STEPHEN WONG CHUN HEI, The Islands of Kites, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 × 40 cm. Courtesy Gallery Exit, Hong Kong. 

Daydream Travelogues

Stephen Wong Chun Hei

Gallery Exit
Hong Kong

The landscapes captured in paint by Stephen Wong Chun Hei, who is an avid hiker and nature-lover, not only depict the idyllic beauty of the natural world, but augment it through the painter’s imagination. “Daydream Travelogues,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at Gallery Exit in Hong Kong, comprises petite oil-on-canvas paintings, which are all 30-by-40 centimeters in dimension. Wong, who graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2008 with a degree in Fine Arts, is a native of the city and is known for creating strangely familiar landscapes that embody the uncanny. Wong’s fascination with the differences between actual, physical landscapes and painted, fictitious views have led to the amalgamation of realistic and imaginary natural sceneries in his works. Through impeccable depictions of foreground and vast skies, each of his paintings easily draws and guides the viewer’s gaze through the entire image. All the paintings depict landscapes at a distanced vantage point, with a slightly distorted, fish-eye-lens-like view.

The exhibition is held in an industrial building with cold gray floors and sterile white walls, the starkness of which is in great juxtaposition with Wong’s detailed and brightly-colored canvases. In The Island of Kites (2016), a little warf and light tower jut out from the lower edge of the island, connecting the water to the lusciously vegetative land. The trees on the isle open up to a sky full of colorful kites in shades of orange, blue, yellow, red and green, creating a loose, dome-like shape above the land. Though kites denote a festive atmosphere, the absence of people to fly the kites adds a layer of ambiguity: is the island uninhabited? Wispy, animated clouds float across the sky and a faint outline of a ship appears in the background. The silhouettes of other islands lie in the distance, all underneath a canopy of more kites.

STEPHEN WONG CHUN HEI, Detour, 2016, oil on canvas, 30 × 40 cm. Courtesy Gallery Exit, Hong Kong. 

The image of the island continues in Detour (2016). This time, however, the island is in the form of a large, cement barrier that sits in the center of a roundabout. The structure, marred with stains of water from drainage pipes, provides a base for rocks, flora and a miniature forest to grow on its top surface. Orange trees reach up to the sky, which is dotted with puffy, cotton-like clouds. The choice to paint the trees the same bright orange as the rails that border the roundabout hint at the artificiality of this landscape. Wong’s layered painting technique creates depth and contrast by partially overlapping the trees with hills in the background. Additionally, applying complementary colors, seen in both The Island of Kites and Detour, makes for a visually seductive composition.

Inspired by video-game landscapes, Wong’s paintings give off an animated aesthetic. This can clearly be seen in A Bigger and A Smaller Landscape (2016), which showcases a path skimming around a mountain’s edge on one side, while dropping off into the ocean on the other, and leading through a tunnel with a perspective similar to those that are seen in go-kart-racing video games. Within Wong’s fantasy world, the relation between humans and the external environment is blurred. Because a video game is passive in nature, and the person who plays it is bound by the rules of the game, providing the player with an illusion of freedom enables Wong to investigate the idea of fictional landscapes and how it affects our lives in today’s digital age.

“Stephen Wong Chun Hei: Daydream Travelogues” is currently on view at Gallery Exit, Hong Kong, until July 9, 2016.