Who is Tsang?
I loved observing things around me when I was a little kid. I could spend a whole day in the park just watching the leaves of different plants. The world in my little eyes was so beautiful and fascinating. I was only 4, when I remember the first time I held a pencil in my hand in 1964. I started to draw a wooden clock in my grandma’shouse instead of writing. I don’t know why, I have not stopped drawing since that day. I especially enjoyed drawing on the white margins of textbooks during classes. I was defined as a bad student due to my ability (or lack) of studying. My special habits have given me lots of difficulties in life. Looking back, I feel that the white margin in the textbooks were the best in developing my creative mind. Although it is just a narrow space, but it is an empty space, giving me unlimited imagination. I was so blessed growing up there.
What has your artistic career been like?
Twenty years ago, I started a career in the art world. In order to explore the territory of art, I've tried different kinds of materials such as wood, bronze and steel and have created public artworks. However, since space is extremely expensive in Hong Kong, it is quite difficult working with these materials and made me feel a little lost. At last, I asked myself a question. What do I really love? That is when I knew that clay was the answer. I finally found my true love and have lived happily ever since. Romantic, isn't it? It seems clay doesn't care about anything you do to it. It stays calm and remains peaceful. It lets you feel what it is and what it isn't. Clay taught me one important thing; it accepts everything no matter what. It is a wonderful class for mankind. And I really appreciate this material that helps me in fulfilling my dreams.
How would you describe your working process?
Firstly, I choose the material. I used to work with different types of materials. Today, I choose porcelain mostly. I love the purity, the fine texture of it, and I find peace in the white color.
Although it is not quite possible to create complicated and detailed sculptures with porcelain, I have developed a special skill myself called ”altering” to solve the weakness of it. I basically alter a rounded form done by throwing, into a sculpture like human portrait, a body or almost any shape. As the thrown object has an even thickness, it won’t be easily cracked. But this skill is extremely hard to manage. It took me years to master the process.
Here is the process when I work with most of my porcelain sculptures.
1. Throw a round shape form with a potter’s wheel, for instance, a cylinder, a drum-shape cup, a vase. It depends on what shape and size I plan to create. Then allow it to dry for a few hours until it is rigid enough to hold the shape.
2. I start altering the rounded form into the desired shape while the clay is still wet.
3. Sometimes I need to add clay for a better shape.
4. When the outline of the sculpture is done, I then set it for drying.
5. I start carving the details with a sculptor knife and other tools when the clay is almost dry.
6. If necessary, I apply under glazes such as the eyeballs of the babies.
7. When the sculpture is totally dry it undergoes bisque firing for 12 hours under 960 degrees celsius.
8. Sometimes glazing is needed on some sculptures. For example, when applying transparent glazes on the eyeballs.
9. High temperature firing for 14 hours up to 126 degrees Celsius and allow it to cool down for 30 hours. After, all is done.
How do you usually prepare yourself before starting an artwork, what sort of research does it involve?
It begins with an idea. I always get inspiration from life. It is hard to explain what specific thing inspires me. I love observing all kinds of people and things around me everyday. My observations and my personal experiences have provided me with unlimited sources of inspiration. When I create my work, I tell my subconscious that I am putting my observations and experiences together like a cocktail. It tastes good when I have luck on my side. Once I have this spark of idea, I draw it in my sketchbook as a note and then further develop it as an artwork. However, it is not easy to decide on which idea should be used as there are thousands of ideas in my sketchbooks. I usually pick the latest one, maybe because it is still fresh. When I need references, for example, portraits with different facial expressions, I usually use search Google. I can always find something close to my expectation.
What are the subjects that fascinate you the most?
There are no obvious subjects that fascinate me the most. You may say human faces, babies and splashes that are always present in my works. I would say it is the relationships between everything. I like observing things around me. I believe that everything that happens is for a reason. Somehow, there must be some connection between things. I have a strong will to find the relationship between different things in sight, out of sight or even sightless, like the color, texture, strength and uniqueness of different materials and living things, and finally human. I pay very much attention on every detail. My work mostly talks about these relationships.
What has been your most touching or amazing moment that you've experienced as an artist?
It was just after the opening of my solo exhibition in Taiwan 2013, when I met this lady in her 40’s, standing still looking at one of my works, with tears in her eyes. She was looking at one of my porcelain pieces titled‘Journey’which looks a little creepy. It is made up of a rounded pot lying down with the upper body of a real size new born baby coming out from the rim of it, just as if the pot was giving birth to this baby. I painted the baby like a real one, so it is a little bloody. I also made a small man jump into the other side of the pot that makes a little splash. The message I wanted to convey is that our life starts again when our last one ends. It is simply part of a journey; there is nothing to be worried of. However, I was worried about her emotional response to it. Finally, she said to me she lost her husband not long ago. She appreciated this piece of work, which gave her a very warm comfort. Somehow, she said through my works, she got the message from her husband telling her he has started another journey. I was touched and felt so relieved, and at the same time, very happy for her.
In what way do you identify yourself with your sculptures?
I am happy if someone defined me as a surrealist. If I may, I would say I am an emotionalist. I trust my feelings, they have never lied to me. I can be touched easily and I won’t hide my tears. I turn my feelings into artworks.
What is the biggest challenge of your artistic process?
The first thing that gets into my mind is the limitation of space. Without space, it brings tons of problems with every process. Let me tell you, working as a sculptor in Hong Kong is the biggest challenge for everyone. This is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Most local artists here are facing the same problem about unaffordable spaces. A sculptor needs even more space. This practically limits the materials I can use and the size of my works, but fortunately, I still have free will. It can’t limit the boundaries of my creativity. Furthermore, limited space may be good for me. It means I use up less time making smaller pieces, creating more works and sharing more ideas. That is how I confront this challenge.
