Urban Diary
未來故事 永續香港|Sustainable Future, Hong Kong Tales

LEE Chi-ching: The Cultural Landscape of Wan Chai

LEE Chi-ching loved drawing as a child. Inspired by the work of realist painter Andrew Wyeth, he was determined to become a painter someday. Lee joined the comics industry in 1981, working as a comic assistant for a local newspaper at the tender age of 18. As Lee explained, “From drafting, sketching, to the use of screentone, a specific personnel was assigned. Usually the chief editor led the work with his team of assistants.” Lee is working on a project for Hong Kong Heritage Museum’s upcoming “Jin Yong Gallery”. A glimpse at the myriad shades, backgrounds, and muscle-tone on the hand-drawn draft informs you of the collective work that goes into a piece of comic. After a year in the industry, Lee became chief editor; he later joined Tony Wong Yuk Long’s office in Wan Chai. When he finally found his own company, his workshop was also located near the Canal Road Flyover. For years, Wan Chai was Lee’s inspiration.

“Wan Chai feels like a close friend,” Lee said. Lee would go to work from Sha Tin by train to Hung Hom, then by ferry to Wan Chai. In this poetic journey, Lee would sketch the people and views that pass him by. For the artist, sketching was like following one’s heart, and was a part of life. Lee pointed to a portrait of a mullet behind him. He passed by a neat pile of mullet in the Wan Chai wet market, which looked just like the hexagram in I Ching. The combination of fish and I Ching became an everyday inspiration for his art.

“I’m fascinated with a place’s unique cultural landscape. There is history wherever there is people, we travel in order to witness the evolving culture of a place.” Lee’s work ranges from comics, ink art, watercolor to oil painting. He thinks that each individual work represents a unique event.  A single place could give inspiration to a range of colors, contours, sound, and style. Historic Wan Chai, which includes Tai Yuen Street wet market, Blue House, and the typhoon shelter, epitomizes its cultural landscape. Lee used to roam the Wan Chai landscape for inspiration in the 1980s.

Apart from Harbour Centre and Canal Road Flyover, Lee visited the exhibitions and fairs in the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. He also visited China Resource Building for its art exhibition, and the recently founded Comix Homebase for its comic collection. Together they form a living map for the artists in Wan Chai, adding on a special layer of memory to the place.

A young person once commissioned Lee to draw a Wan Chai streetscape in the 1960s. The street was where the youngster’s parents met and flourished. The youngster wanted the painting as a gift, so that the family could relive the story. It was a special occasion for Lee to re-imagine the laughter and sorrow of old Wan Chai.

Wan Chai is an intimate, down-to-earth district. While Lee thinks that while rapid changes are inevitable, he hopes that Wan Chai could still retain its unique timbre and cultural landscape.