Installation view of TØRU HARADA and YAN CONG’s exhibition “The Corner” at Leo Gallery, Hong Kong, 2016. Courtesy Leo Gallery.

The Corner

Yan Cong and Tøru Harada

Leo Gallery
China Japan Hong Kong

Tucked in a corner of the SOHO 189 luxury building in Hong Kong is Leo Gallery, located in one of the city’s oldest districts, Sai Ying Pun. The building, launched in 2015, stands out from the local shops nearby, which mostly sell mourning incense, dried seafood and Lunar New Year treats. In the summer, the blended scent of such products under the sun permeates the air and is no stranger to the locals. Upon entering Leo Gallery, one is transported from the hustle and bustle of the city streets to a calm interior, which currently houses the aptly-named two-person exhibition, “The Corner.” The show features artists Tøru Harada from Japan and China’s Yan Cong. Both artists draw inspiration from everyday life to create artworks in a variety of mediums.

YAN CONG, A Bottleneck, 2015, acrylic on canvas, diptych: 180 × 120 cm each. Courtesy the artist and Leo Gallery, Hong Kong. 

At the gallery, A Bottleneck (2015) by Beijing-based Yan Cong greets viewers. Hung on the wall on the right of the entrance, the painting is in the form of a narrative comic strip that expresses the woes of being an artist. Its background is primarily green in color, while the main subjects are depicted in monochrome. The first comic strip panel on the top left corner of the painting portrays a structure labeled “Star Gallery,” which establishes the fact that the work’s story corresponds to the artist’s real-life situation. As one of the artists on the roster of Star Gallery, an actual venue in Beijing, Yan Cong faces pressure when it comes to preparing for exhibitions there. In A Bottleneck, the narrative’s passage of time is marked by phrases such as “one week later,” “the next day” and “one week before Art Beijing’s opening,” in simplified Chinese. Its protagonist, an artist like Yan Cong, exhibits indecisive tendencies and feels dissatisfied with the draft of his painting. As the deadline for his exhibition approaches, he ends up being unable to finish his work and paints over the entire canvas in frustration.

YAN CONG, Playing with My Cat No. 2, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 4 pieces: 25 × 20 cm each. Courtesy the artist and Leo Gallery, Hong Kong. 

On the wall facing the entrance, four cartoonish canvases by Yan Cong showcase different stages of a figure playing with his cat. In the first panel of Playing with My Cat No. 2 (2015), an orange figure, clad in black trousers, extends a cat toy towards the feline. The sequence climaxes in the next panel, in which the cat leaps in mid-air in hopes of catching the toy—a red ball suspended by a string on a pole being held by the figure. The sequence ends with the cat successfully obtaining the ball in its paws and walking away with it in its mouth.

Such playfulness and dynamism is also seen in Japanese artist Tøru Harada’s art. In Ballet Dancer (2016), a metal sculpture on an acrylic base, a dancing figure—a hybrid of cat and human—is seen standing on one leg. The work is accompanied by similar sculptures on painted pedestals. When viewed from various angles, the figure looks drastically different. The fluid lines and spiraling metal sheets that make up the sculpture give the impression of graceful motion.

Harada finds inspiration in street life and incorporates discarded objects as material for his works. The artist’s effort in revitalizing such items manifests itself in Garage INDIAN (2016). Comprising a pair of metal scissors, a brush with synthetic green hairs, gears, and other materials, the industrial collage forms a colorful face in saturated hues. To add to the fun, Cat Neko (2016), another mixed-media collage resembling the face of a cat by Harada, is placed high above eye-level near the other side of the gallery’s entrance. The work leans casually against the glass wall of the exhibition space, as if enjoying a birds-eye view of the audience below. Splatters of light-blue paint on the cat’s ears contrast with the orange trapezoid that shapes its nose, while its lopsided yellow and brown eyes recall Picasso-esque, cubist forms.

TØRU HARADA, Garage INDIAN, 2016, mixed media, 45 × 40 × 25 cm. Courtesy the artist and Leo Gallery, Hong Kong. 

The two-person exhibition of Tøru Harada and Yan Cong are a joy to the senses. The works are humorous and easily relatable, allowing them to form a dialogue with visitors no matter their background.

Yan Cong and Tøru Harada “The Corner” is on view at Leo Gallery, Hong Kong, until September 15, 2016.