Frank Tang lives and works in an impeccably neat 200-square-foot studio flat in Tsing Yi. “That’s why my artwork is very small and why lots of my work is in scrolls,” Tang says. “If I frame it but can’t sell it, then I have to store it in this apartment.”
But there aren’t too many old paintings piling up in Tang’s workspace. “I’m quite lucky in that when I was graduating my artwork was sold to a big collector,” he admits. That “big collector” was architect and art patron William Lim, who’s a fan of the delicate, monochrome ink paintings that Tang creates on paper and silk.
When we first met Tang in September, he’d just started discussing ideas for his December show at K11 Art Foundation with curator Kwok Ying, who’s also working on the Hong Kong Pavilion at next year’s Venice Biennale. “I said yes to this [show with Frank] just before I said yes to the Venice Biennale,” Kwok says. “A lot of Frank’s work has some really unique qualities. The way he uses some traditional Chinese painting techniques but is trying to blend it with his own experience and interests. In Chinese, what we say a lot of the time is that when you look at a landscape painting you can actually travel with your eyes.”
Tang has made this idea of travelling through the painting a little easier by actually labelling some of the real-life places in his works. One of his largest landscapes depicts the 100-kilometre-long course that he completed last year for the Oxfam Trailwalker competition, on which he’s neatly identified landmarks such as Lion Rock and Kowloon Reservoir.
That same painting of the Trailwalker route has a wall fan mounted on the frame. “The reason why I put the fan here is a story about my father,” Tang explains. “When my father was a child he lived with his family of eight people in 200 square feet. But my grandma still insisted on putting a landscape painting on the wall. That left no space for the fan, so she actually put the fan on the painting.”
Aside from his landscapes, Tang’s also known for his paintings of unusual trees, which he discovers as he wanders around Hong Kong. When we visit his flat, he’s painting an enormous evergreen over two large sheets of white silk, which are hanging up to dry by the end of his bed. “This tree is in Tsuen Wan,” Tang reveals. “There’s a newspaper stall underneath it. When I was a child the tree already covered the newspaper stall. They’re growing together. In my work, I want to show the relationship between humans and nature together in our society.”
Frank Tang’s exhibition, From 4am to 10pm, is being hosted at chi art space from December 8, 2016 – January 8, 2017.