Each man is an island, but all the islands are connected


"No man is an island," the English poet John Donne wrote in the 17the Century. And yet in Hong Kong artist Stephen Wong Chun-hei's latest painting series Indoor Hundred Islands currently on show at Touch Gallery (Touch Ceramics) in Tai Kwun, each man is an island.

Having been through the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year, living through social distancing measures and even lockdown in some places, we have somehow learnt that Donne's notion was right, for we long for getting together and communicating with each, even via technology if we are unable to see each other face to face. But at the same time, each of us is also an island, for we must learn and get used to live with ourselves. 

Wong's lovely paintings may have showed us that we don't have a choice — what else can we do if we can't even go out? But these one hundred small paintings also tell us that we can make the most of it, if we dare. We all have a little island inside. We can shape it whichever way we want, and do whatever we want on it. It all depends on our own perspective. 

We have been relying on others to tell us that we are living in a safe and comfortable environment. But the world is in chaos (and looks like it will never go back to where it was after this pandemic). We can only search for peace and sanity from within. 

I adore this series of paintings, although I heard that they have been sold out completely. Wong has been a favourite among local collectors. His landscape paintings exhibited at Gallery Exit's booth during Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel last year were almost sold out on the first day (I've featured this episode in my story for Artnet News). It's not at all difficult to understand why. His works are colourful, dreamy, a combination of reality and magic — almost magical realism. And his landscape paintings are inspired by his Hong Kong experiences. 

Recently I've been listening to him co-hosting this horror story talk show on Clubhouse with fellow artist Hanison Lau Hok-shing. Some of the stories were horrifying (like, seriously horrifying because they were first person encounters). But the great thing was that these great stories took my mind off from the grim reality for a fleeting moment. Each man is an island, but all the islands are connected. 

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