Remaining Artists as We Grow Up

To me, art is an expression of one’s feelings. It does not require lots of formal learning, only a pure and open heart to freely express one’s perception of the world. As long as you are willing to express your thoughts, be it in writing, drawing, singing, acting or dancing, you are an artist. Pablo Picasso said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up.” We all used to be artists, but as we grow up, we tend to bury our feelings deep inside our hearts. In my case, I too buried my passion in art for a number of years, but have now rediscovered that passion and am using it to advocate for important social causes.

From Fashion to the Law

As a high school student, I was passionate about painting and sculpting. My artwork allowed me to escape from textbooks and exams and express my curiosity about all aspects of life. Recognizing my creative achievements, the school principal nominated me to study fashion and textiles at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU). I enjoyed my studies at HKPU immensely and had the opportunity to study such interesting subjects as fashion graphic and illustration, fashion styling, and textile design. One of the fashion designers I came to admire the most was Alexander McQueen. He said that “Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment.” I enjoyed watching his fashion shows and I was always inspired by his use of shock tactics and drama on the runway.

During the second year of my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to study at Cornell University as an exchange student. The professors there were very encouraging and invited me to participate in the school’s annual fashion show. With their support and guidance, I created my first fashion collection using untwisted cooper wires, which won the Best Design award. After returning to Hong Kong, continued my design work, ultimately graduating from HKPU as class valedictorian with first class honors. As I got older, I came to enjoy analyzing and discussing controversial issues in society and worked to incorporate my perspectives into my designs.

As I loved discussing and arguing controversial social issues, I became very interested in studying law. While I was at Cornell, I learnt that undergraduates in non-law fields study law as a graduate degree in the United States. I looked for similar graduate programs in Hong Kong and found that a number of universities in Hong Kong offer a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Although my professors at HKPU warned me that it would be very difficult for me to study a JD degree as a fashion graduate, I was determined to set my own trajectory. I knew there would be challenges, but I was ready to face them without fear.

I embarked on my studies in the JD program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). For two years, I had no time to spend on art and design, but I am so glad that I made this life-changing decision. One of the highlights for me was representing CUHK in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition and making it to the semi-final round of the Vis East Moot. Mooting allowed me to acquire skills in case analysis, drafting, making oral submissions, and putting forward a strong and persuasive case. My legal studies were indeed very time consuming but taught me how to be a capable and imaginative lawyer.

Rediscovery of My Passion for Art

Like many, I found studying law a stressful experience. While studying for the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws, I developed mild depression. My doctor recommended that I try art therapy; he told me to find a comfortable place and to use any tools to create anything I wanted to release stress. Of course, the final product did not have to be pretty! The objective was to use the creative process was to meditate and relax my mind. I found art therapy very effective in improving my mood. The experience woke up the dormant artist inside me. After rediscovering my passion for art, I became more enthusiastic both in life and at work.

Art is now an important part of my life. I enjoy creating artworks using different digital means. I often paint and sculpt on objects and digitalize them for refinement. I put my soul into my artworks. Life should not be all about one’s career, but many other things as well, such as love, friendship, health and a good spirit. We are all short on time, but if you are determined, you can always make time for your passion. In fact, I treasure my painting time more than I used to because it is so hard to come by now as a trainee solicitor.

I like to create contemporary artworks with very distinctive colors and patterns. I normally mount them on materials such as canvas, fabric, acrylic, aluminum, ceramic and wood. In 2018, I had my first solo exhibition in a wine bar in Central during Halloween titled “Fears that Live Inside Us.” The exhibition featured works I had created during art therapy. My favorite piece was “Screaming” as it expressed my feeling at a time when staying calm was not an option. I think many law students and lawyers will understand this sentiment well!

Meaning of Making Art

I am lucky to have found my gift in life, and I am pleased to share it through my artworks. Pablo Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” I want my artworks to be eye catching so that people stare at them, and I want to make that time worth their while. Sometimes, I create abstract artworks to tell stories, such as those in my second exhibition in Sheung Wan titled “Contemporary Continuation of Fairy Tales.” I find it very enjoyable and meaningful when people look at my artworks for a few seconds but ponder the stories behind them for a lifetime.

