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Blending Art and History

Thu, 23rd Jul 2015
Young Macao artist creates new art concept. (July 2015)

A young Macao artist has created a new artistic concept that has won him awards and earned his works a place on the walls of departments of the city government and private collections as far away as Las Vegas, Italy, Britain and Singapore. Eric Fok, 25, depicts Macao, Lisbon and other coastal cities by mixing old maps with contemporary landscapes. “I’m inspired by history, which acts as my muse about things in the remote past,” he said.

He won the Second Orient Foundation Art Award. One of his most important series of works is Paradise; they have been shown in New York, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao. Some can be found in the Macao SAR government headquarters, Macao Cultural Affairs Bureau, Macao Orient Foundation as well in the homes of private collectors worldwide. His work has also been chosen to appear in the 50th Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, Art Nova 100 of China and Art Revolution Taipei 2014.

In Paradise, he draws old maps of Macao yet contemporary buildings, such as the Grand Lisboa. “To me, the images of casinos in Macao have become more than architecture, they speak of our times; they signify a cultural lag,” he said.

Drawing and history

When he was growing up, looking for ways to express himself, Fok became interested in drawing. “Later, I integrated this with my passion for geography and history, as I read about the history of Macao. I came across historical etchings and vintage illustrated maps of the city; out of this came the idea to combine cartography with my artistic practice.”

The result is an unusual art form, where the old meets the new, creating a sense of familiarity while at the same time sending us back a few centuries in time. To achieve this, research plays a very important role. References come from everywhere. “They are derived from Western antiquarian books, vintage etching prints and the documents available on Macao from the Age of Discovery,” he said.

After finding interesting cartographic materials to work with, Fok moves to the next stage - drawing. “My drawings are made with technical pens, mostly on watercolour paper tainted by tea, to create an archaic effect. I have also worked on wrecks I collected from an abandoned shipyard in Coloane. I consider ships to be a vehicle of cultural exchange.”

Working on paper and using copies of old maps, he has invented a whole new cartography that combines antique depictions of Macao and other cities with contemporary elements, such as landmark buildings.

Fok’s pen has depicted not only Macao but also Lisbon, another city he has been drawing. He starts from a curious perspective: “I have visited many museums in Lisbon, in search of the history of navigation. While Portuguese colonial architecture was built in the Far East, based on the idea of territorial conquest, I created a set of drawings from the wonderment of a history re-imagined – the story of Zheng-He (Chinese voyager in the 14th century) and his fleet conquering Lisbon, where traditional Chinese architecture was built. How would that city be if the Chinese had colonised it, if oriental culture had landed there in the 16th century?”

Studio in noisy street

Fok works in one of Macao’s busiest streets, Avenida de Horta e Costa. But the noise of all the passing cars and motorcycles does not seem to penetrate his little art sanctuary. In the main room is a long table where you can see some of his works. A smaller room houses a desk where the artist draws again and again, pushing his brain and his hand to find new paths. He wears slippers in his shared studio because he spends most of his life there, every bit the young and committed visual artist.

Still young at 25, Fok has achieved something many local artists aspire to: he dedicates all his time and energy to art, his job and his profession. “I come here to work every day, from morning to noon. It is possible to survive as an artist, though sometimes it is necessary to depend on the support from the government, and at times, ironically, funding from the gambling industry.” 

Mapping a new world

Part of the younger generation, Fok is keenly aware of the transformations in the city’s landscape, society and lifestyle after the boom of the gaming industry. Change is something that interests Fok; Macao itself has been changed deeply. “It has been an important port in global trade routes, as the earliest basis for contact between East and West… Now it has become the Asian gambling capital and the city bears a forgotten past. There is a price to pay for this growth. We have advanced materialistically, but suffer from a spiritual loss. My work articulates my concerns about Macao in this context.”

New works

Last March, Fok showed a new series of works, entitled 1513, with an exhibition at the Art for All gallery. The year of 1513 is believed to be when Portuguese navigator Jorge Álvares first made landfall in Macao. Using it as an inspiration for his show “Landfall – New works by Eric Fok”, the artist has created six line paintings, always travelling between past and present.

Working with the ever-changing cityscape, Fok sees his career development as something that will come naturally. Going abroad to show his works and share experiences with other artists is a pleasant part of the process. This happened in 2013 in Italy, where he went to participate in Bologna’s Illustrators Exhibition. “The experience was positive. I felt encouraged and recognised as an artist and that was something I had never felt in Macao. The respect I gained has motivated me to continue with my artistic career. I have also been offered more chances to exhibit internationally since then,” he says.

His future path, inside and outside this little studio will surely be rich in changes and new discoveries.

By Hélder Beja in Macao

Photos by Eric Tam and Courtesy of Art for All

(Issue N. 29, July 2015)