The University Museum and Art Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition featuring early paintings by the pioneering Hong Kong artist, Hon Chi-fun (b. 1922). The focus of this exhibition is a group of oil paintings dating to the late 1950s that the museum acquired in 1998. Best known for his work as an abstract artist in acrylic and mixed media, this exhibition looks at the foundations of his later abstract practice through his early landscapes executed in oil on board, and a selection of calligraphic works and ink stones. Hon has a unique calligraphic style, and a deeply poetic sensibility. When shown together, his early oil paintings and calligraphy reveal the roots of Hon’s practice to lie in the classical traditions of western oils, and Chinese ink and brush.
Hon Chi-fun only began painting in his thirties. Growing up in Hong Kong in the 1920s and 30s, his childhood was a happy one in which he received first a classical Chinese education, and then an English-speaking one at Wah Yan College. By all accounts he was a keen and accomplished student. He had learned to write calligraphy as a child and enjoyed how its practice could calm his overactive energies. The 1940s brought the trauma of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in late 1941, and consequent years of exile in China. Only after he returned to Hong Kong in the 1950s was he able to establish himself in a steady job at the Hong Kong Post Office, and achieve the financial security with which he could finally take up painting.
Hon read voraciously on art, philosophy and political thought and was particularly interested in the work of the Impressionists. He took to travelling all over Hong Kong on his motorbike at weekends, teaching himself to paint what he saw in oil on board.
The exhibition will also show a number of works from the 1960s when Hon Chi-fun began to transition from being a painter in a post-Impressionistic, Fauvist mode, to that of a truly modern artist. Like his contemporaries, Luis Chan, and Lui Shou-kun, Hon began to crave the new. He joined the Modern Literature and Art Association, and in 1963, became a leading member of the influential Circle Art Group, which included Van Lau, Cheung Yee, Kam Ka-lun and David Lam among others. By 1969 when Hon was chosen to be the first recipient of a fellowship from the John D. Rockefeller III Fund (later the Asian Cultural Council) to spend a year in the United States, he had abandoned representation.
The Museum is committed to supporting the work of Hong Kong artists, and is honoured to pay tribute to the long and important career of this pioneer of modern art.