Essential Macau | Capture the moments on paper

Are there any good painters in Macau? The answer is yes, of course. Are there any famous painters in Macau? The answer to that can be different. “There are many skilful artists in Macau who are underrated. It’s sad but true,” said Eric Fok, a post-90s Macau painter. 

The first time most people heard the name Eric Fok was in 2013. The artworks of the young Macau boy were selected to be exhibited that year at the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, a worldfamous art event. Being selected for this showing is the highest honour in the world of illustration. Now, he is one of few fulltime artists in the region.

Fok was born and raised in Macau. During his childhood, watching cartoons on TV and reading comicswere the best forms of entertainment for him.  At that time, young Fok began copying the characters of the cartoons by himself, since painting classes were not as popular then as they are today. Thanks to a teacher at his middle school, he joined a sculpting summer school and met his mentor, Mr Wong Kalong. “When I worked as an assistant for Mr Wong, he taught me a lot and I got many opportunities to do mural paintings.” Mr Wong also influenced Fok’s future plans. “He gave me hope that I could be a fulltime artist. My parents didn’t agree with me at that time. Most parents in Macau want their children to find a stable job. In order to find a common ground, I chose to study Visual Arts-Fine Art at the Macau Polytechnic Institute. After graduation, I could be an art teacher, which is also a good job,” Fok recalled.

His junior year at the university was a defining moment: “At that time, I felt stressed when I had to decide the direction of my life. I knew if I found a fulltime job after graduation, I might not have much time to create. I wanted to build my portfolio before graduating.” From then on, he began sending his works to different international competitions and achieved many positive results.

The “Paradise series is Fok’s benchmark work, which has been touring in New York, Italy, Japan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The selected artworks at the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition also came from this series. In it, the artist pre-treats the drawing paper with tea and acrylic to create an antique effect, which makes the painting look like a map from the 16th and 17th centuries. Local elements and his roots, as well as daily life are juxtaposed to the dreamy and fantastical features in works inspired by the past, but straight from the artist’s mind. Fok uses meticulous brushwork to integrate the ancient map of Macau with new constructions. It is a combination of tradition and modernity.

“Around 20112012, I got a job doing mural paintings, near Barrier Gate. Macau was changing rapidly at that time; there were many land-reclamation projects. I really wanted to capture these moments through drawing. These are social issues and part of the history of a city. That’s why I want to show them on the maps. I want to express my ideas through my works to attract more awareness to the changes in Macau,Fok explained. “I made a sketch on a small paper and showed it to my mentor. He really loved my idea and gave me some good advice, which shaped my style.”

This series is named with numbers, such as “Paradise – 1557”, a huge painting which is part of the MGM Cotai collection. “I want to let audiences come up with their own feeling about my works through the paintings. I don’t want to impede their imagination with the titles,” he explained.

The artist doesn’t feel complacency about his success with the “Paradise” series. His most recent creations reveal more of his inner thoughts. “Drawing is an important way for me to express my ideas. Every day, there are many different social issues, such as what is happening in Hong Kong these days. These things will change, but if I draw them on the paper, then they will be immortalised,” Fok said.

But let’s return to our first question – Fok believes Macau doesn’t have a mature art market. “Macau only has buyers, not collectors. Collectors will gather an array of one artist’s works. For artists, it is important to have collectors,” he said. “It takes time to develop. When compared to nearby cities like Hong Kong, our economic advance started very late. But we still have hope.”

It has been six years since he achieved worldwide recognition from international events. Today, the artist admits, this honour is absolutely a milestone in his career, but it won’t be the highest peak of his time. “My life goal is to live on in international art history and I am trying my best to achieve that,” Fok said.