Beneath the bustling pedestrian traffic, a long secret alleyway in the heart of Argyle street leads itself to two walled panels – a pink tiled industrial building and the abutment of a bridge, facing face-to-face at each other. At first glance, the green moss covered floors and rainbow scribbles on the wall look disoriented and vile but standing between the two, you find yourself in the thick of a belligerent competition. Bright colors of neon pink and yellow come to life only to roar wildly at the tame black inked letters on the opposite side of the wall. The fight stretches across the two walls, each section fighting a different battle, not a single inch of space left blank as shapes and colors overlap each other to make their stories heard.
On the other side of town, paintings of Marilyn Monroe, Walled cities and dystopian buildings sit calmly and proudly on the planes of buildings and restaurants of Soho. The clean background of the wall gives them the spotlight to flaunt each of their unique colors and malleable shapes attracting the busy human eye. Tourists surround them with camera pods, marking it the go-to place in Hong Kong. For locals, it is part of their daily commute.
Street art is an umbrella term for graffiti, stencils, sticker art, prints and murals. Historically, it is widely understood as the work of gangs in 1920s and 1930s New York but had a specifically hard impact in the 70s and 80s when young people started creating a movement in response to their socio-political environment which was expressed through street art. In modern times, street art is seen more as a form of artistic expression that is not only limited to an individual’s view on society and politics but also feelings and ideas.
Over the past few years street art in Hong Kong has risen to popularity as several street art spots hold a ‘must-visit’ title for many tourists. An influx of expatriate artists propelled by international artists has inspired the Hong Kong street art scene, much of it which was quickly removed by the government.
The saying The world is your oyster is something that street artists consider to be very true. Street artist, Stephanie Studzinski who goes by the name Elucious, says her pieces aren’t confined to one artistic movement or style, “I do what is marketed as pop surrealism but that’s not where I came from. I am drawn to surrealism and specifically Dada because of its sense of whimsy and playfulness but I don’t take inspiration there.”
“I try to remind people how strange and wonderful the natural world really is if you look. I copy lines and designs from nature, deconstruct them and reassemble them into another dimension of reality. In some ways, I think my work is more real than reality, it’s just not this one.”
– Stephanie Studzinski, Elucious
Street art in Hong Kong homes some of the most instagrammed street art by local and international artists. French artist Elsa Jean de Dieu’s work is featured across the walls of Soho including Uma Nota and Barista by Givres. When asked who and what her biggest influences are, she simply replies “Everyone and Everything!”.
The legality of street art can divide opinions as some view it as an expressive form of art, but in most countries, including Hong Kong, is illegal and considered defacing public property. However, with street art gaining popularity by galleries and the global art market with works such as Banksy turning mainstream, commercialisation of art is becoming a common sight as a way to attract tourists and onlookers in Hong Kong.
While some may view commercialisation undermining the value of street art, Oriol Piquet, a Spanish street artist and co-founder of AXE COLOURS believes otherwise. “In recent years, street art has gained a lot of strength within the society and its artistic value. I really think this is a very positive step forward. When I started painting more than 20 years ago, graffiti artists were considered vandals and now you can be hired by big international brands.” Oriol has taken on art project of Outward Bound HK and HSBC centre, but his biggest one yet is a mural for FC Barcelona in the new Johan Cruyff stadium in Spain.
Like Oriol, Elsa’s works are commissioned but alongside, she embarks on a community project “Share a Smile HK”. With two other artists, Carol Bellese Choi and Claire Coutrel, the trio aims to contribute to the community through offering support to charities, NGOs and non-profit organisations by donating a Smiling Face mural to the centres. In raising awareness, they share their pieces with the general public through street art posters around Hong Kong neighbourhoods.
“An Artist has an incredible power which is the one to be in direct connection with his emotions and translate them into Art. Those positives or negatives emotions are the necessary fuel that we need to create. I personally decided to keep only the bright side of it in order to spread joy and happiness as i’m a true believer that street art has an impact on everyone passing by.”
– Elsa Jean de Dieu
The motif of her campaign is “Happiness should be a basic human right, but sometimes we need to be reminded and happiness begins with a smile.”
There is no right or wrong in street art just like there isn’t a limit to artistic freedom. Street art in Hong Kong is one that is very unique, like its international status the city showcases works of both local and international artists with different styles and techniques. The most appealing part of the street art scene in Hong Kong is that there is no need to go out searching for abandoned buildings and warehouses to see street art as it has grown to become part of life and culture in Hong Kong.