Stephen Wong Chun Hei on weaving hiking, hillsides & heart-stopping nature into his art
The Hong Kong-based artist follows the light, drawing directly from the countryside before etching his sketches to canvas.
So many of us are inspired by nature, but few take notes for our next creations while nestled in the great outdoors. This is the unique practice of Hong Kong-based artist Stephen Wong Chun Hei. When hiking or travelling, he's constantly scribbling and sketching, trying to etch the beauty of his surroundings to memory so that he can transport his sights back to the studio where the real magic begins.
"I get inspired by every hike and travel trip," he says. "The experience and sketches completed during my adventures always provide the backbone for each imagined painting."
From there, he conjures up fantastical worlds on canvas, recreating pastel-hued sunsets and vividly-saturated landscapes dabbled in fading sunlight.
"I am very particular about sketching while hiking, rather than referencing from photos taken," adds Hei. "Capturing my subjective experience is so important for my paintings. It's about interpreting the landscape, composition, and dreamy colours in my own way while in action and awe."
Once back in the studio, Hei is beset on combining his collected sketches and transforming these figments of his imagination onto the page. This process takes around two to three weeks to complete a six-foot canvas, but it's a labour of love that allows him to relive the beauty of the landscapes he's interacted with.
"Usually, I will make a smaller draft to capture the whole experience of my hike," he says. "It's like playing with small-scale Lego. I have to reconstruct the experience with my imagination and piece together my memory of the landscape."
Besides observing how colours evolve over time and across vistas, Hei is equally fascinated considering how humans interact in nature – "I love watching what people from cities do when immersed in nature. Positioning them in my paintings serves as inspiration."
Hailing from Hong Kong, his country provides ample artistic stimulation, and he's constantly bemused at the juxtaposition of city dwellers and nature wanderers. And he's patriotic, appreciating the nation's fine beauty and natural distinctiveness.
He does travel overseas – as inspiration for documenting scenery and as a way to provide contrast to the landscapes he captures locally. Hei is particularly interested in the organic form of trees, mountains and clouds, and many of his artworks will use different viewpoints and angles to bring these features to life.
But without a doubt, it's light and how it touches nature that he's most besotted with: "Nature always looks different according to the time of day. I'm always chasing the light."