Presented by Square Street Gallery, Lousy is one of Hong Kong’s own participants at this year’s Art Central. Lifestyle Asia talks to the artist about his start in the art world, the inspiration behind his work and what he hopes to achieve from his art.
I won’t lie, I was nervous going to Lousy’s. Excited because one of his studios was not easy to find and I was already late for our meeting; and second, his anonymity was a little intimidating, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I don’t need to worry. He turned out to be one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.
During our hour-long visit, I discovered quite a bit about the Hong Kong-born and raised artist. He was a lover of analogies. He used art as a form of communication. And he was doing a residency, with his work culminating in a solo show that would take place over the coming week.
“A mystery,” Lousy replied when I asked him to introduce himself. Then: “I’m just a Hong Kong guy from Kowloon.”
He gave me a brief overview of his career so far. He has painted almost all his life. One of his earliest inspirations was anime and manga. He worked in a creative agency for ten years, with a short stay in Shanghai. Eventually he started making street art and turned to more commercial projects.
Lousy’s art is also easily recognizable for laypeople. His distinctive style – undulating, rhythmic line art, often paired with a neon palette – emerged a few years ago. The artist himself described it best: simple and understated, like the human spine, like bare bones.
“If I had to pick a favorite piece of mine, it would probably be the Kissface,” he said when asked.
In fact, Lousy’s “kissface” symbol – perhaps his most well-known work of art – exemplifies his signature “stripped back” style. To date, there are several iterations of the symbol: some colored, some not; some in the shape of a square, others in the shape of a heart.
“But what I love most about it is that it’s free for everyone on the streets.”
For the artist, it’s less about the art style and more about the mentality. There are no direct influences on his creations. Rather, they are the result of a straight-forward, no-frills way of thinking. “Like expressing something complicated in a simple way. Like explaining physics to a kid, for example.”
Ultimately, Lousy’s art is about bringing human emotions and thoughts into a physical form, be it a painting, a sculpture or an installation. And they are about good things. “I understand that some artists want to address their personal struggles or societal issues in their art, I really do,” he said. “But that’s not for me. There’s enough bad news in the world, you know? Why emphasize more? That’s why my art revolves around things like love and sex. Good things.”
In May, Lousy completes his three-month studio residency at Square Street Gallery and EJAR|Ragora. The residency, which he described as an “intense stuff-making season,” is a break from his usual artistic practice. Located in the middle of one of Hong Kong Island’s last remaining villages, the studio space in which he brought his latest work to life is raw, rugged and contrasts with the city’s polished skyscrapers.
During my visit, I was treated to a preview of his show, LOUSY PEOPLE. Pieces of fabric with depictions of gods, monsters and human bodies hung on the walls, reminiscent of ancient cave paintings. A sculpture made of artificial, pointed leaves tied together with twine and toilet paper rolls was illuminated by blue light to cast intimidating shadows on the gallery space’s peeling walls. A set of papier-mâché masks, twisted and contorted to resemble faces, hands and eyes, lay on the floor, aging until the glue set. It was all very lively, very happy and a little out of this world – in a good way.
In addition to his own solo exhibition, Lousy is also at Art Central this year. In collaboration with Square Street Gallery, this isn’t the independent artist’s first exhibition at the art fair; last year he presented two murals.
“I’m actually not sure what I’m going to show for the upcoming fair,” said the artist. “I’m not a last minute person, but I could be a little last minute with three weeks until Art Central.”
He pointed to a painting in progress of a three-legged dog with a neon pink and green background. “Maybe I’ll put that on display,” he said. “It will be the first in a row. It’s a dog I passed on Star Street. I might do a whole zine about the dog and his friends.”
He continued enthusiastically, telling me all about the dog and how happy he looked the day he saw him even though he was missing a limb. It was too memorable not to write.
“His name is Stardog. You know, since I saw him on Star Street.”
That’s usually how Lousy’s artworks are made, as I found out later. There is no specific creative process. Sometimes it’s just an interesting object, living or not, that he sees. Sometimes it’s imaginary things out of his head. Sometimes he finds inspiration from the depths of his memories.
“My creative process is different every time and comes in waves. It’s like making a t-shirt versus a dress or a robe,” he explained. “Sometimes I just want to make a t-shirt. I don’t always intend to do a couture collection.”
Ultimately, art is about communication. At least that’s what the artist answered when I asked him about the meaning of his work.
“I don’t want there to be any particular reaction from my audience,” he said. “If I wanted a direct interpretation of my work, I would be a writer, not an artist. My work is what you want it to be.”
About his move from street artist to work on more commercial projects, he said the two could exist together. Unlike many artists who sniff at commercial work, Lousy isn’t against it, perhaps “because of my agency background.”
Collaborations with big brands are just another way for him to get his job done. His partnership with Casetify, for example, meant more people who don’t like “going to the art galleries” can discover his work.
When it comes to street art and gallery art, Lousy shared that there was a time and a place for both. In a way, he still favored graffiti art on the street, where the art was meant for the everyday man. This is compared to exclusive art galleries or fairs, which “can sometimes be a little classy”. That does not mean, of course, that he is against these institutions. In fact, throughout our meeting, he kept emphasizing how grateful he was to have been given the chance to present at prestigious art fairs like Art Central, calling the opportunity a milestone in his career.
So what’s in store for Lousy now that his residency is over?
“I will up my game, continue at my own pace, do more shows locally and hopefully abroad now that international travel is possible again.”
This means moving forward with more personal and commercial art and continuing to find a balance between the two. Too much of one or the other, he reiterated, would stall things.
As for his ultimate goal, his endgame? The artist paused at my question, apparently deep in thought.
“I would like to work with Uniqlo. How great would it be to have an international drop with the brand? But that will only be the end of phase 1 of my career. Then we start a new phase.”
LOUSY PEOPLE opens on May 11th from 7pm to 10pm at 18 A Kung Ngam Village Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong