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Notes from Transcendental Colours and Love of a City

Lam Wong / Jan 2018

Spring 1994. I was on a gruelling Greyhound bus trip from Edmonton to the east coast Canada. The trip was an attempt to do a rough survey of this great country before my move back to Hong Kong, to live and spend time with my then girlfriend, Mei (now my wife and life partner). While the bus was circling around Lake Ontario, through what felt like an eternity, I plugged in my Diskman and set the music to The Durutti Column’s monumental album, Vini Reilly (*FACT244). Eyes closed. My mind drifted away to places I did not know existed. It must have been around the OPERA II track that the colours started to come. No Warning. Flashes of bright orange, hued purple, unknown shades of blues, heart-breaking sorrowful greys. All the flying chroma of ultra-blissful lucidity. And lights. Lights worked as threads filling the gaps between the ever-mutated colour forms to link them all together. Like a roll of monochromatic film that was running away from secrets, and into the purgatory of brilliant exposure. A point of no return. I kept my eyes closed and rested in that space, enjoying the light forms and the colour show. With no particular focus, no visions or stories, letting the formation of transcendental colours beam through my eyelids. I remembered I was happy. It might have been the first time I really felt happy, in the sense of timelessness. Without a centre, overwhelmed with colours. Embraced by light in a bright white hole of infinite space. Forgetting self. Right, that must have been my first experience of the transcendental. Entering into the void. That power completely took me over. My head was floating in the nowhere air while the body was cruising at 100 kilometres per hour down the highway. My country.

Spring 2010. A two-day extravaganza at the Hong Kong Art Fair (ArtHK10) in the heart of Wan Chai, a district I used to work in during 1994. The stage was set for world-class artwork, art lovers and the curious alike. I found myself again overwhelmed with colours. This time with gigantic primed white walls and endless streams of crowds in the air mingled with excitement and the scent of commerce. Art economy. Determined to take in every piece of artwork, I ended up exhausted and in urgent need of food. Rushing across the pedway that connects the slick modern convention centre to the chaotic local boutique markets, I found myself sitting at a tiny table in a Hong Kong cafe, facing the front door, looking out into the street. Mind blank. After quite some time sitting motionlessly with my tired body, my eyes aimlessly glazed out to the busy street, to the river of unending pedestrians and moving bodies. Railing right and left like colourful sound waves. The walking figures were flashing in and out of the doorframe. Suddenly, the light went on in my head. My consciousness merged with the force and motion of the people. I quickly took out my camera and setup the tripod on the dinning table in the middle of the tiny cafe. Snaps away. The patrons probably thought I was mad. But they said nothing. I was happy to archive a certain instance of the walking people of Wan Chai and the moving colours of their bodies. Wan Chai is artsy and chaotic. It has everything I love about Hong Kong, the city I grew up in during my teenage years, and a place I continuously visit since immigrating to Canada in 1987. Although Hong Kong has undergone strong political currents and challenges in recent years, it still remains exciting in its own beautiful chaotic way. The series of paintings. Transitional 2x4, is dedicated to the people of Hong Kong. An homage. May peace come in the ever-changing mood of time. My city.


21 ELEMENTS - Relation, Perception and Meaning

It may have been my illusion, but the people in art space always feel more beautiful. It is also my belief that Art is Made for Intimate Moments. In those frozen moments and stilled subjects inside a commercial free world lies my fascination and obsession about the viewers' minds, and the meanings the objects of art induced in them.

All things are defined by other things as well as their immediate environment. The objects are meaningless if they are not related to either their creators or observers. Also, in my view, all paintings are abstract even if they are recording real events. There's nothing real on a surface of a canvas if you really take a closer look, but it somehow evokes emotions when memory plays a role in the experience. This series of paintings is a study of the multiple layers of perceived meanings and their abstraction. It is an exploration of the relations and interaction between the viewers, art objects and the non materials (mind, space, time and memory). The paintings allow me to have a glimpse of the private moments of their viewers' personal experience with art, and once again allow you, as a new group of viewers, to experience a new reality in a different level of relations. However, this time it includes the filtering of my perception and interpretation of those moments. It's like an old Chinese saying: "There are Skies beyond the Sky."

