Once derided as a barren rock, it took Hong Kong just over a century to develop from a simple fishing port into an international trade centre hustling and bustling with activity. The vast majority of the population is, of course, Chinese, but the small but significant proportion of residents from other countries makes for a colourful mix of East and West, and while life in the territory remains firmly rooted in Chinese traditions, Western trends have always represented an attraction. The result? An exhilarating pluralistic society of a wonderfully diverse cultural character. Hong Kong artists are not unaffected by this heady brew: constantly searching for their Chinese roots while absorbing the exciting new spirit of the times, they aim at innovation and change and are today shaping a unique art that is redolent of a global vision yet steeped in local colour.
Spanning just over 100 years, the history of Hong Kong art experienced its first flowering in the 1920s and 1930s. Artists from the mainland frequently came to the territory to exchange information and opinions, while a number of art societies sprang up in quick succession. Painters and calligraphers such as Feng Kanghou (1901-1983) and Jian Jinglun (1888-1950) set up schools where they passed on their skills, while on their return from studying in Canada, the oil painters Li Bing (1903-1994) and Yu Ben (1905-1995) brought with them the latest trends in Western art, thus paving the way for future developments.
After 1949, mainland masters such as Ding Yanyong (1902-1978), Peng Ximing (1908-2002), Zhao Shao'ang (1905-1998) and Yang Shanshen (1913-2004) emigrated to Hong Kong. While Ding and Peng revitalized the art of traditional ink painting in the territory, Zhao and Yang began to exert a great influence as they promoted the Lingnan School of painting.
The 1960s were a time of cultural development when many artists began searching for their roots. As the economy started to boom, modernism quickly entered the scene, and the winds of change swept powerfully through cultural circles. Artists of the New Ink Painting Movement - Lü Shoukun (1919-1975), Zheng Weiguo (1920- ), Zhou Lüyun (1924-2011), Wu Yaozhong (1935- ), Wang Wuxie (1936- ), Liang Juting (1945- ), Jin Daiqiang (1942- ) , as well as Liu Guosong (1932- ), Yu Miaoxian (1944- ) and Wu Guanlin (1964- ) - attempted to introduce new ideas and techniques into traditional ink painting to enrich its means of expression. At the same time, another group of artists, including Zhang Yi (1936- ), Wen Lou (1933- ), Kuang Yaoding (1922-2011), Han Zhixun (1922- )and Xia Biquan (1925-2009), used Western media to convey the essence of Chinese culture, creating a distinctive style by fusing the traditions of Orient and Occident.
Since the 1970s, more and more artists have spent time abroad, returning to Hong Kong to transplant the trends they had experienced there and make their own significant contribution to the most diverse development of art in the territory. Bi Zirong (1949- ), Mai Xianyang (1951-1994), Li Weixian (1950- )and Liu Guohui (1966- ) studied in Britain, Liao Shaozhen (1952- ) and Hu Yongyi (1964- ) went to the United States, Zeng Hongru (1954- ) travelled to Canada, Zheng Ming (1949- ) and Lü Zhenguang (1956- ) pursued their studies in Taiwan, and Wang Chunjie (1953- ) and Xu Enqi (1959- ) moved from the mainland to Hong Kong - and all strove to develop their own unique style and bring an even greater pluralism to Hong Kong art.
Hong Kong faced major political changes as it entered the 1990s, and many artists, such as Li Yunhui (1954- ), Deng Ningzi, Li Rihuang (1954- ), Jin Ming (1955- ), Liu Xiaokang (1958- ) and Liang Zhihe (1968- ), sought to respond to the challenges of history, politics and livelihood by employing different creative media. It was at this time that the definition of Hong Kong art in the context of Chinese culture also became an important issue.
And what of the new millennium? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: Hong Kong artists will continue to draw on their past even as they look to the future.