面是不行的,但我真的很勤奮地去學習繪畫。所以,中六入大學的時候,原本是打算入中文大學的藝術系,在迎新日參觀時也很渴望能入新亞書院的……在中五那一年,去了藝術中心舉辦的第一屆藝術營。我是整個藝術營中年紀最小的。

 

李:你真的很認真。

 

蔡:可惜會考的美術成績告訴我,我不是這方面的料子,我以為不該走這條路。當作興趣的話可以,但專業就不可行。我覺得自己的能力不足,所以進入中文大學讀了其他課程,一直到工作,做的都是行政上的工作。這類工作很刻板,雖然能賺錢。於是我去學攝影、畫畫。

 

藝術成了純粹的興趣,直至遇上他現在教授的右腦繪畫課程。其實我在中一時看《讀者文摘》已經知道這個,也曾經試着畫,但因為並沒有很認真地看右腦繪畫的書……直到結婚後,他看了那本書……

 

鄭:二○○三年。

 

蔡:他打算去美國學習,並且商討取得教授這個課程的授權。我跟他去了美國學右腦繪畫。這個課程對我而言是很重要的,它解除了我十幾年來的心理障礙,終於覺得自己是能畫畫的,也明白了自己的問題所在。而我覺得自己的經歷,可能是一般較為有藝術天分的人沒有經歷過的……

 

鄭:左右腦的矛盾。

 

蔡:是的,無法處理透視等問題。但這個課程某程度上為我打開了一扇窗,加上自己在空閒的時候斷斷續續地參加了一些課程,也有保留自己的一些劣作,於是大膽地把作品整理成作品集去報讀皇家墨爾本理工大學,沒想到居然錄取了我。我覺得這是完成了自己小時候未能實現的夢想。我純粹想要償還這個心願,所以讀的時候沒想過要在這方面發展,這樣子反而讓我很專注地想着要摸索一些方法──因為論技巧,我不太強。不知怎的,自己很快就能掌握一些方法處理當代藝術創作。雖然我不是最好,卻發現自己有洞察力,我能觀察某些事物,所以那三年讀得很愉快。而且在那三年還處理了自己的信仰和跟他的關係,我思考了很多,也找到一些答案。完成課程後完全沒想過自己會回母校教藝術科,讓我覺得這是冥冥中自有安排。

 

李:你之前沒有教藝術的嗎?

 

蔡:完全沒有。

 

李:就是唸完藝術學士課程才開始教?

 

蔡:是的。畢業後四年多,我就教了四年多。畢業後放下了某些包袱,像是以前總覺得自己技巧不足,這樣怎麼能教導別人?讀書期間對自己而言是一種肯定,原來自己一直存在的一些技巧也是看得出來的。反而怎樣理解藝術……在教導的時候,不能只教技巧;而且人成熟了才去教書,認識了你們一班學友,又透過他認識了很多藝術家,於是我的強項不是技巧,而是資源,學會尋找外面的事物。另外在教藝術的時候,我也運用了自己學過的心理學和輔導,比如說,孩子個人成長的問題。在教導的時候,我也像在做生命教育的藝術,協助孩子們尋找自我,因此他們做出來的作品集很真誠。我不會硬要他們選一個時事議題做出藝術作品,而是讓他們由自己出發。這樣的教育過程有趣多了。

 

***

 

創作的紅線

 

鄭:我讀藝術的時候還是有些迷惘,你們有沒有呢?

 

李:修讀藝術碩士課程的時候沒有迷惘,因為在唸藝術學士課程時已經歷過了。對我而言,修讀這個課程是要汲取新知識,並運用在中國藝術上,所以我的動機還頗清晰的。只是在這個過程中,我才發覺西方藝術好像也挺精彩。其實當時我也有掙扎──國畫的發展、傳承;畫花鳥、山水。即使以現代的方式畫地方、城市,似乎已經超越了少許,但面對真正的社會、真正的生活,這些東西像是距離很遠。例如,想用某個方法記錄自己的小孩成長,在當時而言,我根本沒有辦法用國畫這個媒介做出一些關於小孩的藝術作品。我這才想到,為什麼會那麼狹窄呢?為什麼不能直接、隨意地把自己思想的東西以那個媒介表達出來?當然我可以選擇畫出來,但也只限於畫畫—— 一幅畫而已。但是,唸書的時候才發現,其實真的有很多選擇,不一定是傳統的畫畫,可以有很多不同的媒介把自己的思想直接、徹底地表達出來,真實地呈現在作品中。

 

鄭:是不是放棄了中國媒介而轉用西方媒介?