What is the work that you are most fond of?
I went through my previous artwork,and I still love every single one of them. I feel thankful to them as they represent my state of mind in that specific moment; no matter if it was a good or bad time, it meant something to me. Just like a diary of my humble life, it tells me who I really am.
When I was creating those works, I believe there was a soul in them and they were there for me through the most difficult times in my life. For instance, I made sculptures of my mother when she was ill, and created Earth to Earthand Life Clockto depict the impermanent nature of life after she passed away. I created Survival after the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan, and Make Tea, Not War!and Karmaduring the US war in Iraq. I have never been much of a talker, nor am I known for being good at expressing myself, but my artworks speak the honest words from my heart.
How would you characterize your work’s evolution over time?
Looking back over 10 years to my previous works, there was anger, fear, weakness and sometimes a lot of blood. This was the way I expressed myself when facing the unpleasant things that happen in this world or around me. But I feel they still amaze me even today. Then looking at my works in last 10 years. I see peace, love and joy and somehow, I know why. It is because my mom past away 10 years ago. She was a role model for me. She is kind to everyone, she helped people with her warm heart, she donated money every month even though she was not wealthy, she loved animals, she never said bad words behind anyone’s back…. for me, she is an angel. Since then, I use only porcelain for all of my works. I just love the white color. White for me is not just one color, it's the combination of all colors. I feel a lot more in it; it’s purity, innocence, kindness, peace and love. I feel my world is closer to my mom through this white space.
What is your dream project?
This is a project that has been in my mind for two years now. Imagine an art museum has been under attack. Bullet holes everywhere, showcases were damaged badly, artworks and exhibits were broken and scattered everywhere. I wonder how the museum visitors would react emotionally with this shocking scene in an art world right next to us. I would like to question viewers ton what civilization are we really living in? I think the broken exhibits may answer partially, but there is still room for imagination. Secondly, what we would like to preserve and protect when hatred and violence are so close to anybody? Finally, what do we care if this civilization will end?
Of course, those artworks and exhibits were imitated objects, copies from existing ones. Practically, the same thing can be done for a famous statue.
Professional wise, what’s your goal?
Expectation gives me limitation. I accept anything that happened, happens or is going to happen to me. It has been said: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I just follow my passion and feelings. There are always something’s unexpected waiting for me to experience it. I accept whatever it is. But the most important thing is, I have free will to choose what I will like to do about it. Every moment of my life creates me. Who knows what I will become before it ends. I do not want to see a movie in which I already know the stories and its ending.
What role does the artist have in society?
Everything that happened or is happening must have a reason. If my emotions or feelings towards things knock on my door, then in some way or another, it has something to do with me. This gives me large room for imagination to find an answer, tell a story or make up a story. There are actually only two things that take place in my works: the cause and the effect. Whats left for us to reflect on is responsibility.
How did the idea of using babies portraying a strong alter-ego come to life?
I believe there is a happy child deep inside everyone's soul. I always communicate with the inner child in me. Sometimes, I turn myself into different ages, then ask myself at that specific age, what do I think of what is going on at the present time. That inner child has always given me a good answer with wisdom; it usually becomes a piece of work done through my hands. I would say 'Inner Child' is a bridge for me to express the feelings towards the outer world through the eyes of a 5 year old or a teenager, in a fun way.
As a creator, what are your intentions, goals, and also your interpretations of your work?
I do wish to make a better world. I am non-religious. Somehow, I couldn’t find a better way to do this, as I am not good in any other territory. Luckily, I found art. There is something deep in our soul which answers all questions and problems happening right now. That is love. Recently, I had a chance to look over the images of my past work while preparing a talk about my creations and I discovered that there is an interesting pattern in my creations. I found that I have created works related to the theme of “Love” after I had made a couple of works talking about problems aroused in this planet. It seemed like I was answering them with “Love”, done through the rise of questions that my work provoked. I believe “Love” fixes everything.
How would you describe this artwork to someone who has never seen it?
Actually, I prefer not to explain my works with words. I really don't mind how people interpret my works. For me, my work is a statement. But I like the viewer to find their own instead of my so-called model answer. Hope the viewers can interpret them, feel their meanings, search and discover the answers from their own points of view.
What adjectives would you use to describe your artwork?
I am not sure. I only have quite limited vocabulary. Say emotional, sentimental, appreciative, dreamy, weird, pure, happy and lovely…
What memorable responses have you received with regards to your work?
Regarding my works, I have received lots of positive comments, messages with kind words and enquiries of artwork acquisition everyday. I smile.
There are a couple of messages that touched me. In Germany, a group of parents who lost their unborn child requested to reproduce one of my baby angels for sitting on their tombstone. Because they didn’t have any pictures.
A young lady requested me to make a portrait of her passed away newborn sister.
Some people told me they shed tears when seeing my works. They have been touched because of their personal reasons.
A young man asked me for hi-resolution images of one of my works titled ‘The Comfort’. He feels a tender moment in my work that he had shared with his ex-girl friend.
There are also lots of people requested to use the images of my works for different reasons. For instance, Tattoo artist uses them as the patterns for works, musicians use them as their album covers, teachers and tutors use them for presenting in art classes, some people just requested to allow them to draw my works and post them in social media, so cute! Others like poets, religion related matters, magazines, scientific journals, use them for their own reasons. I am pleased to let them use those images.
Occasionally, I received comments saying my babies are creepy. I smile too. I almost feel the same emotionally because I am a happy man. Working with clay for over twenty years, one good thing I have learned from clay is staying still, no matter what. There is only one person that I feel I might respond to her comments; this is my wife, because I love her so.