Canberra artist Hou Leong returns to art world with new exhibition
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Canberra artist Hou Leong returns to art world with new exhibition

In 1994, before Facebook and Instagram, when the Australian National University only had two Macintosh computers with Photoshop, Hou Leong made something of a name for himself in the art world by inserting his own Asian face into the most stereotypical of Australian and Western imagery.

Now after a 15-year hiatus, the Canberra artist is returning with a new show that couldn't be more different.

Hou Leong with his painting <i>Red and Yellow Horizontal Lines.</i>

Hou Leong with his painting Red and Yellow Horizontal Lines.Credit:Graham Tidy

Gone is the cultural appropriation of his photos and later oil paintings, and in their place are large ink paintings, a throwback to his Chinese heritage but with a modern twist.

Rich reds, deep blacks and vibrant yellows dominate Leong's canvases.

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Hou Leong's <i>I'm as Australian as Ampol </i> from the series An Australian.

Hou Leong's I'm as Australian as Ampol from the series An Australian.

On some, he uses Chinese tea cups to splash ink, and on others he uses traditional Chinese goat hair brushes.

After years running his own software development company, Leong opened Kingston's Silk Road Gallery in 2008, but recently decided to take up painting again.

In previous works he appropriated the style of others; like the digitally-altered photo of himself in the place of Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee and a later series of oil paintings reinterpreting the iconic Mona Lisa in various Asian art styles.

But in his new collection he decided to do something from his own vision - nothing to do with anyone else.

Hou Leong's <i>Crocodile Dundee</i> from the series An Australian.

Hou Leong's Crocodile Dundee from the series An Australian.

"I always believed it [art] was about communication… it's about having an idea to get through to people, but as my age gets older I decided I didn't want to do it anymore," he said.

"I decided to let the viewer find their own way to communicate with what they see… not me telling them what they should see or imagine."

Hou Leong with his work <i>24 Black Horizontal Lines on White</i> at The Silk Road Gallery.

Hou Leong with his work 24 Black Horizontal Lines on White at The Silk Road Gallery.Credit:Graham Tidy

It was an approach he carried over into naming each of his artworks after its physical description such as Three large black splashes on red.

He finds it liberating relinquishing control.

<i>3 Large Black Splashes on Red</i>

3 Large Black Splashes on RedCredit:Graham Tidy.

"I certainly feel the freedom coming out of my own heart and I can really start to paint where my heart goes not where I think what the viewer will interpret," he said.

While he returned to the traditional Chinese medium of ink, Leong chose to avoid rice paper and paint on canvas for its contemporary feel and added texture.

<i>6 Black Vertical Brush Strokes and One Spot</i>

6 Black Vertical Brush Strokes and One SpotCredit:Graham Tidy.

The canvas for some pieces was reused and sewn together from his older paintings, a similar recycled approach he brings to the "junk" antique Chinese furniture he purchases and has restored in China to sell in store.

The furniture's colours and styles influenced many of his latest works which he painted on the floor of his Kingston store.

<i>Red Horizontal Lines and One Black Splash</i>

Red Horizontal Lines and One Black SplashCredit:Graham Tidy.

After moving to Australia from Shanghai in the early 1990s Leong majored in print making at the Australian National University for a year before switching to photo media to broaden his knowledge of contemporary art from around the world and focus on conceptual art.

He taught himself how to use the early version of Photoshop and at his peak exhibited at Australia House in London, the Australian Embassy in Paris and featured in the National Gallery of Australia's Federation exhibition.

Hou Leong's exhibition The Calligraphic Expression opens at The Silk Road Gallery, Kingston from 2pm Saturday September 5 to Sunday October 4.

Clare Colley is Head of Audience Engagement at The Australian Financial Review. She was previously an online editor, arts editor and journalist at The Canberra Times.

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