The old man and the mottos
Ah-Chung reveals a sophisticated outlook in his vivid paintings
By Elaine Tai
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Outside the gallery, there is a signboard which is hung high in Cochrane Street.
In a picture on the sign, there is an old man who wears a smiling face.
The caption says, Happiness naturally comes after a smiling face.
The painter hopes that passersby will be happy when seeing it.
Ah-Chung, 66, is a contemporary Chinese painter.
His real name is Yim Yee King.
Fresh watercolor paintings and meaningful mottoes are his typical style.
In Chinese, Ah-Chung means insect.
He calls himself Ah-Chung because of his admiration for insects.
I want to be an insect because I cannot be a dragon, Ah-Chung said jokingly.
I admire them not only because they can even survive but also be happy in harsh environments.
Also, insects have great strength. They are even more honourable than human beings and dragons. A ant is a good example, he said.
No matter what, this insect that has painted the world, making it simpler and more beautiful.
His paintings do not target any specific group of people.
Instead, he aims at bringing his messages to all kinds of people.
That is not just a dream. With his simple pictures and plain words, he can achieve his aim.
But being simple is not being superficial. Ah-Chung has a vivid self-style.
Ive been interested in painting since 20. Though I wanted to study painting, I couldnt afford it, he said. But in retrospect, I am glad that I didnt learn painting.
Otherwise, I would have been affected by teachers, trapped in their frames.
It is great to paint without any burden but just to express my style only, Ah-Chung said.
The Chinese characters in his works show his unique style although he did not learn calligraphy.
My Chinese calligraphy is always criticized by others, but I dont care, he said.
To write good calligraphy is not my purpose. Ugly calligraphy suits my style.
Also, the mottoes are derived from his life experience rather than picked up from books.
I was eager to see or read more when I was 30, he said.
But then he realized there were no new ideas since he would think in the same way the writers did.
I didnt want to repeat what others had thought about. From then on, I seldom read, but think in my own way, he said.
The character in his works is a man who lives comfortably and cares about nothing in the world.
This reveals the current outlook of Ah-Chung, but not the way he was in the past.
He once was a critical and stubborn person.
He was a caricaturist for a newspaper for 20 years.
The theme of his caricatures mainly focused on freedom and human rights.
At that time, I took a very firm stance about right and wrong, he said. My yardstick of standard was clear and certain.
But then, his values changed.
So-called politics, in fact, are man-made problems, he said. The world keeps changing. Its difficult to judge which is right and which is wrong.
For instance, today perhaps one order can kill thousands of people without (soldiers) knowing why, he said. But tomorrow the war-mongers may declare peace and go hand-in-hand into the ballroom.
Ah-Chung feels that sometimes people treat these like a joke. He feels sorry for the victims.
In 1984, he quit.
I pursue harmony between one and other, harmony in the universe as a whole, Ah-Chung said.
He said that respect for one another is very important. People have different characters, and they have no choice.
In his belief, babies are born with distinct characters, which cannot be changed.
Therefore, one must accept and tolerate others. Otherwise harmony cannot be achieved.
Ah-Chung takes everything casually and easily, including life and death.
Death is a natural part of life, he said. Whenever someone tells me one of their relatives has died, I feel the same way as usual.
Im not cold-blooded. Everyone will die, he said.
I do want everything to be long-lasting, but I know thats impossible, he said.
So I prefer to face it positively. Thats natural.
Present and future
After he quit his job as a caricaturist, his wife wanted to migrate to the United States, so he left Hong Kong and started a new life there.
In the United States, he opened a shop selling frames.
It was a watershed for his work no more caricatures, just simple pictures and simple words.
The first picture he painted in Los Angeles was an old man sitting down, wearing a sad face.
I dont speak, not because I have no mouth, but because I dont want to say anything, the caption read.
The old man was a reflection of himself, actually.
But quitting the job of being a caricaturist did not mean that he wanted to escape from this complicated world.
In fact, he was even more positive than before.
He took things easier as he went through many difficulties.
Im living for the present, he said. I dont care about the past and the future.
I dont indulge myself in the past, he said. Its just a dream.
The past is something that cannot be changed.
I dont care about the future as well, he said.
Many people believe that what I am doing is all planned in advance, but I plan nothing.
Plans and targets do not exist in my life philosophy, he said.
Its difficult to predict the future.
He even has no idea about when he will stop painting.
I just follow circumstances naturally.
To me, the most important thing is to totally devote myself to the present and try my best, he said. This is the most positive way of living.
I love what I am doing most, he said.
Im not the kind of artist who will dedicate his whole life to painting, Ah-Chung said. But I love painting most while Im painting.
His try-the-best attitude drives him to excel at painting, but it also drags him through emotional ups and downs.
Im a perfectionist, he said. Whenever I cant meet my own expectations, Ill be very sad.
According to him, perfection is a sense of satisfaction, a good and positive feeling.
Its something that you never reach, he said.
Once you attain a certain level, you will aim higher.
(Courtesy of Ah-Chung)