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Underground Art: Artist Brings Sai Ying Pun MTR to Life

Louise Soloway

Hong Kong based artist Louise Soloway loves capturing the life of ordinary people in everyday situations. For her, nothing compares to the vibrant spirit of Sai Ying Pun. Now she’s bringing her favourite neighbourhood to life underground with a stunning series of giant sketches in the new MTR station. We asked her what makes the place so special and this is what she told us.

In 2011 I was commissioned to produce a series of art works and 3D bas-relief panels for the new station being built in Sai Ying Pun on the new Western line. Part of the brief was to create a wall of traditional shop fronts typical of those found in the area.

As an artist I have always been inspired by my direct surroundings, watching people as they go about their daily lives. I always carry a small sketchbook and make quick on-the-spot sketches whenever I can. Especially when travelling on public transport, at the hairdressers, in bars and cafes, where I can be as invisible as possible.

Recently the iPhone camera has been a great tool for capturing fleeting moments or movements too quick for a pencil and paper sketch. Over the years I have gathered a huge collection of images, which are used as reference material to compose into larger works in the studio. The smallest gesture or character can become the starting point for a painting or relief panel.

150511 - Sai Ying Pun Sketch Book by Louise Soloway -Relief panels in situ

I was very excited by the commission for Sai Ying Pun as many of my old sketches could be reworked into the street scenes and shop fronts. Although many of the shops are recognisable, they are composed of multiple images to avoid becoming actual portraits. The characters and faces are made up from numerous gestures, hairstyles expressions, and images fused together to create fictional characters. Some can be seen repeated in several panels at different times of day heading off home or walking into the next scene.

When using clay it is as if the paintings are brought alive and lifted out of the canvas. The subject of shop fronts lends itself perfectly for the medium, as actual produce, objects, dried seafood, and fruits can all be pressed into the clay, creating life-like highly textured images in the final panels.

I’m constantly aware of the never-ending cycle of the working masses that keep the city alive. The movement and effort, pushing produce around, trolleys piled high with new stock or old lap sap (rubbish), men in suits rushing off to work, helpers getting children to school, old people strolling, sitting, playing Mahjong. All the silent voices and invisible hands that are the backbone of this great city that I’ve been privileged to live and work in for nearly 20 years.

150511 - Sai Ying Pun Sketch Book by Louise Soloway -Black and white stickers MTR

I tend to be drawn to densely crowded urban scenes as subject matter. Sketching on the spot is my way of finding relief amongst the crowdedness looking at the faces and details, connecting with the human spirit and humour. I would describe much of my recent works as maximumism.

I hope this artwork will be seen as Sai Ying Pun’s own artwork, for those who pass through the station to enjoy, and hopefully cause them to pause for a moment to appreciate the living spirit of one of Hong Kong’s most unique and special places.

Check out more of Soloway’s stunning artwork at her exhibition at Ping Pong 129. Click here for full event details.

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