Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ho Sin Tung has made waves in the Asian art scene with her quietly subversive works, which usually take the form of paper-based paintings and pencil drawings (although she also tackles film and installation, on occasion). She continues to exhibit extensively in prominent Hong Kong galleries amongst various other cities.
~Interview by Ysabelle Cheung.
How would you describe your work and yourself?
There will always be a long dead silence after these existential questions! I think I am the type of person who will never find a way to describe myself.
Tell us about your creative process, from the initial idea to the finished piece.
I don’t have a concrete idea about ‘initial’ and ‘finished’. Sometimes you are just not sure if foreplay has started. And the work can always be better so it’s somehow never finished. I don’t do drafts or sketches so the process of ‘initiating’ looks like nothing is happening on the surface. When I think the idea is mature I just get the material ready and finish without a break.
How do you conceptualize/construct a piece?
I am a slow producer so there is always a long queue of ideas, waiting to be realized. I can chew on an idea for years if there are no adequate resources to execute it and no suitable platform to display it. Meanwhile I will just keep living my life – reading books and watching films mainly – to accumulate possibilities about simply anything the world offers. The process of remembering is an intellectual activity for sure, but it’s also more than just that. So much knowledge and so many stories seem to be useless and irrelevant but I am obsessed with them. I follow my desire. For me, it’s like planting germs in my head, I don’t exactly know how it will all end up but I let things grow raw and organic. One day I might wake up with some weird-looking plants and curious creatures within me.
Your works seem incredibly detailed – what scale do you tend to work at?
I have a table sized 125 x 150cm. I can’t work bigger than this scale. I like creating small pieces – sizes that my hands can comfortably handle – like the size of a letter or a document.
What is your favourite subject-matter?
Anything extreme and intense enough to haunt.
You incorporate a lot of text in your work as well as visuals. Where does inspiration for text come from?
When I was a small girl all teachers forbade me to write on my drawings. Text was considered a sign of incompetence – they would say, “you write because you can’t express through visual.” Text thus became a taboo. And it became appealing. I – like everybody else – grew up surrounded by images with texts: commercials, packaging, posters, book covers… so to me text in images is only natural.
There’s also this narrative feel about your pieces, which are almost always bordered and come with titles and stamps. When you draw, do you have a story in your mind that you want to put across?
I never have a very clear story in mind. If I have one I will probably write it down rather than making a drawing. A drawing is, rather, a hint of something invisible and unspeakable.
The title of one your pieces for Tiny Pencil is called The Day I Found Myself Abnormal. What’s the story behind this particular title?
At the end of Furuya Minoru’s comic Maybe Amber Life, Morida – the serial killer in the story – remembers himself crying when he was a teenager. One day he squatted down alone on the way home, realizing that he is abnormal; realizing his sole desire in life is to strangle women to death.
I heard that the ‘tenderness of painting’ is to draw some company for your crying figure. So I decided to give Morida a bird. In the original picture he was all alone.
What kind of things do you think have influenced and inspired your vision the most?
Being bullied in Kindergarten because I have big ears. Being the opposite sign of Aquarius. Receiving a Christian education. Reading Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Being loved like a dog.
What are you early memories of drawing like?
My parents allowed me to draw all over the wall when I was a small girl. I remember I had a small corner under a desk which I drew a lot of graves on. I only liked villains and as you can imagine, they die all the time. So watching cartoons every day was a traumatic experience for me. I drew a lot of graves to commemorate those villains, who are so talented and so devoted to what they believe in.
What directions are you interested in taking your work in the future?
Describing unfinished projects is like describing an unborn child. It’s so difficult. I just hope I can be more serious and demanding about my work.
Where can people find out more about you?
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
What books are on your bedside table?
Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard Krafft-Ebing
Poems by Yu Xin Qiao
The Memoir of Literature by Mu Xin
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
The Holy Bible
The Oxford Advanced Leaner’s Dictionary of Current English
Favourite city in the world?
Tai Po, Hong Kong.
Ho Sin Tung features in Issue 4 of Tiny Pencil: The Death & Resurrection Issue! Available to buy here.
This interview was brought to you by Ysabelle Cheung and The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts. Follow us on twitter @TheTinyPencil, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram for the latest news on all of our new anthology artzines.