Angela’s fine mashup of pointillism and retro/pop surrealism frames each of her high-spirited imaginary playscapes. This unique style sprouted over a decade ago and flourished when she decided to place paid work on hold for nine months. It was this gestation period for personal, artistic growth that gave birth to the comprehensive portfolio that altered the course of her career. By honoring herself, she found the fertile foundation needed for a vast land of dazzling, hypnotic, characters that suggest the truth.
What were you like as a child?
I was very quiet and incredibly shy around people I didn’t know well, although I messaged my sister to help me with this question and she says I was cheeky. My sister and I would always be drawing and with my older brother, we’d have our own mini drawing competitions, I’m not sure if this was good in terms of sibling rivalry though. Our parents gave us a lot of educational-type toys which involved drawing, painting, crocheting and making plaster models. I read a lot, I loved Snoopy comic strips.
At what age did you take a break from paid work to focus on your own art? What were some of the phases and internal struggles you went through during this time? How did this decision impact where you are now?
I was in my mid-30s when I took a break, I was thinking about how time can pass so quickly, our lives are just a tiny blip in the scheme of things so we might as well make the most of it. During this roughly 9 month period I spent a lot of time in my small workspace drawing a lot, reading and looking at anything which caught my attention, like old Fleischer Studios cartoons and anything scifi. The self-imposed isolation wasn’t easy as I can be quite social but after this experience I think I’ve learnt an emotional self-reliance I hadn’t had before. I think this has made Covid-19 bearable. I also got over some thoughts I had about choosing to pursue my artistic inclinations and whether it could contribute to the world in some way.
Have you ever felt limited in your expression? How were you able to overcome these limitations?
Yes. It’s still something which I’m working through, how to handle it. I’m realizing that if you’re able to express yourself truly openly it is a privilege, although it should be a universal right.
What role (if any) would you say spirituality has with your art?
Initially I was going to answer this question with a “no” in terms of a spirituality guiding me with my work. I have mythical creatures in my art, spiritual ones borne of nature or characters which personify abstract concepts. I like the idea of omnipotent mostly well-meaning beings inhabiting my art but they come from imagination and fantasy and stay firmly within the borders of the board I’m painting or the screen on which I’m drawing or animating.
But aside from mythical creatures, I have had experiences while working where I’ve felt that there is some outside force helping me along, I’m not sure how to explain it, I’ve thought it must be some biochemical result of intense focus but haven’t explored the concept of it much for fear of sounding flakey. But I brought it up with my artist and designer friend Calvin Ho and he recommended I read a book called “Flow” from the 1990s. So I may have a more clear answer at a later time but for the moment I’m referring to it as The Force. I love Star Wars.
Are there any defining moments in particular where you’ve felt this force/flow most?
Yes and when I think about these moments they’re associated with music, maybe it’s music which produces this flow. When I began working as an illustrator and was working on a digital artwork of a kaleidoscopic storm, it was probably the first time I really felt like I didn’t entirely produce the work, that something else assisted. I’m wondering now whether there is some kind of musical trance state involved. Also, when working on my ‘Interspecies Utopia’ show and perhaps more recently having slowed down along with the world while working on a commission for a musician in San Francisco. I feel it when I’ve switched off from everything, am lost in music and am purely into the work. I could be listening to anything from Four Tet to The White Stripes which I’ve been listening to again recently or Science Noodles, a Hong Kong-Taiwanese band I’ve been listening to on repeat. Right now I’m listening to Brian Eno’s 'Music For Airports’.
How important is nature to your wellbeing and what effect does it have on you? Do you have any favorite hiking trails in Hong Kong?
Walking in nature is extremely important to me especially in a fast-moving city like Hong Kong where I’ve lived since 2008. The rhythmic motion of walking and breathing and not being distracted by various things has the instant effect of calming me and recalibrating me. Hong Kong is full of walking trails and green areas, my favorite trail would be Tai Long Wan in the area of Sai Kung, it’s a bay made up of four beaches with hills behind it. The Peak Morning Trail is also a favorite as I live near to it and walk it regularly.
Do your creatures ever “speak” to you — do they have different personalities?
I’m waiting for my creatures to speak to me. I’d like to work more with narrative whether in picture book form or animation so I’d like them to lead me but they do have nascent personalities. A lion character I have is stoic yet kind, it doesn’t speak much but when it does the words are important so you’d better listen and never ever cross the lion as it has the power of all nature within it, it can become poetic justice incarnate. A female head I use in short animations represents the inner world of an every-woman, she gets buffeted about by everyday and world events but easily expresses joy too. She thinks too much, I guess she only has a head, maybe I should draw her with her body more often.
In what ways have you been exploring augmented reality and animation in your works? Do you have any upcoming projects that fuse these mediums?
I’m still working on how augmented reality can more significantly extend the narrative of my static artwork, mainly they have been experiments in subtly adding meaning via animation. I’ve used AR with my 'Interspecies Utopia’ exhibition, the HKwalls mural and a work in the Paste-Up Festival in Berlin. Currently, I have a singular artwork idea in mind I’d like to generate but I’m not sure of the physical space it will occupy yet.
What is your intuitive sense regarding the art in the future? In 2120, what do you foresee as the mediums? How much value will be placed on art and artists?
This question makes me think of the Singaporean survey by The Sunday Times which did the rounds of social media in June. It was about the top 5 most and least essential jobs within the context of the pandemic. I was skeptical of this survey but I think a lot of people would have nodded their heads in agreement at artists being at
the top of the non-essential list. But I think art and the arts are incredibly important. I think we need to tell stories about ourselves through fiction and emotive means which may elicit empathy and an understanding which news cannot give us. I think there should be more to us than survival and living in their most basic forms. I’m not sure about predicting the future 100 years from now but I wish I could see how things are in 2120, perhaps art will be more interactive and immersive and work somehow with science more. But closer to our present, I really hope that art and artists will make it through the pandemic and current instabilities and that they’ll be intact when we eventually settle into a new normal or get back to how we were. I think art is needed for escapism and to make sense of this surreal time of dramatic change.
For more on Angela Ho, visit her website.