Art as a Means for Promoting Equality

In 2016, I first learnt about the Clifford Chance Arcus Pride Art Exhibition, which aims to foster a diverse and inclusive culture in workplace through global exhibitions of artworks. As a lawyer and emerging artist, I aspired to take part in the event. After spending two years preparing my portfolio, I submitted over 30 pieces to the co-organizing gallery, Red Chamber. In May 2019, while on secondment to Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office, the Arcus Pride organizing committee expressed interest in featuring two of my artworks in the exhibition. I was shocked and flattered. I realized that anything is possible with determination and perseverance: if you believe in yourself and work hard towards your goal, you will get there eventually.

I have learned that I do not necessarily have to choose between art and law; instead, I can be an alchemist, combining my skills to create a platform to help the LGBTI community to fight for complete equality. Although Hong Kong has recently made some progress in LGBTI rights and equality in Leung Chun Kwong v Secretary for the Civil Service and Commissioner of Inland Revenue [2019] HKCFA 19, the recent landmark decision by Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal to allow civil service spousal benefits and joint tax assessments to same-sex couples, there is still a long way to go before complete equality is attained in Hong Kong.

In May 2019, UNESCO selected my artwork called “True Dynamic of Yin and Yang” to feature in its #ColourMeIn campaign to raise awareness about the challenges faced by LGBTI students in Asia and to prevent sexual orientation-based violence at schools. UNESCO and its partners shared the artworks of seventeen selected artists from eight countries on their social media platforms to address violence and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity expression and to promote safe and inclusive schools for all learners. The Morrison & Foerster Foundation has housed “True Dynamic of Yin and Yang” in its private collection in San Francisco to allow more people to see my artwork and appreciate the meaning behind it.

Future Projects

Recently, AIDS Concern invited me to create an artwork for their 2020 fundraising gala. For the first time, I decided to draw on my legal experience in my creative process, creating an artwork titled “Long Road to Eradication.” The inspiration for this artwork came from information about the pharmaceutical mechanisms of action to suppress HIV load that I had gained from due diligence for an initial public offering. The work will be sold during an auction at the upcoming gala. I find it very fulfilling to create artworks which influence the public. I plan to continue creating artworks for NGOs with the aim of influencing the public with my art and legal knowledge.

On 15 November 2019, the Hong Kong office of Morrison & Foerster will participate in an event called Pink Friday initiated by Goldman Sachs. On Pink Friday, employees are encouraged to wear pink to support an LGBTI-inclusive work environment. I am proud to have designed our firm’s branded T-shirts to show support for diversity and LGBTI inclusion.

Remaining Artists as We Grow Up

It’s important to remedy that everyone can be an artist if you are willing to express your true feelings. Some people think it is hard for them to draw as they are not gifted. The truth is that painting is actually easier when you do not know the technique. Try not to force yourself to draw like a professional artist. Every artist was an amateur first. The ultimate purpose of drawing is to relax your mind and to find your soul. Pick up a paintbrush and paint with random colors and strokes like a child. Do not lose the artist inside you as you grow up! 

Title: Screaming
Medium: Digital art mounted on aluminum.
Artist Statement: The moment when staying calm is not an option.

Title: Incantation without a Transformation Wand
Medium: Digital art mounted on acrylic.
Artist Statement: Without the transformation wand, I found an incantation which gave me strength, that is - “I can do it!”

Title: Long Road to Eradication
Medium: Digital art mounted on professional archive maxima paper.
Artist Statement: HIV research has come a long way since the disease was first diagnosed in young gay men as cancer in the 1980s. Even though the scientific road ahead remains long and difficult, we are in a new era to find ways to eradicate HIV from infected populations.
*This artwork will be up for auction in the AIDS Concern gala event in early 2020.

Title: Where is home? - They should have families rather than just spousal benefits.
Medium: Digital art mounted on acrylic.
Artist Statement: Same-sex marriage is not legalized in Hong Kong and spousal benefits are not enough for LGBTI. They should be treated equally.

Jurisdictions: 

Trainee Solicitor, Morrison & Foerster

Keyon is a Trainee Solicitor at Morrison & Foerster and assists on a broad range of contentious and non- contentious corporate and commercial matters. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Fashion and Textile from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and his Juris Doctor degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Prior to joining Morrison & Foerster, Keyon was an Anti-Corruption Officer in the Independent Commission Against Corruption.