HONG KONG – Among the dreary loading docks in the industrial Chai Wan neighborhood, there is a colorful mural, incongruous against bleak factory buildings. This is the work of U.K. artist INSA, known for his large graffiti murals of abstract patterns mixed with hyper-real depictions of female body parts and fashion.
As one of the more commercially successful graffiti artists in the world, INSA has undertaken many private commissions including recent works displayed at Tate Britain. On August 18, he sprayed two large murals in Chai Wan to inaugurate the Vaford Gates, a public art project inspired by New York’s Bowery Mural.
The Vaford Gates are the rolling shutter gates that cover the front and back entrances of a warehouse for the prominent construction company Vaford Group. The two shutters are now exhibition spaces for temporary murals curated by Above Second’s May Wong. As Chai Wan’s gentrification snowballs and more artists, galleries, and designers move into the area, the Vaford Gates will become a visual marker of the creative energy of the neighborhood.
BLOUIN ARTINFO spoke with INSA about his inspiration behind the murals at Vaford Gates and how it is “easy” to do street art in Hong Kong.
Do the two murals relate directly to your past work on commodification, femininity, and sexual desire?
Yes, they do. I wanted to produce a variation on a couple of my more iconic images and adapt them to the space I had available. The front side is my heel pattern, which I call “Graffiti Fetish,” it is a pattern made of legs and heels. The second gate is my inverted hearts, which is called “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” Both of these use very feminine shapes in the same way my past work does.
Is it a political or social statement that you are making about the female image, or about commodification? Do you consider yourself a political artist?
Most if my work has an underlining social commentary about our relationship with the objectified form whether that be the female body or consumer goods. I wouldn’t call myself a political artist but as a human being I have a social conscience and think a lot about what my work means. Personally, I don’t like to necessarily preach and shout as I find this can sometimes be hypocritical of artists to do this as they are often in a very privileged position to talk about politics. I prefer my work to open up questions with people but don’t want to push my opinion on them.
The murals are not directly shouting a political message but they are a part of a continuing series and theme within my work about consumer fetishism and misplaced aspiration so indirectly they invite people to discover more of my work. But having said that I think the very nature of large street art and public murals is political by nature because it’s challenging to the very grey space surrounding it.
INSA in the process of creating a variation of “Graffiti Fetish” on the front Vaford Gates.
Many of the passersby who will see the mural will be workers in the industrial area. Did you take this into consideration when planning the murals?
No, I can’t say that. As this is similar to work I’ve done in other parts of the world I can’t say I’ve changed it for this particular audience. But I try to work within a certain color palette and aesthetic sense that is easily accessible and enjoyable to the “public.”
How long does it take you to plan a mural? Can you take us briefly through the process?
There’s always a thought process in terms of advanced planning in thinking of the color scheme but these particular pieces of work are done entirely on site to work with the scale and location directly.
Where is your dream place to do graffiti next?
INSA’s variation on “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”
Is your work always planned these days? When and where was your last impromptu work?
My artistic life is a mix of planned work and planned projects that have a lot of process involved, but the next day I might be able to just paint a piece for fun. The most recent was last week in London. I did a quick thing near my studio because I liked the look of the wall.
What is your impression of street art in Hong Kong? Do you agree that it is harder to be a street artist in Hong Kong than anywhere else?
There seems to be a burgeoning scene and I actually found last time I was here a couple of years ago it was very easy to do illegal street work with no questions asked. I think there may be a misconception that it’s difficult to do street art here, and people should try to do it more.
Please tell us about your next project.
Tonight I get on a plane to Berlin for an exhibition, which is celebrating the launch of a special edition artist beer bottle I’ve collaborated on with Warsteiner Beer.