In conversation: Michael Kwong
Michael Kwong is a pop art and abstract expressionist painter creating art pieces that combining eastern culture characteristic and western painting technique together.
Insights of an Eco Artist Team
Painting is just like a bridge for Michael Kwong linking himself and the outside world
together. He can express his attitude toward life, and his thought about things, and more
importantly, he can interact with people through his artworks, He can show his value of life
through his works. Sometimes his painting is just his subjective feeling about things, and
sometimes it can be a tool to raise people's attention to what happens in our world. He
wants to use his painting to spread a positive power to people, and bring a better and
prettier world to people through his paintings.
In the year 2020, he decided to focus his career as a professional abstract expressionist
painter. He likes to explore the relationship between textures and colors in his painting,
also achieving a balance between shape and space. He strongly believes that abstract
painting is the perfect approach to express his concept, through the use of different
brushstrokes, rhythms, texture and color, he can express his thoughts infinitely and breaks
through all inherent rules, thereby tangibly expressing his soul.
Besides, unlike realistic painting, abstract painting can allow viewers to generate infinite
imagination space, it can interact with the viewer's thoughts on a metaphysical level
directly and effectively, and it will not be interrupted by figurative images and forms. Prof.
Kwong believes that philosophical connotation should be the main value of a painting. It is
the most crucial thing that artworks must be able to lead the audience to resonate with the
artist’s thoughts. If artwork has only superficial patterns and does not incorporate the
artist’s perspective and thought, the work can only treat as a decorative craft since such
work does not make any contribution to human civilization and culture.
To begin, what is that context we need to know about you?
I was born in Hong Kong in 1972, I studied aboard in the United State at Columbus College of Art & Design majoring in illustration and worked as an illustrator in the United States after graduation. In 2002, I decided to move back to Hong Kong to continue my artistic career. I have been working as a professional illustrator for more than two decades. During my entire career, I have received many designs and art awards both locally and internationally. At the same time, I have also dedicated myself to art education for many years. I have taught at different universities including Shantou University, Xiamen University and Savannah College of Art and Design. At the same time, I have been working as a pop art and abstract expressionist painter creating art pieces that combine eastern cultural characteristics and western painting techniques.
In an interview for Altiba9 Magazine, you mentioned that you define your painting style as “pop expressionism”. Can you deconstruct this concept for us?
I have always liked pop art stuff, and as I grew older, my painting style gradually developed toward abstraction. I have been engaged in the creation of many trendy arts, including illustrations and art toys. I have tried for a long time to combine these kinds of things together to form a unique style to express my concept. Eventually, I instilled trendy elements and graffiti-like brushstrokes into the abstract composition, which is what I like. Although people may have different reactions to my decision, it doesn't matter to me, because my thoughts get released, and my creative motivation starts to become active again.
This year you donated three of your works to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). How did this partnership start? What can you tell us about this experience?
This is how it happens. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme. Coincidentally, I created a series of works on the theme of environmental protection for IdN magazine called “Heal the World” this year. One day my family suggested that I should donate these paintings to the United Nations as a gift to support their contribution to the protection of the global environment. I think this idea is very meaningful, so I took the initiative to write to the United Nations Environment Program and hope that they can accept my artwork. Fortunately, they responded to me and expressed their expectation for my artwork. I have always used the simplest and most direct way to do things. I firmly believe that if you want to do something, you should bravely try to achieve it and figure out the methods and steps to complete it, and many unexpected results will come to you.
One of your acrylic paintings called “Mountain Multiply and Streams Double Back” is a mixture of Chinese traditional painting techniques with western abstract expressionism painting style. What can you tell us about this artwork and the process behind it?
I like to explore the mixture of texture and color in my painting, achieving a balance between space. I also try not to overcontrol the outcome of my paintings. In other words, I tend to let my paintings form their own pattern and compositions. It gives me a sense of freedom while I paint.
The painting “ Mountain Multiply and Streams Double Back” was inspired by a famous Chinese poem from the Song dynasty called “A Trip to Mountain West Village”. There is a sentence in the poem that said: “Mountains multiply, streams double back — I doubt there's even a road; willows cluster darkly, blossoms shine — another village ahead!”.
The painting was created as a national gift given to the new Ambassador of America in China in 2020. The painting gave out a clear and positive message to the US government that even though the USA and China faced a very intense relationship with each other at that moment, hope and peace will come eventually in the coming future.
There were multi-layers of the mountain and a raging river shown in the painting, expressing the motion of water and the weight of the mountain in “ Mountain Multiply and Streams double back”. Similarly, there was a pack of tubes and the expression of water shown in the painting, demonstrating the expression of water and the balance between form and space. Both paintings created a very interesting composition and showed a very strong impact on the readers.
What ideas and concepts have you been struggling and grappling with recently?
I have been reflecting on my art creation recently, hoping that I can create better artwork. In fact, I have conceived many new creative concepts, but I haven’t come up with a way of expression that I feel satisfied with. I hope that I am able to express my concepts more freely. For me, Abstract artwork requires more time to conceive and plan. Unlike realistic painting, abstract painting can allow viewers to generate infinite imagination space, it can interact with the viewer's thoughts on a metaphysical level directly and effectively, and it will not be interrupted by figurative images and forms.
How do you think art and culture play a role in the movement forward for human rights and environmental conservation?
