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Me and Shih Yung-Chun

Author : Jacky Yeung

I first met Shih when we curated a group exhibition for Hong Kong and Taiwan artists at our gallery, he was one of the participated artists. I barely knew this guy before, his work gives me a rather unusual feelings and I decided to invite him for a trip to Hong Kong before the open-ing, wanted to get to know him a bit more. Finally I met Shih in person when I picked him up from the Hong Kong International Airport on 7th March 2013, it was his very first time visiting Hong Kong, he arrived a bit late in the evening and so I took him to Mong Kok for a quick look. We started to chat while I was driving, listened to Shih talking about his life in Taiwan, his beliefs and creations... We then pulled over in the middle of crowded Mong Kok and continued to share his stories until late. Shih left me an impression of a very serious artist during the time we spent together, however, it seems that something was missing and I wonder what that was. Soon I decided to invite him to Hong Kong again after the group exhibition, for a one-month artist in residence program, and I was hoping that it might inspire him on his creation.

Two months later we met again at the airport in Hong Kong, I called him 'Shi Yong' this time, the nickname that he uses to interact with his friends in the internet. He walked through the arrival gate with a silver suitcase and three rolls of canvas, on the road for his Hong Kong trip! We prepared a working space for him to paint during the residency and settled him down in a hotel along the waterfront nearby. Later on, I introduced another residence Japanese artist Hiroshi Mori to Shih, we were hanging around for the following days, had a great time eating, drinking and chatting together. Despite the language barrier between these two artists, surprisingly they became good friends. It was fun to watch the witty Shih making fun of shy Mori all the time, always ended up with so many laughs. At the same time, I got to see another side of Shi Yong.

I took Shih to the art store to get what he needed to work after Mori went back to Japan, then 1 went back to take care of the gallery. A few days later, Shih came to me and said he had difficulties to paint, as he couldn't quite get use to this new environment. So I got him a bike and told him to cycle around the city, just to get to see Hong Kong first. He cycled to the train station everyday and travelled to different places, sometimes he went swimming at the beach nearby, just tried to chill and relax.

One day I got a call from Shih where he found himself at a toy store somewhere in Sheung Wan, he was lack of cash for buying some toys, so I went to find him immediately. I was a bit worried about him after found out he bought tens of thousands dollars of toys, I thought maybe he was being defrauded or something. Arrived at a less than 100 feet tiny tin shack 'toy store, I met the storeowner Mr Chong and found all these 30s - 70s vintage and antique toys in his shop. Shih wanted to take many of them home, including a 60 years old plastic doll, an 80 years old Japan made doll and a kids' tricycles made of wood from the 50s. We were both fascinated by all the 'toy stories' that Mr Chong was telling us, as if we got ourselves into a big treasure hunt. These vintage toys documented the history of Hong Kong and witnessed our changes over de-cades, as a collector of antiques Shih decided to bring them all home. We took extra care to put all the toys into the car boot, and just when we were about to take off Mr Chong suddenly appeared to say a last goodbye to his doll that companied him for years. It was the 30s lapan made doll that he found during a backpacking Europe trip when he was young, it companied Mr Chong over the trip and finally back to Hong Kong with him. Still I can recall the moment of this emotional farewell.

We were so excited to take all the toys back to the studio, had a couple of drinks while we talked about the 'toy stories'. Shih came up with an idea for a new series of painting using vintage toys as his inspirations. I suggested him to have a solo exhibition in Hong Kong base on his idea, and that everything was confirmed quickly for our collaborations. We decided to visit Mr Chong again and asked for his assistance on vintage toys, he was very helpful to us after he found out more about Shih and our art project. He helped us to look for many more vintage and antique toys and we learned such a valuable lesson about toys history and other useful information. Time flies and a month of residency had gone, though Shih did not get one painting done during his stay but I believe he gained something else that is more important to him, which might lead to a new beginning to his creation.

I kept in touch with Mr Chong the whole time, assisting Shih to collect more Hong Kong vintage toys here, and for about a year we had got ourselves a rather exciting vintage toys collection. Shih visited Hong Kong again last year in May with his model, searching for locations to shoot. He was looking for places with strong identity of Hong Kong, such as the Hong Kong style local café, custom tailored qipao shop and primary school classroom, etc. I took him to a 60s heritage Hong Kong style local cafe in a morning, we went upstairs to sit down and ordered the Hong Kong style milk tea and 'pineapple bun' for breakfast. Shih started to shoot and I even became one of his models! Our second location was the custom tailored gipao shop located at Shanghai Street, it was an old-fashioned store with a very friendly lady owner who did not hesitate to help us with the shooting, and even became one of the models in the end.

The third location was most tricky among all, we would not expect to be allowed for photographing inside a classroom in Hong Kong, time was running out and Shih was leaving Hong Kong very soon. I was about to give up until my ten years old nephew told me that he had convinced his school principal to meet us, so I brought Shih to the school with his art book quick-ly. Principal Ng is a very nice gentleman, he and other teachers were extremely supportive to the photo shoot. We managed to take lots of photographs with the toys inside the classroom, during the class with all those kids who were so curious and kept laughing at us. We were so lucky to have received many people's help to make it happened. Last but not least, we went back to Blessing Toy Store for our final shooting, and invited Mr Chong the owner of the store to be one of the models, which later on he appears in one of Shih's new painting.

It has been an honor to experience the production of this exhibition with Shi Yong, and I look forward to his new show at our gallery. Over the time I have brought Shih's work to Art Taipei 2014 and Art Stage Singapore 2015, also his new work will be showing at the upcoming Art Central in Hong Kong next year. I wish more and more audience could get to see his work and learn about this talented artist.

Life is an amazing journey and I cherish everyone who I met along the path. I wish Shi Yong all the very best in pursuing his dreams in creation, and to find freedom in whatever he chooses to do in life.

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