 

李:那時候我的確停用了中國媒介,但我始終相信,那麼多年的訓練是不能完全捨棄的。所以在我的作品中,還是有中國元素。反而在完成藝術學士課程,進而唸碩士課程的時候,我發現以往的訓練會隨着個人表達展現出來,而那些所謂的中國元素至此才真真正正跳出自己當年畫國畫的範疇,我覺得這更有趣味。

 

鄭:中國元素、中國精神不一定在於筆墨。

 

李:不錯,可能那時候的理解比較淺薄。但當它在其他位置呈現出來,我覺得那更有趣,以及來得方便。

 

藝術學士課程剛開始時做的功課,也是中、西方兩邊徘徊,這樣是行不通的。很勉強地把中、西方的東西糅合,然後創作,我覺得是死路一條。當時我當然埋頭苦幹,但後來抽身回頭看便發現這是一條死路。可以純粹在形式上運用,但是這些形式很老套,也不是中國藝術精神的重點。

 

蔡:對我來說,迷惘的時候比較少。我想自己像是一張白紙般不斷印上新東西,也沒有什麼包袱。我是純粹把藝術視為興趣那般自由發展,沒有特別要求,所以掙扎也比較少。我想在初期因為不知道老師的要求,不知道做到什麼程度才合乎學院的標準,那個時期是較為迷惘的,但後來就比較順利了。

 

鄭:我的迷惘來自我想做一些高層次的作品確定方向,看看是否真能做得到,卻仍欠缺自信心,不知道哪些是別人覺得好的;另外我也看重別人的認同。自己能畫畫,也自以為畫得不錯,於是與導師商量,但是他們的回答模稜兩可,或是質疑。那時候我真的不知應該怎麼辦。其實剛開始時還是想要畫畫,因為我除畫畫之外,沒有任何技術上的鍛煉,但修讀碩士課程時要馬上做出一些新作品,那時候是有些掙扎的。

 

李:其實很相似。雖說我有中國畫的底子,但似乎跟學院有很大的距離。如果不是修讀過藝術學士課程,我根本未必了解、接觸到那麼多。國畫還是一個很傳統的媒介──當年唸的時候已經覺得是兩個完全不同的藝術世界。兩種藝術是不可能混合的,它們各有自己的發展和形式。形式不單指畫的形式,而是整個配套的形式都不一樣。國畫的藝術家如何做展覽,如何組織,跟西方藝術完全不一樣,即使到了現在還是有差別。這就是我為何覺得修讀藝術很精彩,認識了很多新事物。如果說有沒有掙扎……那就像一個重新接觸藝術的人,重學一些新的事物,基本上是和國畫分離了,只是心裏老是想着如何把國畫現代化……這個想法也非常老套。但掙扎了一年左右,我已經完全放下──覺得再走下去也不過是死路的時候,倒不如先放下吧。

 

IMG_2019_opt

鄭:我也有類似的經驗,我同樣願意放下某些東西,而不是死不放手,會願意走出自己熟悉的範疇。我的經驗是……要感謝來自澳洲的導師Fran,是她叫我嘗試的。我自己有好幾個項目都想做,有一次跟鄧凝姿談論的時候,我不大明白到底可以怎麼做,剛好何兆基在旁聽,說我答非所問。因為當時我想做一些畫父母的素描,但他覺得沒有概念。

 

李:為何沒有人質疑過我的作品……

 

鄭:沒有人敢挑戰你吧?我是新人,所以會受到挑戰。那一次的經歷,的確有些緊張。何兆基問我有沒有其他想法,於是我把城市的概念讓他看。他說,這些概念比較扎實,沒什麼破綻;但畫家人的素描沒什麼概念。他說的話我認同,畫家人是新構思,城市的概念則已經構想了很多年。坦白說,城市的構思我一直都念念不忘,於是繼續做這方面的作品。不過Fran覺得要是我繼續畫下去也不過是些老東西,所以她叫我嘗試新的方向──立體,是我不認識的範疇。最初不過是隨意試一試而已,找一些木條當作大廈……

 

李:我猜這就是跟曾讀藝術學士課程的分別。在那三年裏,必須先去學習一些很基礎的知識,才能建立自己的作品。聽你所說,藝術碩士課程一開始就要構思如何開始做自己的作品,但是修讀藝術學士的時候一直都在嘗試,待碩士課程時便在零碎的實驗中選出一個方向,再認真地做出作品,成為一個項目。這就不會有如何從平面轉為立體的問題……有少許斷層。

 

