Unconventional Beauty

Translation By: 
Priscilla Lo
圖 photos Eduardo martins
Artist Red Hong Yi unveils her latest creation at Mandarin Oriental, Macau
Inspired by the beauty of the Lotus flower, artist Red Hong Yi unveils her latest creation at Mandarin Oriental, Macau
Art can come in all shapes, sizes and forms, and the talented young artist Red Hong Yi is an excellent example of this, choosing to express her creative ideas not through traditional painting or sculpture, but instead by producing beautiful pieces using a variety of seemingly everyday objects and unusual processes. Take for example one of her very first successful pieces, a portrait of Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei made entirely out of sunflower seeds!
Recently, Red came to Macau to unveil her latest work, Bloom, on display at the newly refurbished lobby lounge at Mandarin Oriental, Macau.
“I sometimes give speaking engagements about creativity, and the New York Times had contacted me and asked me if I’d like to give a talk about art in Hong Kong. The general manager of Mandarin Oriental, Macau was there and she liked my work and invited me to create a piece. They didn’t just want a painting, but something special, so I came up with this concept,” Red notes.
Red recalls that the only rough direction she was given was that the piece should have something to do with Lotus flowers.  
“I read a Chinese story about how a Lotus can bloom from dirty conditions, but in the end it’s something beautiful. There are about 10,000 flowers in this piece, signifying people, and that despite difficult conditions, you can still bloom and become something beautiful,” she explains.
For this piece of work, Red decided to create her own flowers, using normal acrylic paint combined with a hardening agent.  
“The paint is hand-piped, a bit like how you would pipe frosting on a cake, but instead of butter cream it’s paint,” says the artist.  “A baker came to show me how to pipe, and my mum took a cake decorating class and I saw her making flowers, and I thought this was a good way to preserve the flowers.  I’ve done flowers in the past using real flowers, but it’s only temporary and they die after three days, so this was a way of preserving it.”
Red started working on Bloom in the US, then took it to Malaysia, then finally completed the process here in Macau.  The whole piece took about one month to complete.  
Originally from Malaysia, Red studied in Australia, graduating with a Master in Architecture from the University of Melbourne. She then moved to Shanghai to pursue her career in architecture, and quickly fell in love with the city’s chaotic charm, once home to her father and grandparents.
“When I moved to Shanghai, I found that I could buy things very cheaply in bulk from wholesale markets like Ali Baba and Taobao, so I started to collect all this stuff, like 20,000 blue cups and have it delivered in two hours,” remembers Red.  “So that’s how my fascination for ordinary materials came about.”
One piece that really brought attention to her work was a painting of Yao Ming that she did using only a basketball and some red paint.
“At the time I moved to China, Yao Ming had just retired, and I was talking to my friends outside of China and they said they didn’t really know what was happening inside China, so I thought maybe I could put it in my art.”
She posted the video of the process on Youtube and it went on to get over a million views.  
Other works of Red’s include a portrait of Adele using 1,500 melted tea lights, Aung San Suu Kyi with dyed carnations, and a hanging structure of Jackie Chan using chopsticks.
When we met Red in Macau last month, we asked her what was the strangest material she has used to create a piece of art.
“Nothing really seems strange to me anymore, but maybe tea bags,” she responded.
In 2015, she created an installation called Teh Tarik Man out of 20,000 teabags for the World Economic Forum in Davos. It took about two months to build the 10-foot by 7-foot piece, which ended up weighing more than 440 pounds.  She stained the teabags in 10 different shades of brown, by steeping them in an assortment of water temperatures for different amounts of time.
“The whole process was very tedious, because I had to wait for it to dry and not get moldy.  And it took some time to transport the material to Switzerland via Australia, because customs had to open the boxes and check them all to make sure they were only tea!” she laughs.
With her success as an artist, Red no longer practices architecture, but she admits that many of her works are informed by her architecture studies.
“I can’t pick up a paint brush and paint like I used to. I think more in 3D, and more about the materiality and how things fit together, the gravity, the structure of it.”
And for her next project, she already has some interesting ideas: “I’m from Sabah in Malaysia, which is a holiday destination. There is a famous island that divers go to, but it’s been a bit polluted lately, so I was thinking of collecting the trash there, something local, and then turning it into an artwork”.
Check out more of Red’s artwork at redhongyi.com