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b. 1980, Hong Kong

Chow Chun Fai Biography

Hong Kong artist Chow Chun Fai addresses political turmoil and cultural transformation in his charged yet lushly rendered paintings.

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Early Years

Chow was born in Hong Kong and earned a BA and MFA from the New Asia College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 2003 and 2006 respectively. In 2001, his father grew ill and Chow had to take over his job as a taxi driver.

Chow is active as a community representative and organiser, having acted as the chairman of the Fotanian Artist Village. In this role, he represented a collective of artists residing in the Fo Tan industrial zone in Hong Kong's New Territories, where Chow has maintained a studio since 2003.

In 2012, Chow ran unsuccessfully in the Hong Kong Legislative Council elections for the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication constituency.

Chow Chun Fai Artworks

Chow Chun Fai's best-known paintings appropriate imagery from cinema and mass media to reveal the socio-political tensions facing Hong Kong today.

Auto Portraits

Chow's earliest works draw on his experience working as a taxi driver while studying art, rendering the city landscape in soft, natural tones. Series such as 'Hong Kong Taxi' (2003–2005) and 'Hong Kong Street' (2004–2005) characterise city living from the perspective of the red taxicab, a symbol of financial independence and everyday labour.

Chow's practice also incorporates elements of photo-installation to broadly critique Western art historical narratives, often inserting his own image into works of classical fame. In Creation of Adam (2006), the original Michelangelo scene is photomontaged into a pixelated collage of 4 x 6-inch photographs, referencing David Hockney's early experimentation with the method. Chow's own face is copy-and-pasted into these glitched and fragmented images. Through inserting himself into these famous figures, Chow wittily challenges the 'international' context of Western art, claiming the imagery as his own to manipulate and reconfigure.

Painting on Movies

In his ongoing 'Painting on Movies' series, Chow paints scenes cut from classic and contemporary Hong Kong cinema. Here, he includes fragments of subtitling and their translations to create subversive commentary on Hong Kong cultural identity. Snippets of dialogue isolated from their source communicate notions of authority and nationalism, laying bare the soft power of the Sino-Hong Kong relationship.

His chosen movies typically comes from the New Wave cinema movement, but Chow also paints international films that represent Hong Kong history or culture. Chow taps into collective memories of Hong Kong, focusing particularly on text and image that explore mainland China's reclaiming of the territory in 1997. In one example, A Better Tomorrow – When We Turn to be Good We are Being Tracked (2013), a fight scene between two mafia members could be interpreted as a symbol of tension between Hong Kong and the mainland. The titular subtitle in Godfather II – Keep your friends close but your enemies closer (2018) similarly hints at this uneasy and sometimes antagonistic relationship. Chow often paints these cinematic metaphors with enamel industrial paint, emulating the gloss of the hand-painted billboards used to advertise new films.

Political Snapshots

Chow's political focus becomes even more explicit from 2019 onwards, when Chow began to apply his painterly translation of media to images from the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests. In works such as Cross Harbour Tunnel II (2019), Press I (2020), and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University VIII (2020), Chow renders the chaos of fiery protests with lush oils. The eponymous news stories are snapshots of the political turmoil facing Hongkongers, pinpointed under Chow's incisive eye.

Exhibitions

Chow Chun Fai has exhibited internationally in both group and solo shows.

Select solo exhibitions include CHOW CHUN FAI, Eli Klein Gallery, New York (2018); Everything comes with an expiry date, Klein Sun Gallery, New York (2016), Chow Chun Fai: I Have Nothing to Say, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong (2015); Cultural Rights – Artist Running An Election, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong (2013); and Reproduction of Reproduction, Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong (2010).

Select group exhibitions include Now Showing 2.0, Karin Weber Gallery, Hong Kong (2022); Of All Things Cute, Karin Weber Gallery, Hong Kong (2020); Evolving Images: Modern Hong Kong Printmaking, Sun Museum, Hong Kong (2017); Chinese Whispers, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern (2016); Venice Meeting Point, Venice Biennale (2015); The Past is Continuing, Heritage Museum, Hong Kong (2015); Light and Shadows – Caravaggio, Asia Society, Hong Kong (2014); and Chongqing Biennale for Young Artists, Chongqing Art Museum (2011).

Awards and Accolades

In 2008, Chow was awarded the Hong Kong Arts Centre 30th Anniversary Award Grand Prize. In that same year, he was also awarded The Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

Website

Chow's website can be found here.

Peter Derksen | Ocula | 2022

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