Hon Chi-fun (1922–2019)

Hon Chi-fun as a young man

Asia Society Hong Kong Center is greatly saddened by the passing of renowned Hong Kong artist Mr. Hon Chi-fun (b. September 22, 1922) on February 24, 2019. Mr. Hon passed away in peace at a hospital in Hong Kong surrounded by his loving family. He was 96 years old.

On behalf of the Center, Ms. S. Alice Mong, Executive Director of Asia Society Hong Kong Center, said, “We are deeply heartbroken by the loss of Mr. Hon Chi-fun, a pioneering modern artist who played a pivotal role in building this city’s art ecology. A self-taught maverick, Mr. Hon was always ahead of his time in his unique approach to addressing issues of culture, identity and philosophy in his work. His unwavering artistic passion, as he painted until his body no longer allowed him to, exemplifies the resourcefulness and dedication of an incredible artists working against all odds. We extend our sincere condolences to his family and loved ones, particularly his wife Ms. Choi Yan-chi and their son Hon Wang-kwong.”
 

Hon Chi-fun and Choi Yan-chi at the 2017 Asia Arts Game Changer Awards.
Hon Chi-fun and Choi Yan-chi at the 2017 Asia Arts Game Changer Awards.

In 2017, Hon Chi-fun was honored by Asia Society and Asia Society Hong Kong Center with an Asia Arts Game Changer Award for his outstanding contributions to modern art in Hong Kong. During his acceptance speech for the award, he mentioned being born an artist, and being grateful that he had met his destiny by pursuing his artistic career. Over forty years earlier, in 1969, Hon was the first Hong Kong artist to receive a fellowship grant from the prestigious John D. Rockefeller III Fund, which into the Asian Cultural Council in 1980. In this way, Hon’s artistic achievement has always been recognized for its bridging of cultures and commitment to the reinvention of artistic tradition.
 

Hon Chi-fun in the mid 1950s with his Sunday Painter friends. Courtesy of Choi Yan-chi.
Hon Chi-fun in the mid 1950s with his Sunday Painter friends. Courtesy of Choi Yan-chi.

Born in Hong Kong in 1922 as the oldest of eight children, Hon attended the elite secondary school Wah Yan College Kowloon on a full scholarship with the top rank of his form, where he studied traditional Chinese poetry and calligraphy, amongst other subjects. His hopes for attending university were dashed by the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. He moved to mainland China working in the import/export business in Guangzhou and Shanghai to support his family. In 1956, he settled back in Hong Kong and took up a job as a postal inspector for the Hong Kong Post. A drive to create artwork overcame him, and he found himself painting at all hours outside his job. By the 1960s, Hon was exhibiting regularly and he rose to prominence as one of a selection of local artists that created avant-garde, experimental work that combining various medium, new intellectual tides, culture and popular music. Hon was also a co-founder of the leading collective Circle Art Group (1964-1971), their innovative works spoke a global vision, frequently exhibiting in Chatham Gallery and the City Hall Museum and Art Gallery (now the Hong Kong Museum of Art); they traveled their exhibitions overseas and helped forge the beginnings of a local art scene.
 

Hon Chi-fun, Nil and Void, 1966, acrylic on canvas.
Hon Chi-fun, Nil and Void, 1966, acrylic on canvas.

One of Hong Kong’s most revered visual artists, Hon Chi-fun pioneered the creation of a personal avant-garde art style that spoke to unique themes. Through monumental airbrush paintings, sophisticated Daoist screen prints, multimedia works, Hon re-wrote the rules with his sophisticated command of various materials, while also addressing the social and historical context of every text and tool he came across. In doing so, he created artwork that was radical in its vulnerability, as he unflinchingly addressed his emotional and romantic feelings in his work, which was as groundbreaking then as it is now.
 

Hon Chi-fun in the 1960s. Courtesy of Choi Yan-chi.
Hon Chi-fun in the 1960s. Courtesy of Choi Yan-chi.

Celebrated for his transgressing of artistic norms, Hon earned the respect of local curators, critics and scholars for his compositions that defied categorization. His inclusion of his personal poetry in his work, as well as voracious love of reading and calligraphy, also drew the attention of writers and poets, many of whom have written extensively about the literary aspect of his paintings. In many ways, the notion of modern art in this city is indelibly shaped by Hon’s voice and visual language, as he is cited in countless academic studies of Hong Kong art history.

To honor the legacy of this groundbreaking artist and his meaningful connection to Asia Society’s founder, John D. Rockfeller III, Asia Society Hong Kong Center is proud to present A Story of Light: Hon Chi-fun, the first career-spanning exhibition of the artist in over a decade. Works from respected local institutions, including Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Heritage Museum and M+, as well as private collections and the artist’s own archive, will be on view at the Chantal Miller Gallery from March 12 through June 9, 2019. This exhibition is free and open to all, as we welcome members of the public to join us in recognizing one of Hong Kong art’s most respected artists.


Hong Kong artist Hon Chi-fun, who blended traditional East with modern West, dies aged 96South China Morning Post

Hon Chi-fun (1922–2019)Artforum

Obituary: Hon Chi-fun (1922–2019), ArtAsiaPacific

香港藝術家韓志勳逝世 享年96歲, Stand News

96歲藝術先驅個展前離世 韓志勳留下無限雲彩, Apple Daily