鄭:我有一個體會,念念不忘真的必有迴響。如果我早十年受到肯定,可能會重複地做些成功的作品,不知會否嘗試其他事物。但人已成熟了,為什麼無緣無故跑去做藝術呢?因為有些東西想說、想研究、想表達出來,那是心裏感興趣的東西。直到現在,我還沒認真地想該如何賣出自己的作品,原因是我想要純粹地做出作品,專心地研究一段時間再說。雖然我沒有唸書了,但仍在研究這些東西。我覺得這些展覽就是自己的論文,藝術碩士課程主要影響我的就是這一點。

 

李:你的作品跟我的有很大分別。你的作品背後可能有很多參考,但我的是隨心出發,是從個人生活以及事物的本身出發。

 

鄭:以前做創作,或多或少想要印證自己的水平,希望贏,希望出名。幸好,我第一張能展覽的畫基本上是由心而發,模式還是可以的,慶幸作品能純粹地做出來。但有時候也會為做而做──為了尋找展覽的機會、比賽的機會。我在藝術碩士課程完成了第一件作品後,開始明白何謂腳踏實地、真真正正地做作品。

 

李:就是藝術的本質。

 

鄭:是的,我明白了也開始知道為何要做。我也有感性的東西,但很少展示出來。我在一九九七、九八年有些展覽作品是日記,這些我沒打算發展,因為太小品了,但都是真心的,是有感情的東西。一個大男人老是把感情的東西用作展覽,感覺……很怪。我開始明白做那麼複雜的東西,感覺像是在做研究,而理性的我也對此較感興趣。

 

李:我覺得自己的作品如果不是自己感受過、經歷過的話,是做不出來的。我不是一個很理性的人。每一個藝術家的出發點都不一樣,有時候在創作中,我也不知道自己在做些什麼。有趣的是修讀藝術學士課程的時候什麼都能試着做,當然有些有用,有些沒用。有幾位老師對我有很大影響。關晃教了我一些基本功,如西方藝術的概念和發展介紹;余偉聯是啟發我思考的其中一人,打散了我以往的認知。修讀時,我的作品評價都很高的,沒有人特別批評過我的作品,但他用了一個詞:老套。不過他說,這並不是貶意。他教我找一條紅線──對此,我挺感動的。他只是叫我找一條紅線,並沒有加以說明。於是我就想這紅線是什麼呢?紅線就是找出自己的語言,然後依照自己的語言發展自己的作品,而每一件作品都由一條紅線連繫着,互相關聯。他讓我想通了:余偉聯的藝術與語言相關,他的藝術是玩文字的,這是他的語言。那麼我自己呢?他說完以後我想了一年多才想通了,就是在唸藝術創作碩士課程的時候思考。

 

鄭:他什麼時候對你說的?

 

李:大概第二年的時候。第一堂藝術創作課程的導修課,我便已經對何兆基說我要找這條紅線。但是,我做作品花很多時間,很慢。我回看自己隨身攜帶的筆記本,有個作品是二○○五年開始發展,但早在二○○○年、二○○一年已經寫下相關文字,是當時的想法。然後還要花很長的一段時間,兜兜轉轉地尋覓才終於找到。

 

鄭:這就是很真實的東西。

 

李:有時候別人問我怎樣才想出這些東西,我自己覺得──也是我比較喜歡的──原因是,這是一個完整的系列。我不是很會安排、很有邏輯地去開展自己的作品,也不需要特意找些什麼去跟作品有關聯。翻開日記,二○○一年的我已經在思考時間對自己有什麼影響;整理書櫃的時候,又碰巧發現二○○五年畫的一組畫作。當年我每天都在工作室裏畫那組畫作,畫了以後就貼在裏面,用了半年去畫。半年後,畫紙前後的顏色有分別。我本來是用版畫的,版畫用的是一些質素較好的紙,但我覺得那種紙……感覺不舒服──質料太好了……為什麼要用那麼好的紙呢?不是日記式的嗎?於是我找了報紙的紙。翁秀梅看過以後建議我多用這種紙,後來我看到這種紙隨着時間流逝,產生前後不同的顏色變化,便開始嘗試發展。加上整理書櫃的時候,看見書頁上有一點點發黃的痕跡,這些痕跡就是時間,這才把看似相距很遠的點子連繫在一起。對藝術家而言,要不是正在思考時間這個主題,看見這些常見的事物不會有什麼特別想法,也不會把它們聯想在一起。

 

鄭:我一九九六年時開始畫城市,有些東西也像你那樣,做完了再回頭看九幾年畫下的畫冊,已經有東西寫了下來。如果那是對自己生命真實的、本質的東西,就能找得到那條紅線。要是找不到的話,所做的藝術創作其實很危險。因為那不是自己,而是迎合市場、迎合別人的眼光。是自己的話一定能找出來。不過我唸碩士時最主要是創作媒介的轉變,對我而言,這是使我走向另一個大領域的一步。而且,接觸當代藝術,對語言的發掘是很大的幫助。

 

李:我比你早了一步,是因為在學士課程找到……

 

鄭:所以你的掙扎在前,我是在唸碩士的時候。幸好我能在半年內找到解決方法。

 

蔡:其實你當時為何想做家人的畫作?