Lam Wong
Vancouver 2010 09


Private Life / Public Life

To me, art making is a spiritual practice. To build a relationship with my painting while I am giving life to it during the creative process is an extremely enlightening and alive experience. The mind has to be absolutely present, free from all mental distractions. Once a painting comes to life, the immediate relationship with its creator, the artist, is a very personal one. It is a kind of communion between a human consciousness and an object. The meaning can only be constructed and perceived in the artist's mind, enclosed in his/her skull, remaining secret forever. No matter how hard we try to express it with words (which are the real barriers), we won't hit the target. This is the private life of a painting. Then, when it enters the world of media, speculation, analysis and public art/cultural institutions, it takes on a different aura. Just like a human body is unique in the world, a painting in display is like going naked in public and opened for judgement, most of the time without the artist's witness. It is subjected to social and cultural discrimination in the names of beauty and reason. The dramatic changes of the relationship between its private and public lives could be quite shocking at times. In the end, the reason for its existence is meaningless if there's no human consciousness involved (both the viewers and artist). Art is a totally mental constructed human idea. It may give pleasure and colour to our lives, but it is Love that makes life possible.

Lam Wong
Vancouver 2011 09


Silent Air

There is this Silent Air which connecting the art object and its viewers, the performance and its audiences. It is probably the most important thing in art because this invisible gap, is also the link that complete the relationship. It is where the consciousness and the meaning form and flow.

Lam Wong
Vancouver 2013 09



Transitional 2x4

A series of diptych paintings, each showing a fixed frame and depicting motion figures paired with a monochromatic colour-field counter part. Behind each piece of artwork is a hidden painting that is permanently mounted. They are created with layers of calligraphy and paint, drawing from a famous concept in the Diamond Sutra: The Buddha’s teaching on the impermanent and empty nature of all phenomena. The hidden paintings are both talismanic and abstract in nature. Below are the original texts that have been used in the hidden paintings:

一切有為法 如夢幻泡影
如露亦如電 應作如是觀

All conditioned phenomena
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, and shadows,
Like dew and like lightning;
One should contemplate them in this way.
(English Translation)

The Transitional 2x4 series was formed with a realization of a single thought - "Everything and every situation happens only once." All experience is unique. It is a quiet contemplation on time and impermanence. The frame of each painting symbolizes Nowness, and the content (the walking figures inside the frame) depict the movement in time – an expression of Impermanence in all forms and colours. Like an ever-flowing river, the walking figures seem to transition into other frames in a mysterious way. I like the idea of my paintings having conversations with each other.

My newer paintings are very often inspired by my older works. The idea of the undercover hidden paintings and the pairing of two paintings on each panel may come from my earlier work, a large diptych called Westcoast (MOA) 2008, which feature two Buddhist monks on the left panel and a same-sex couple on the right. The setting was the Museum of Anthropology at UBC in Vancouver British Columbia. The aesthetics of this new series, upon revisiting them after completion, feels like a subconscious extension of two of my earlier paintings titled 1964 The Poignancy of Music, and 1964 The Poignancy of Poetry, set in Mark Rothko's studio in Soho, NYC which I painted between 2010 to 2012. They are the projected ideal of how painting should be made, and what should be felt.

Lam Wong / 2018




Chaji / 茶寂

In 2010, during the making of my documentary film Tea Zen, I went to China and interviewed Mr. Cai Rong Zhang (蔡榮章), the founder of Sans Self Tea Gathering, ‘Wu-wo’ (無我茶會), at his Tea Philosophy Department office. In that meeting, we discussed much about the history and the spirit of tea, especially the influence of Taoism and Zen Buddhism in tea practice. From the dialogue, it is this idea that lingers and echoes still strongly in my consciousness after all these years: If there is a religion in tea making, it is Beauty.

To launch the journey of my year-long artist-in-residency at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, we are delighted to announce two new projects: Chaji (茶寂), a group exhibition and Garden Tea House, the installation of a year-long tea house in the garden’s Scholar Study.

The tea philosophy tradition that the legendary Japanese grand tea master Sen no Rikyū left behind and practiced diligently relates to four elements: Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility (和敬清寂). I like to think that the first pillar of tea philosophy starts with Respect (敬). Respect towards Tea, to the tea makers, the guests, and to nature. With great respect in mind, I invited four established artists–Arthur Cheng, Bryan Mulvihill, Chick Rice, and my father Don Wong–to join me in the Chaji exhibition. They are tea friends with whom I have the good fortune to have a tea affinity. In addition, we are pleased to feature the works of John Cage, an influential and illuminating American artist/composer. The artists are all masterful in their art practice. They have all in various ways been inspired by Tea or Eastern philosophy, especially Buddhism and Zen.

