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    Gallery in the skies: in conversation with landscape painter Stephen Wong
    Stephen Wong ventures into the mountains, capturing the scenery with his palette of vibrant hues while reflecting on the world around him
    Gallery in the skies artist, Stephen Wong sitting in art studio
    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Meeting landscape painter Stephen Wong in his studio, I am immediately drawn to a particular piece – a painting within a painting. The artwork depicts his studio in which we stand, with landscape paintings of Hong Kong adorning the walls. Yet, intriguingly, Wong himself, wearing VR glasses, is shown seated inside the studio and gazing upward at a virtual landscape.

    “It serves as the conclusion of my solo exhibition,” Wong explains. “The exhibition begins with aerial views of Hong Kong from outer space, followed by depictions of the city's scenery. Finally, the perspective shifts indoors, with me portrayed in the painting using VR glasses to watch the night sky, echoing the initial aerial perspective." The painting juxtaposes reality and art, inviting viewers on a whimsical journey across different spaces.

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    Artist stephen wong looking at artwork in his gallery

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Jade temple in Stephen Wong's studio

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    "I've always believed that a blank piece of paper holds endless possibilities," Wong adds. It’s this outlook that led us to first approach Wong to create two artworks for Gallery in the skies; his creations, “Lion Rock from Above” and “Mount Fuji from Above”, will be displayed in theBusiness cabins of Cathay Pacific’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

    Born and raised in Hong Kong, Wong developed a passion for drawing in kindergarten, initially sketching beloved cartoon characters. During his high school years, he honed his skills by practising sketching throughout summers spent in Guangzhou. After majoring in Fine Arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, he found his niche: landscape painting.

    At first, Wong’s scenes were drawn from the virtual world of video games, but he later sought to paint among, and take inspiration from, nature. Consulting hiking guides, he began exploring various trails around Hong Kong to capture its landscapes. "My impression of Hong Kong's scenery was quite vague until I started painting en plein air," he remarks.

    Mountains became a recurring theme in Wong's works, with iconic peaks holding special significance. "During a trip to Jeju Island, South Korea, I could always orient myself based on the sight of Hallasan, the island's iconic peak. That journey made me feel the comforting presence of mountains," he recalls.

    Artist stephen wong sitting in his studio surrounded by artworks

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Wong's creations for Cathay employ light brush strokes and saturated colours, resembling views from high altitudes. Explaining his choices, Wong says, "Lion Rock holds significant importance to Hongkongers as a landmark, representing collective memories. As for Mount Fuji, it was inspired by my trip to Japan at the end of 2019.” 

    “I intended to paint Mount Fuji, but encountered fog… Surprisingly, I saw it from the window of my returning flight – an unforgettable moment. Later, due to the pandemic, I couldn't travel for three years, making that encounter even more memorable. ‘Mount Fuji from Above’ portrays my eventual reunion with this Japanese landmark. When I climbed Mount Fuji again in summer, its vivid red appearance [known as 'Aka Fuji'] left a lasting impression. Thus, I used orange-red hues to depict it, echoing the same colour in ‘Overlooking Lion Rock’.” 

    Artist Stephen Wong at work on one of his art pieces

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Artist Stephen Wong's paint brushes

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Artist stephen wong's paint on a table

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Venturing into the mountains and interpreting the scenery from different angles gives Wong space to reflect on the world. "When I look at mountains from the city, each seems isolated. But when I hike and look out from the mountains, I realise the trails actually connect all the peaks in Hong Kong,” he says. “Conversely, it's the city that appears fragmented. I think the world might be similar; every place is connected, not independent. Borders are just human constructs; from a natural perspective, the Earth is interconnected."

    Through his art, Wong explores the relationship between humans and nature. "In urban life, surrounded by skyscrapers, people tend to feel significant. But in nature, we're tiny,” he says. “When I hike, I love observing the mountains and the tiny figures on the trails. Our existence in nature is insignificant, which brings a sense of humility and tranquillity."

    Artist Stephen Wong in his studio

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Wong didn't always appreciate Hong Kong's landscapes, however, and found skyscrapers unsightly. It was only through travel, and experiencing unfamiliar landscapes, that he realised the importance of belonging. "Since then, I've often travelled to understand Hong Kong's scenery better. Sketching in Hong Kong and travelling have become complementary for me."

    Artist Stephen Wong's painting in situ on Cathay aircraft

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Artist Stephen Wong's painting in situ on Cathay aircraft

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Wong eagerly anticipates the moment when passengers encounter his work onboard. Unlike exhibiting in a gallery, for which Wong meticulously plans everything from artwork placement to event promotion, showcasing art in an aircraft cabin comes with an element of surprise. "The placement of my work in the cabin affects passengers' impressions, whether they see it when they enter the cabin or after they’re seated, the experiences will be totally different,” he says.

    He’d like the experience to inspire those travelling. "After seeing the artwork, I hope passengers pay more attention to their scenery and surroundings,” he says. For those on a journey to embrace new scenes and perspectives, it’s an apt message. 

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