Street art has grown from name tagging to artists leaving a mark, showing their individual styles as part of an urban art movement.
Dotted among the thousands of skyscrapers and venues around Hong Kong is a creative outlet that takes form in the style of street art. Evolving from its New York City hip-hop origins are artists like Banksy and Keith Haring, who were significant to the start of the muralist movement. We speak to artists from Hong Kong that are revolutionising graffiti, from being generalised as vandalism to becoming a modern form of art.
THE FRENCH GIRL: CAROLINE TRONEL
What do you enjoy most from being a contemporary artist?
I started to paint on walls using a spray can on my rooftop. Today I can paint 15 metre-long murals, small or large canvases, build installations and I’m even exploring digital art and NFTs! I don’t want to restrict myself to only one practice and what I enjoy most is mingling with other artists and learning new techniques.
How do you think street art allows people to share their voices or message?
Painting on the street allows your art to be visible to a maximum number of people. It is probably the most appropriate art movement for sharing a message. That’s exactly what brought me first to street art, I wanted to share a positive message and invite viewers to spread good vibes. Therefore, I naturally chose to paint in the street in order to reach out to the maximum number of people. The scale of the paintings is also a very exciting feeling!
What advice would you give to growing artists looking to collaborate with more prominent brands or restaurants?
I love the idea of collaborating with brands or restaurants if it is meaningful for both parties. A crossover event always stimulates my creativity, I’ll try to come up with new ideas to surprise both communities! I aim to diffuse my loving message to people on any medium, so any genuine collaboration is a great way to spread my message. If I had only one piece of advice to give to emerging artists looking for collaborations [it] would be just to ask! You would be surprised how many restaurant owners and brands are keen on working on crossovers to create exclusive content.
RTL CREATIONS: REBECCA LIN
What made you want to specialise in murals? How did you develop this into a career?
I was born into a creative family so I always knew I wanted a career in a creative industry. I had been working as a freelance artist since 2015 but it wasn’t until I met Carol Mui, a frequent collaborator, that I thought it would be something to keep pursuing. Until then, I hadn’t really thought of large scale paintings as something I could make a living out of, especially considering the lack of space in Hong Kong. Whether it’s a commissioned design for corporate companies, beautifying private residences or collaborating with like-minded businesses for exposure and experimental work, there is an increasing interest in bringing art into the home or workplace - especially during the pandemic’s isolating nature where blending the boundaries of indoor and outdoor aesthetics became a necessity.
How have you seen street art change in the past few years?
I do think the perception of street art has changed and pushed many to reevaluate their definition. Murals are now considered street art, whether or not they are situated on an exterior wall, planned out months in advance or painted with consent or pay. They fall under the umbrella of street art if they’re for public viewing and offer a different perspective of the environment they’re in. I think this positive shift in perspective over the past few years has encouraged more diverse styles of artists to be ‘exhibited’ and has increased the demand for murals.
Have you encountered any gender inequality or stereotypes within street art culture?
I personally have not experienced any gender inequality whilst working as a muralist. The people I’ve worked with base their interests on the art itself. The beauty of street art is that it’s public and often surrounded by elements you have to work around, meaning you have little space to work with to tag your identity. You can be anonymous, ambiguous or straight gendered with your tag and I don’t believe it would affect how many walls you paint.
What led you to start painting murals? Did you always know you wanted to pursue it?
I had painted one or two murals with my partner Rebecca for friends when someone I knew encouraged us to join HKWALLS 2018. We thought it could be a fun opportunity and painted an ‘urban jungle’ mural that turned out to be pretty popular. Following that, we started to get a lot of projects requesting something done in a similar style and our businesses have grown ever since. I’m really grateful that I was able to quit my permanent job last year to become a full-time muralist. So no, I didn’t always know I wanted to pursue it—I’ve always loved art but it happened organically and I’m so glad it did.
How would you like to see street art grow or evolve in Hong Kong?
Street art has definitely grown in leaps and bounds in the last few years but there is still space for so much more! I’d love to see more murals painted around Hong Kong and to see all kinds of styles, especially outside of gentrified areas such as Soho. Currently, street art in Hong Kong leans more to the conservative side and sometimes purely for decorative purposes as opposed to sending a message. So it would be great to see bolder pieces that push boundaries more.
Are there any significant differences you see between street art and other forms of art?
Yes—street art and public murals tend to have a wider audience and are more accessible to everyone as opposed to pieces that are hung in a gallery and so are often only viewed by a more affluent audience. The origins of street art also aren’t limited to artists who come from an art school or the “art industry” so it tends to be more democratic and diverse. It also has to stand the test of weather and time so the materials used tend to be more limited and have roots in spray paint, and although the styles are evolving now, street art tended to have bolder colours and lines.