Seeing Red – a profile of one of the art world’s rising stars

A portrait comprised of socks – that’s one of Malaysian-born artist Hong Yi latest works.

Eschewing paintbrushes, Hong Yi, who goes by the nickname Red (“Hong means red in Chinese”), has previously created a portrait of Taiwanese singer-songwriter Jay Chou using coffee ring stains. Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, most famous for his Sunflower Seeds installation, rather appropriately had his image mastered from sunflower seeds and staying relevant to her respective subject’s life, she also ‘painted’ retired NBA superstar Yao Ming portrait using a basketball.

Based in Shanghai, on a recent trip to New York Red took some time out to talk to rag & bone…

When did you begin painting with things other than brushes?

Two years ago during my Uni holidays I got bored at home in Malaysia and had the urge to paint. Justin Bieber’s song ‘Baby’ was blasting everywhere at that time, so I thought I’d do a portrait of him. I realised I didn’t have my painting equipment with me – I left them in Melbourne where I studied - so I used Korean chili paste from the fridge and painted his portrait on a plate.

You’re an architect by profession. How do you fit your art in with your day job, is it very time-consuming?

It differs from project to project depending on what type of materials and objects I am using. My portraits of Ai Weiwei with sunflower seeds and Yao Ming using a basketball took me about 2-3 hours to complete. The Jay Chou portrait with coffee took 12 hours, while the Zhang Yimou sock and bamboo stick portrait took 3 weeks to plan, design and install.
What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished portraits of two Americans - one of them was Mark Zuckerberg. I like to paint portraits of people from the country I’m visiting and I spent a month in the States,  which is why I chose to do portraits of Americans. I do commissioned works and I’m really glad that people like what they’ve seen me do so far. I’m heading back to Shanghai for work next week and will continue doing portraits of famous Chinese personalities to learn more about the country and its people.

What are you inspired by?

People who dare to chase their dreams and passions; acoustic and tonal music; design; blogs; kindness; love; patterns; New York and currently, the Chinese tradition and culture.

Who would you love to meet?
Katie Sokoler; to get a peek into her world of love hearts, rainbows and laughter. Jeremy Lin; to thank him for being such an inspiration. Bjarke Ingels; the current rockstar architect who has been a breath of fresh air in the industry. Yayoi Kusama  (sculptor, painter and novelist) because I love her stunning, disturbing works, and I just want to see what she’s like in person.

Can you share your favorite motto?

I have a few, but here are some of my faves: “If you want something you’ve never had before, do something you’ve never done before” – anonymous and; “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” - Plato.

What is your ultimate aspiration?

To organize my own art and design exhibition in a few cities around the world and to use art to empower and inspire others.




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