Hon Chi Fun: Journey to the West



ACC’s 50th anniversary celebration continues in Hong Kong with the exhibition: "Hon Chi Fun’s Perspective @91" which will take place at the Rotunda, Exchange Square from September 9 – 29, 2013. Co-presented by Hongkong Land and ACC Hong Kong, the exhibition opens on the occasion of Hon Chi Fun’s 91st birthday and honors the artist’s position as one of Hong Kong’s earliest masters of modern art as well as his status as one of the first Hong Kong artists to receive an ACC fellowship in 1968. The exhibition includes a broad selection of his works, ranging from his early landscape paintings from the 1950s to his abstract works from recent years.

Image: Detail of Hon Chi Fun's "Northern Wilderness", acrylic on canvas, 2003



hon chi fun: journey to the west


by Michelle Vosper

In 1969 Hon Chi Fun visited the United States as one of the first Hong Kong recipients of a fellowship from the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund, the predecessor organization of the Asian Cultural Council, which was founded in New York in 1963. He arrived at JFK Airport on September 1, two weeks after the Woodstock Festival gathered half a million young people on a New York State farm for a celebration of “peace and music.” It was a time of extraordinary social upheaval in the United States. The country was embroiled in the Vietnam War abroad, and at home its citizens were demonstrating for peace, civil rights and women’s liberation. Draft cards and bras were being burned in public, and the slogan of the younger generation was “Never trust anyone over 30.” Hon was 45.

Hon was no stranger to social turmoil. His family had fled to Guangdong at the beginning of the Japanese occupation in 1941, and more recently - in 1967 - Hong Kong had been shaken by violence and rioting triggered by the Cultural Revolution over the border. He was also well prepped for life in a western country. By the 1960’s, Hong Kongers were already developing a global awareness through the media and television. Young people could sing the Beatles’ songs, Clint Eastwood was the hero of all male adolescents and Hon himself arrived in the U.S. wearing clogs and bell bottom trousers.

Hon and his peers in Hong Kong’s tiny arts community were familiar with developments in the arts abroad and with the recent trends of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art through magazines and publications made available at the United States Information Library. But he had never seen the original works of art which, for an artist, is an experience that no publication could replace.

In those days there was very little art of any kind to see in Hong Kong and Hon’s generation of artists were largely self-taught. There were no visual art academies, museums, galleries or funding for the arts. The cultural venue of the day was the annex of St. John’s Cathedral where Hon first exhibited his work publicly in 1959. City Hall and its art exhibition space did not open until 1962.

Once in New York Hon took full advantage of the vibrant and ubiquitous arts scene and began soaking up the cultural environment with intensity. He visited museums, galleries and bookstores and still remembers an exhibition of paintings by photorealist artist Chuck Close at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He took courses in lithography and etching at the Pratt Institute. At night he frequented jazz bars and attended performances at virtually all venues from Lincoln Center to the Bowery district. He even prevailed through a six-hour film by Andy Warhol which showed a man sleeping for the entire duration. Hon discovered that he was the lone audience member when the lights went on again.

Despite a constant bombardment of new stimuli, Hon maintains that these experiences had little effect on the style of his work. At 45, he was a mature artist and confident about the direction of his practice. One observes a continuity of style in his paintings created before and after the trip. Hon believes, however, that the impact was of a nature more profound and far-reaching and which affected his overall thinking. He writes: “An artist living alone in this furnace of western art naturally thinks more about things - the relationship between art and the origins of culture…the function of arts and the community…they all triggered my thoughts and desire to digest and understand.”

Hon also reports that his experience in the U.S. resulted in a new sense of mission which convinced him take a leap of faith and dedicate himself totally to his art. When he returned to Hong Kong, he gave up the security of his job at the Hong Kong Post Office and thrust himself into the uncertainty of the life of a full-time artist. And during the year after his return, he worked with a mad intensity and produced an unprecedented number of works.

Hon’s description of deep reflection and introspection while in New York, a by-product of the new experience of living alone, has been echoed by many of the ACC grantees who followed in his footsteps. They talk about the emergence of a new mindset - resulting from the opportunity to gain a different perspective on the world - and a new sense of commitment and empowerment. These comments illustrate the wisdom of Marcel Proust who wrote: “The real journey of discovery is not in seeing new places, but in seeing with new eyes.”

The Asian Cultural Council’s goal in its program of cultural exchange is never to “change” an artist’s work but rather to inspire and energize artists to continue to experiment, thrive and endure against all odds. It is about courage. The artist’s journey is never an easy one and Hong Kong is one of the hardest places in the world for artists to stay the course.

At the age of 91, Hon Chi Fun continues to create. He is revered as one of the leading pioneers of modern art in Hong Kong and as a feisty maverick who forged his own path and innovative style. His work epitomizes the depth and uniqueness of Hong Kong’s creative cultural collision, an authentic distillation of contrasting influences which is difficult for the outsider to grasp fully. Perhaps art is the only vehicle that can accurately express the spirit and soul of this sui generis culture.

The Asian Cultural Council is proud and honored to cite the name of Hon Chi Fun at the top of its roster of talented recipients from Hong Kong. And we Hong Kongers owe a debt of gratitude to this distinguished artist who has contributed so much to our city’s cultural legacy.


On November 30, 2012, the Asian Cultural Council invited a few of us artists and designers to take a trip to Washington D.C. I only remember three things from that day: names, Christmas tree, and China...

Written by:

Dai Wei
Creative Designer, Shanghai Theatre Academy Virtual Simulation Laboratory
2012 ACC Cai Fellowship Recipient

On November 30, 2012, the Asian Cultural Council invited a few of us artists and designers to take a trip to Washington D.C. I only remember three things from that day: names, Christmas tree, and China.

The warm and peaceful atmosphere of Washington D.C. heightened the solemnity of the city’s various memorials and sculptures. This was particularly the case for the names etched onto the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that were dappled by the reflection of clouds colored by shades of the sky. However beautiful those clouds may be, they would surely be soon forgotten. But the memorial will live on in the hearts and minds of many.


We went to view Cai Guo-Qiang’s gunpowder art creation that afternoon. With flashes of fire and flint, the ink black gunpowder merged with the stark white sky and a ‘black Christmas tree’ was created right before our eyes. Before the eyes of so many, and surrounded by a host of memorial architecture which represents the American spirit, the very appearance and statement of this work was undoubtedly ironic.

Before leaving Washington D.C., we visited Ai Weiwei’s solo exhibition together. Needless to say, there was no lack of sensitive topics amongst Ai Weiwei’s works, such as China itself. I have to admit, that was the first time that I truly experienced the notion of “China” becoming an international topic.

Names come to represent a group, Christmas trees are black, and China is displayed in different ways. These were my experiences in 1 day out of the 180 days that I spent in America. Cultural clashes, fusions, oppositions, and dialogues all took place during that time. Now, half a year later, it still causes me to reflect and rethink.

July 31, 2013