I think art is an important channel to reflect the spiritual civilization of human beings. Artists record and lead the development of human civilization. Major social issues, human equality appeals, and human complaints against environmental damage can all be expressed through the language of art so that everyone has the opportunity to understand and reflect on different visions.
I believe that philosophical connotations should be the main value of an artwork. It is the most crucial thing that artworks must be able to lead the audience to resonate with the artist’s thoughts. If artwork has only superficial patterns and does not incorporate the artist’s perspective and thought, the work can only be treated as a decorative craft since such work does not make any contribution to human civilization and culture.
You have been a professional artist for some time now. How do you think art and artists' expression have changed you?
I have been drawing since I was a kid, and I feel peaceful and happy when I am making art. When I was young, I didn’t have self-confidence and I didn’t like to communicate with others. I was often bullied by others. My thoughts seemed to be incompatible with other people, but I could find myself and express my emotions through painting.
Painting is just like a bridge for me, linking myself and the outside world together. I can express my attitude toward life, and my thoughts about things, and more importantly, I can interact with people through my artworks, I can show my value of life through my works. Sometimes my painting is just my subjective feeling about things, and sometimes it can be a tool to raise people's attention to what happens in our world. I want to use my painting to spread a positive power to people, and bring a better and prettier world to people through my paintings.
In 2020, you started focusing on abstract painting as a way to better express your concepts. Why do you believe abstract art is the perfect medium to communicate your ideas?
In the year 2020, I decided to focus my career as a professional abstract expressionist painter. I like to explore the relationship between textures and colors in my artwork, also achieving a balance between shape and space. I strongly believe that abstract painting is the perfect approach to expressing my concept. Through the use of different brushstrokes, rhythms, texture and color, I can express my thoughts infinitely and break through all inherent rules, thereby tangibly expressing my soul.
Because abstract works are not restricted by specific images, they can express the artist's emotions and mentality more freely, and the audience also has a larger and broader imagination space to interpret the works. There is no fixed creative mode for abstract works, which is more challenging for me, so I choose to create with abstract techniques.
Can you lead us through the creative process behind “Mickey’s Frustration”?
This painting called Mickey’s Frustration demonstrates the problem of air pollution and how its deadly consequence will damage the life of the next generation. Mickey Mouse has always symbolized the dream of our children and their happy childhood. He has been forced to wear a toxic gas mask due to the serious problem of air pollution, therefore he is not happy anymore.
The painting was simple but strong, a character located in the center of the painting with a lot of strong expressional brushstrokes in order to create an enormous visual impact and also created the mood of the disastrous consequences of air pollution. I first painted the sky polluted by human beings with strong and wild brushstrokes, which produced a strong visual impact and also expressed the harmfulness of air pollution to human beings. Afterwards, I started to paint Mickey Mouse, the protagonist of the work, using colder and rather vulgar colors to express the misfortune of the next generation.
I would like to use the vision of an abstract expressionist artist to arouse the attention of people about the deadly consequences of environmental pollution.
Recently your work "Balance and Order" was selected for the Salon Des Beaux Arts 2022. What can you tell us about this experience?
It's a fantastic experience. I decided to participate in the Salon Des Beaux Arts 2022 at the last minute. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to participate in such a historic exhibition. I also encountered many difficulties during the registration process, such as remittance and mailing problems. Thankfully, with the help of my family, I was able to complete the registration successfully at last and my artwork was finally selected by the jury for the exhibition.
I like to explore the relationship between texture and color in my paintings, while also striking a balance between shape and space. I believe that abstract painting is the perfect way to express my ideas. Through the use of different brushstrokes, rhythms, textures and colors, I can express my thoughts infinitely, break through all inherent rules, and express my soul tangibly.
For me, the creative process of this work is more important than the result of creation, because it once again awakens my most primitive creative instinct. Apply the yin and yang balance and the golden mean of oriental culture to the color of the canvas, abstractly analyze the self, and re-establish the artistic order in a more inner way. The so-called balance is the balance of culture and thought, and the so-called order is the order of self and the world. In the seemingly dazzling color expression, joy at first sight and endless aftertaste exist at the same time. Through free and unfettered ways to paint images that recur in my mind, to show the balance between freedom and control with creative instinct, and to break the balance of existence with different brushstrokes and materials; Repeatedly establishes, destroys, and then establishes the relationship in space, shape and color until he thinks that his creation can no longer continue.
Lastly, what message would you like to give your readers?
First of all, I hope for world peace and that everyone can live their life healthily and happily. Although life is full of difficulties and even pain, we still need to have hope for our future. Love is the source of happiness. Contentment and tolerance can resolve all problems. I hope that people can live in a simpler way. What art pursues is truth, goodness, and beauty. And truth, goodness and beauty come from our hearts.
Mickey’s Frustration by Michael Kwong. Image courtesy of Michael Kwong.
Prof. Michael Kwong was born in Hong Kong in 1972, he studied art at Columbus College of Art & Design and worked as an illustrator in the United States after graduation. In 2002, he finally moved back to Hong Kong to continue his artistic career. He has been working as a professional illustrator for more than two decades. During his entire career life, he has received many designs and art awards both locally and internationally. At the same time, Prof. Kwong has also dedicated himself to art education for many years. He has taught at different universities including Shantou University, Xiamen University and Savannah College of Art and Design. At the same time, he has been working as pop art and abstract expressionist painter creating art pieces that combine eastern cultural characteristics and western painting techniques.
See more of Kwong's work here.