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    Gallery in the skies: in conversation with painter Tobe Kan
    The plants of Hong Kong hold a special place in Tobe Kan’s heart, as she presents them in colours that blur the line between reality and imagination
    Gallery in the skies artist, Tobe Kan in her art studio
    Credit: Mike Pickles

    We all have an inherent desire to move. It’s ingrained in us to embark on journeys into the unknown, seeking out sights yet to be discovered. This innate curiosity drives us all. 

    Hong Kong painter Tobe Kan explores the line between reality and imagination, and one- and three-dimensional forms, in her artworks. "Most of my paintings are inspired by dreams,” she says. “I would wake from dreams and be unable to fall back to sleep. Then I began to realise that those dreams contained indescribable emotions related to reality, and that perhaps exploring them could be a way to retrieve lost fragments of reality." 

    Journeying between reality and dreams, Kan focuses her creative exploration on the space between the tangible and the intangible. "Things seen in reality sometimes appear in dreams,” she says. “I hope to connect everyone to the everyday through this method.” To do this, she explains, flat paintings are no longer sufficient. Instead, she creates “three-dimensional works to blur the lines between truth and falsehood, much like dreams."

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    Journeying between reality and dreams, Kan focuses her creative exploration on the space between the tangible and the intangible. "Things seen in reality sometimes appear in dreams,” she says. “I hope to connect everyone to the everyday through this method.” To do this, she explains, flat paintings are no longer sufficient. Instead, she creates “three-dimensional works to blur the lines between truth and falsehood, much like dreams."

    Blue flowers and paintings in Tobe Kan's art studio

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    artist Tobe Kan painting in her art studio

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    A close up of a blue flower in painter Tobe Kan's art studio

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Her studio is a pristine space dominated by a blue jungle, her paintings and three-dimensional works all featuring blue plants of various sizes. Soon, this blue jungle will take to the skies – two of Kan’s works, Shift 5-1 and Shift 5-2 have been selected for our Gallery in the skies , which will see 30 artworks displayed in the Business cabins of our Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Created using acrylic paint and coloured pencils, each piece depicts plants discovered by Kan around Kowloon Park.

    Since her childhood, Kan has aspired to be a painter, pursuing a career in design for the same reason. After spending a year as an intern at a Berlin design firm, located near the culturally rich Auguststraße, with its galleries and art shops, she was inspired to dedicate herself to fine art.

    Kan was an Artist-in-Residence at Cambridge University, getting accustomed to the local flora of the UK, when we reached out about featuring her artworks on board our Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. “After receiving Cathay’s invitation, I revisited the photos I had taken in Kowloon Park,” she says. “Looking at the local plants from Hong Kong while abroad made me realise how different they are from those in the UK. It made me understand the meaning of home after being away for a while.”

    The Shift series, which currently consists of five pieces, was inspired by movement, with most of them having been painted by Kan while she was on the move. "Although I had already conceptualised the compositions while in the UK,” she explains, “the actual painting began after my return to Hong Kong. 

    “Amid the chaos of moving and settling in... I realised I hadn't been paying enough attention to the plants around me. So, I shifted my focus to them and even changed some habits, like choosing lower bus seats to observe different plants on the ground closely, which influenced my creative process."

     

     

    “I hope that upon arriving in Hong Kong's city centre, Cathay passengers will recognise the plants they saw in my paintings on the plane.”

    Kan believes that her need to travel for work and an aircraft’s inherent motion poetically collide in this project. She smiles and says, "Plants themselves don't move, but the plants I paint will travel around the world on Cathay Pacific’s planes, which I find fascinating." She also plays with the concept of time through colour, using various shades of blue to create her botanical paintings. “Blue evokes a sense of nighttime, blurring the lines between reality and time,” explains Kan. “I also use touches of apricot and pink: colours that appear during transitional times of the day." 

    She’s drawn towards painting plants with short lifespans, tending to opt for subjects that are common in the heart of Hong Kong which may silently disappear over time. Her depictions of plants are often large, dominating much of the canvas.

    Artist Tobe Kan thinking while looking at her painting on canvas

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Vinyl records on a chair in Tobe Kan's art studio

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    "I'm more concerned with things that are overlooked, like mountains, sleeping people or plants – they are all silent living things,” says Kan. “I intentionally alter the scale of the plants in my paintings to make viewers realise, amid their busy lives, they've been overlooking these plants that live among us.” 

    She adds: “I hope that upon arriving in the city, Cathay passengers will recognise the plants they saw in my paintings on the plane."

    Born and raised in Hong Kong, Kan's art naturally revolves around local themes. "My life is very ordinary,” she says, “which is why I choose plants from the city centre as my subjects. They're closely related to everyone's daily life, not distant or unreachable, which is also very important to me, something to be preserved and explored." 

    While travelling in Europe, Kan explored the role of environments and their impact on plants. This prompted her to reflect on the role of Hong Kong artists living abroad, which fuelled her sense of mission. "For the sake of Hong Kong,” she says, “I feel it's my responsibility to be a good artist."

    Artist Tobe Kan's painting on canvas of a blue flower hanging on a black wall

    Credit: Mike Pickles

    Kan says she’s proud to have her artworks displayed in our Gallery in the skies alongside such talented local artists. And, she adds, "Cathay is a company that holds a special place in the hearts of Hongkongers.”

    Kan reflects on her first memory of Cathay: a TV commercial from her childhood. “The music has stuck with me all these years,” she recalls. "I later found out it was Ryuichi Sakamoto's The Heart of Asia.”  

    She pauses for a moment, before continuing: “Music heard by a child that can still be recalled all these years later. The power of creation is a powerful force, isn’t it?”

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