Artist Zhu Hong: “It’s not about the material, it’s about the idea”

By Kevin HoEvents - 08 July 2013 12:50 PM | Updated 25 July 2013

Artist Zhu Hong: “It’s not about the material, it’s about the idea”

Many smartphones can carry fancy paint applications that are fun to play with. But most users' creations end up looking like spaghetti doodles or random blobs of colour.

Not China-born artist Zhu Hong's though, which are lively works of art that speak volumes.

Based in Singapore since 1997, Zhu Hong shows his love for our little red dot with his paintings of distinctly Singaporean settings and occurrences, which will be revealed in his latest exhibition entitled 'Beyond the Screen' at 7Adam Gallery Restaurant from 25 July to 21 August.

We sat down with Zhu Hong to have a casual chat about his latest project and his artistic origins, and found out promptly that his personality is as eccentric as his paintings.

Zhu Hong is known for his watercolour-style paintings which are full of life

Before our interview even began, Zhu Hong was on a roll, like a runaway train speeding through all of its stops. It was exciting to witness, yet hard to keep up with. He swerved unpredictably and we had to constantly catch our breath. And we hadn’t even started talking yet.

Clearly, this was a man who was inspired. Looking at a few of his works for 'Beyond the Screen', this wasn’t difficult to miss.

His works weren’t just amazing. And they weren't interesting only because they were produced entirely on a screen barely as big as his palm. The magic of Zhu Hong’s paintings lie in their vivid attention to detail, and the way he captures the essence and life of a scene in a dreamy, calligraphic style.

What’s the inspiration behind 'Beyond the Screen'?

Technology is all around us. Look at transportation for instance, it has evolved from cars, to aeroplanes, to rockets. You can easily see the change.

But art is different! Man used to paint in caves. And today, this basic method of drawing remains the same. Although technology has indeed affected art, the essence remains the same. It’s not about the material, it’s about the idea. That’s why art goes beyond the screen.

This exhibition is about common things. Common things like the view outside my house window. Or even my shoe. It’s about everyday life.

Zhu Hong keeps a whole bank of paintings tucked neatly in his smartphone

I don’t carry my phone to paint. The process is more freestyle. If I see something around me that happens to be nice, I’ll paint it.

So what’s the story behind painting with a tablet?

Before I started using the Samsung Galaxy Note, I had an iPhone. That was in 2010. I found that the iPhone was too small for my liking, especially as the stylus I used was quite fat. Also, I didn’t quite like the Apple brand and its philosophy.

One day I went to a PC show and saw the Samsung Galaxy Note, and I thought, “This phone is quite nice!” and so I changed my phone. Since obtaining it, I’ve been painting with the default application that comes with it, “S Note”, not some third party application. I feel that although it does not have the most expansive of capabilities, like Photoshop does, for instance, it contains everything that I need. It’s good enough for painting, nothing fancy.

You have a background in architecture and interior design. How did you end up being an artist? Was it a natural development or a leap of faith?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing. But in China, it wasn't the normal thing for parents to encourage their kids to go and paint, to go to a fine arts school and make much money from it. Your parents would never say that! Eventually I found architecture. I was exposed to architectural drawings and thought to myself, “This is kind of nice!”

After I made my way to Singapore in 1997, I gradually began painting again. And one day I just felt it, I wanted to be a professional artist. Although everyone was against my decision, I knew that that's what I always wanted to do. I knew I would regret it if I didn't take the plunge. So in 2011 I quit my job to be a full-time artist. I got a little bit of scolding from my sister.

Your works are known for their vibrant and energetic colours. Which colour would you say best represents you?

I guess everyone will say red, as my name Zhu Hong can be interpreted to mean 'red'. But I actually like every colour. Red is not bad though. It’s the colour of blood. And also scientifically, the red wavelength is also longer, so people can see it better from far.

Zhu Hong finds a balance using generous doses of colour in his works

You’re fascinated with Singapore’s architecture, which is delicately captured in your works consisting of shophouses, skylines, and streets. What is your favourite place in Singapore and why?

My favourite place now is Geylang, where my studio is currently. I like vibrant environments, and Geylang certainly is one. It’s dirty enough, messy enough, and has a sense of disorderliness.  

Are there any specific elements or factors which you take into consideration when painting?

Firstly, the subject must touch me. I can determine that by the time I take to complete a painting. Sometimes on my phone I take three hours to paint, and I consider that long. When a painting takes too long, I often look at it and go, “Ahh, this has no life” and I’ll change it. Finishing a painting in half an hour is much better because there’s more energy and confidence involved.

So what do you do when you’re not painting? Or do the eyes of a painter never sleep?

I’m actually lazy. If I can sit, I won’t stand. And if I can lie down, I won’t sit. If I’m not painting, I’ll probably stay home and watch movies. Okay I’m actually boring too. Ha ha …

'Beyond the Screen', a Solo Exhibition by Zhu Hong | Dates: 25 Jul–21 Aug | Time: 11am8pm | Venue: 7Adam Gallery Restaurant, 7 Adam Park | Admission: Free