 

鄭:我很純粹地想畫最親的人。

 

李:我也沒畫過自己的兒子──因為我畫人比較差。

 

鄭:我跟Fran談論的時候,她也質疑我。她看了我拍的照片,也看過我的畫,然後她問我,有沒有想過用攝影直接表達出來,我回答說沒想過這是我的創作媒介。她叫我可以試一下,不過我沒有繼續嘗試。坦白說,我純粹想要畫。其實我畫很多東西的,並非只畫人像。只是因為沒畫過父母、家人,覺得把家人畫出來,然後加上裝置很有趣,於是就畫了。你可以說這是沒有紅線的,只是突然有了一個主意,便想要做出來。

 

蔡:其實他們問你這一點也很平常。家人的作品像是突然有一個點子,沒什麼前文後理。然而,一直創作的畫都是與城市相關,現在的木條也是如此,只不過是從平面轉化為立體的分別。所以在碩士課程繼續探究這個題目是自然的事,也是他一直以來在做的事。老師的質疑很好,也幸好你沒有繼續──那組家人畫作比較難繼續開展,雖然也很有趣,但看不見那條紅線。

 

4_律政司司長_opt 3_CS_opt

李:其實當時只有兩年時間,要發展新的事物,或已有的事物,而已有的也需要作很多準備。而且,為什麼不選一直關注的事物而選擇新的內容?所以我想他們贊成你繼續以城市為題完成作品。說實話,要展開一系列的藝術作品,內容少一點都無法做到。比如說畫人像,可能需要重新構思很多東西充實內容,不能純粹是家人的畫面,背後還需要許多概念支持你的作品,內容才會充實。但當時讓他們看見的是,你手上已經有這些充實的資料,所以才覺得你應該向城市這方面發展下去。

 

鄭:於是第一年年底才做出白色的「冷血」,那時候才確定自己要做什麼──弄清楚了想做什麼和要做什麼。

 

 

***

 

尋找藝術的方向

 

鄭:其實畢業以後,創作了幾年,還有沒有尋找新的東西呢?

 

李:當然有,一直都在尋找。雖然這一年多進展慢得不得了,沒做出什麼作品──即使有都是很小型的東西,也沒有大型的計劃想要做。我猜是因為做曬紙的時候衝了一段時間,現在有一點低潮的感覺。二○○八年至二○一○年這段時間,在這個範疇裏所見到的事物都能成為作品,所有東西都可以歸納在我的作品中,那個時候真的很多產。過了這一段時間後,自己真的散漫了,加上最近出行的機會多,整個人很虛浮,完全不踏實,在創作上似乎停留了一陣子,但我覺得這是正常的。因為這個模模糊糊的狀態,是讓自己跳往另一領域的過渡期。我每一次都是這樣,腦海裏很凌亂地想東想西的,我想這些東西遲一點便能成為新的作品。

 

鄭:你用觀察,以及手做的較多。

 

李:我唯一的優點是肯定自己要走藝術這條路。無論成與敗,藝術都會隨着我的生命一直走下去。這個肯定其實是很重要的──始終會做出一些作品,不會完全不做。對我而言,這條路不會斷,頂多是作品做得比較慢。

 

蔡:對我而言,如果是創作方面的話,就要自己再去做的時候才能說得出來。我反而是把自己的藝術經歷融入教學中,讓藝術範疇透過自己的教學得以實踐;並非自己做創作,而是把自己的藝術知識帶給別人,這是一種傳承。

 

李:你希望在藝術界很出名,還是像做了很多厲害的作品,但似乎沒什麼得益那樣?

 

鄭:都不大介意。我在意的是作品完成後自己會不會有新的啟發,我很怕作品對我而言是個完結。作品對我有所啟發,讓我產生動力繼續做下一件作品,這樣的動力仍能讓我在創作中找到趣味。當然我也需要在藝術界生存,找資金、展覽……我就如仍然在實驗室裏,有點像學者般躲起來做研究,只是我要研究的是藝術而已。

 

我自問有些東西還沒有成熟──內容是成熟的,但仍要去尋找其他表達方法,不過還沒有找到。

0A241252_opt

 

 

 

 

 

 

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