The name Chan Hoi-ying may not be on the tip of every tongue in Hong Kong, nor is the Hong Kong Academy of Fine Arts. But when locals see the logo of a wooden ship with wide sails, they know it's for the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Its designer is Hong Ping-wah, who started his art education at the Hong Kong Academy of Fine Arts in 1969 under the guidance of Chan Hoi-ying.
The Loss Boy Oil on Canvas
Hong, who is now an advisory member of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, is one of the more than 10,000 graduates of the Hong Kong Academy of Fine Arts, which was founded by Chan Hoi-ying in 1952.
The school is the only privately owned art school in the territory. It has trained thousands of artists, many of who have become prominent in various design sectors and some of whom have realized their dreams of becoming successful artists.
"But it has really been a hard job," Chan Hoi-ying recalled. "The Hong Kong government did not pay much attention to art education.
"People here love appearances. They want only a diploma, they don't care much about how many courses they take," Chan said.
"My mission is to offer people a valuable Asian cultural education and experience," he said.
Chan said that his motive is to mould a person's temperament and to improve the quality of art education.
The students are given a solid foundation upon which to develop their individual creativity, artistic style and technique.
"I encourage my students to do more reading and thinking," Chan said. "They should not become painters but artists."
A story in a Beijing-based Art magazine, once said of Chan: "Professor Chan is a 'monk' practicing his belief in art education, but he is also a forerunner in art." Chan has devoted his life to art and art education for more than 70 years. At 83, he is still active with his brushes and in the school.
A native of Xinhui County, Guangdong Province, Chan was born in Hong Kong in 1918. He had only several years of private schooling because his family was poor.
His painting talent was first discovered by a reporter when he worked at a rice store, making the price tags every day. He was then 14 years old.
In 1935 when Li Tie-fu, who was the first Chinese artist trained in the United States and Britain and who studied under the famous American portraitist John Sargent, moved from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, Chan saw Li's art show and decided to follow him. After three visits, Chan was accepted and studied painting under the guidance of Li for 18 years.
Consequently, Chan excels in portrait painting. By the 1930s Chan was already an established artist, and following World War II he toured the Chinese mainland with a number of exhibitions. It was during this period that his mastery of portraiture drew wide acclaim - resulting in him receiving requests from many well-known figures.
"His portraits in oil demonstrate his exquisite brushwork and techniques," Philip Mak, curator of the university museum and art gallery of the University of Hong Kong, wrote in his introduction to Chan's show held at the end of 1999.
In his early years, Chan would render the face with small touches of modulated flesh colors from a dull gray to dull rose. The lines of the forehead, nose, cheeks and chin are picked out with loose strokes of tinted white tones as highlights. Later his palette became progressively brighter, the brushstrokes bolder and freer.
"Chan is an expert in facial expression, revealing people's emotions," Mak said.
But he is also skilled in landscape and still life. It is in still-life painting that Chan's three most admirable qualities are especially apparent: his dexterous brushwork, his superb control of proportion and his mastery of texture.
But at the peak of his creation, Chan changed his focus from painting to education. In 1952, he set up the Hong Kong Academy of Fine Arts with his own money, the first school of its kind in Hong Kong.
"It had long been my dream to establish an art school," Chan said.
Backed with the artistic heritage of the British/American artist John S. Sargent, the Hong Kong Academy of Fine Arts was the first to be acknowledged by the Hong Kong Education Department. The academy bases its curriculum on a strong foundation in accurate drawing skills. Subjects range from the Fine Arts to design-related fields.
The school offers tailor-made art courses as well as weekday, evening and weekend courses in English and Chinese for children and teenagers.
Chan's fame as an artist and art educator has grown with time. He has been honored as one of the top three portrait artists by the American Society of Portrait Artists.
Five years ago, Chan finally retired from part of his teaching duties and returned to his brushes. In 1997, at the age of 79, he was persuaded to exhibit a retrospective of his work, entitle "Over 60 Years."
Even today, Chan still picks up his brush whenever an inspiration hits him.
(China Daily March 29, 2002)