Cha (茶) in Chinese is Tea. Ji (寂) is a more complex word to translate: solitude; a deep appreciation for beauty, subjected to impermanence or the empty nature of time; tranquility with its hints of sadness, presence and awareness. Ji is an integral part of Rikyu’s tea philosophy. This is the final stage, the Nirvana of a tea life. With the acute awareness of the present moment and understanding the true nature of time, Ji is the mind state of appreciating beauty in solitude, a kind of joy-sadness tranquility. Within Tea, it carries this beauty and spirit, and it seems to be amplified in silence. In essence, Tea is the appreciation of beauty in simple things. A kind of preparation for the aesthetic of silence. Tea is deep peace - and when the deep inner peace arrives, the world can be very beautiful.

In the city of Vancouver one can hardly imagine a better place of cultural significance to have a Chinese tea ceremony other than Chinatown’s Chinese garden. It is with tremendous gratitude and honour that I am given the opportunity to work with all the respected artists in the Chaji exhibition. It is my hope that with the installation of the Garden Tea House in the Scholar’s Study, many artists and cultural builders will come and continue to inspire, share their stories, and create new projects collaboratively over a cup of tea. As the tea sages would often say: 一期一會 (One tea gathering, once a life time). We are looking forward to hosting you in our beautiful tea art space.

Lam Wong
Curator and Artist, Chaji
Artist-in-Residence (2019-2022), Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden




Luminous Garden

Luminous Garden investigates the concept of the garden as a sanctuary for spiritual growth: a place to connect to nature and arouse enlightenment through contemplation and meditation. Gardens offer a profound environment for spiritual awakening. Sit quietly, for example, beside the sand and rock garden of Ryoan-ji, in Kyoto. The legendary American composer/artist John Cage was so inspired by the experience that he created an entire composition (Ryoan-ji, 1983-85) and a series of rock drawings dedicated to this Zen garden. The garden is sacred in that it allows us to immerse ourselves in nature, where one can realize truth, the Tao, the law of the universe.

For many years Glenn Lewis has traveled all over the world to photograph gardens. His interest in different traditions of garden design, gates, pathways, entrances and motifs informs and inspires his ceramic work, forming a dialogue between his pottery and his photography. Similarly I have long explored and photographed the phenomenon of “Dancing Light” in gardens and natural settings. I sought to express the communion of peaceful mind and subtly shimmering sunlight–an experience of illuminated refection expressed in the single Japanese word Komorebi.

Gardens are universal, but why do we actually create them? According to Glenn Lewis, gardens perhaps evoke a utopian ancestral memory of a time when we lived in caves, surrounded by primeval forests. Gardens allow us to put aside “the world of red dust” (our troubled and deluded minds) and become free and focused in the natural world. Gardens are humankind’s first home, our primeval place in nature. Like the mythical Garden of Eden, which houses both the tree of knowledge and the tree of enlightenment, gardens in their ceaselessly changing seasons remind us of life’s impermanence and the endless cycle of birth and death.

Whispering pines, swaying bamboos, weeping willows, a stone carpet floor, the dancing sunlight on a pond–such fleeting moments conjure up a secret message that can only be communicated through indescribable introspective discovery. This is the world of heart-stopping and thought-slowing transcendental time. We behold in silence as a single petal slowly sways and floats and lands on a mossy rock, only moments later to be washed away by rain. Such beauty has no name and can only be felt.

Luminous Garden aims to conjure up exactly this experience, allowing nature and spirit to enter our hearts and minds through awareness and introspection. The exhibition features a collection of garden photography by Glenn Lewis and myself, coupled with ceramic tea ware by Lewis that will be used in my tea ceremonies or art performances in the garden during the spring and summer. It is the third art exhibition I organize and present during my year-long (now extended to another year) artist residency, Cha He (Tea Harmony) at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Lam Wong
Curator and Artist, Luminous Garden
Artist-in-Residence (2019-2022), Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden




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