Feb 26 2019

Obituary: Hon Chi Fun (1922–2019)

by Chloe Chu

HON CHI FUN passed away on February 24, at the age of 96. Image via Asian Cultural Council

Pioneering Hong Kong modernist and Circle Art Group co-founder Hon Chi Fun passed away in the early hours of February 24, according to a press release issued by Asia Society Hong Kong Center, dated February 26. He was 96 years old.

A key representative of a generation of artists who found renewal in post-war destruction, Hon is widely recognized for his experimental paintings, which combine principles of traditional Chinese ink art, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Pop Art and abstraction. The artist began painting late in life, in his mid-30s, after his family fled the Japanese invasion of China during the Second World War. While he was a full-time postal inspector in Hong Kong, Hon would spend his weekends zipping around on his motorbike with an easel and painter’s box, executing a number of plein air paintings.

As art became an increasingly important part of Hon’s life, and he came into contact with fellow avant-garde artists such as Luis Chan, Hon began to venture into abstract expressionism, connecting Western modernist principles with those of Chinese ink and calligraphy. In 1964, Hon co-founded Hong Kong’s avant-garde Circle Art Group. Between its active years from 1964 until 1974, the group comprised nine to 11 artists, including some of the city’s most recognizable practitioners of the time, such as ink artist Wucius Wong and bronze sculptor Cheung Yee. From the late-1960s until Hon’s stroke in 2000, circles featured extensively in his practice, including in his pop-inspired screen prints, such as My Profiles (1969) or in his spray-painted canvases, produced after a residency in New York. Hon said about the circles: “The circle might be you, or me or be the him or her other than us”—indicating that the motif contains multiple voices, constantly in flux. 

Hon’s enduring legacy—that of his pioneering spirit—is recognized as one that helped build Hong Kong’s art scene. Over his multi-decade career, Hon presented his work at various institutions, including at the Hong Kong Museum of Art; the Hong Kong Arts Centre; China Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou; and National Museum of Fine Arts, Beijing. In March, the artist will be honored with a comprehensive retrospective, “A Story of Light: Hon Chi Fun,” at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, with loans from the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, M+ , as well as private collections and the artist’s own archive.

Chloe Chu is the associate editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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David Zwirner E-flux FAA Massimo de Carlo