When Stephen Wong Chun Hei was young, he always thought painters completed their works “en plain air”. The idea of having to find a setting, with easel and equipment in hand and capture it in its entirety, is understandably quite an intimidating task to someone new to the medium. But once Stephen found his own approach to painting, and understood how most painters' pieces were a mix of scenery and memory combined, the artist found his process and focus point. In turn, Stephen has since created a practice dedicated to intricately painting landscape scenes, inspired by the interaction between the urbanite and nature, the beautiful hills dotted along the skyline of Hong Kong, and the worlds built in video games.
Painting has always been a passion of Stephen’s since high school, believing “till this day that fine arts is the only suitable path for me,” he tells It’s Nice That. This self-penned “teenage naïveté” catapulted him into the field, studying the history and more professional side of painting in the fine arts department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This experience, coupled with his discovery of the works of John Constable and David Hockney – specifically the former’s “persistence to record his daily surroundings as a recurrent theme” and the latter’s studies of Yorkshire – led Stephen to record the landscapes around him in Hong Kong with a dreamlike enthusiasm.
Despite the fact that when most think of Hong Kong they’ll conjure an image of “our busy urban scene” it’s the city’s nature, “with its many beautiful mountains and hills, [that] has always captivated me,” says Stephen. The built-up areas of Hong Kong are not ignored however, and it’s this juxtaposition in the artist’s works that make for such captivating viewing. “You’ll notice I always include man-made features,” he adds, “for instance, hiking trails or tunnels that cut through mountains”. For example, a favourite piece of ours is a wide triptych landscape (shown below), which combines all these elements Stephen highlights. Hikers are dotted along an open road snaking round the painting’s edge, with their heads craned upwards to look at the layered greens of the mountainous landscape climbing above the city’s tower blocks down beneath the hills.
To create these pieces brimming with detail, Stephen’s process begins by collating together “mental imagery of places I’ve visited and experiences I’ve had there”. Trips overseas have fed this more imaginative part of his practice, like the vast meadows of the Netherlands or the provincial scenery in Aix-en-Provence. Then, he’ll build the piece bit by bit. First is a mountain trail, followed by trees and other details of the landscape in his mind, where it becomes “just like building a model,” he details.
The vibrant tendency of his colour palette in particular, aside from the vivid Constable and Hockney references already described, is also inspired by two years of Stephen’s early practice dedicated to painting landscapes lifted from video games. There is an almost neon-like tinge to his pieces derived from this influence, particularly in Stephen’s depiction of trees with their own wide ranging colour palettes contained in their leaves.
Each of these elements, Stephen’s home, his memory of journeys abroad or the landscapes he’s found himself lost within while playing video games, are all felt within his works. The final aim therefore is to simply transport a viewer as if they’re wandering within the painting themselves to “provide a new perspective for them to experience the location I’m depicting,” he concludes, “even if it’s somewhere they’re familiar with”.
GalleryStephen Wong Chun Hei (Copyright © Stephen Wong Chun Hei, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.