Critics’ Picks

Wilson Shieh, Famous Hong Kong Film Actors, 2010, color pencil on archival cardboard, 19 x 39”.

Wilson Shieh, Famous Hong Kong Film Actors, 2010, color pencil on archival cardboard, 19 x 39”.

Hong Kong

Wilson Shieh

Osage Soho
45 Caine Road Lower Ground Shop 1 Old Bailey Street
January 20–February 27, 2011

Hong Kong artist Wilson Shieh’s latest exhibition, “Mortal Coil,” is an examination of celebrity, power, pop culture, and history. In the fourteen works shown here, rendered in colored pencil on cardboard and various types of paper, it is apparent that he is continuing on a similar trajectory to the one established by his 2009 exhibition “Chow Yun-Fat’s Fitting Room,” but here his scope has expanded beyond Chow to a host of other personalities and preoccupations.

In Famous Hong Kong Film Actors, 2010, Shieh depicts nine performers in iconic roles; the drawing acts as a survey of Hong Kong film from 1973 to 2003. Bruce Lee is at the far left, shown with the nunchakus he carried in Enter the Dragon; a shirtless Andy Lau appears as a former monk (whom he played in Running on Karma) wearing a G-string stuffed with money. Shieh breaks down each character to a limited number of visual elements—costumes, hair styles, accessories—thereby revealing how a few simple details can construct an identity.

The Twenty-Eight Hong Kong Governors, 2011, comprises four pieces of paper with seven governors drawn on each in brownish pencil. The work’s hue lends it an aged appearance, recalling exhibits in history museums. Underneath the figure of each governor, from Sir Henry Pottinger to Lord Patten of Barnes, are the dates of his appointment and a list of streets and buildings named after him. The drawings are a sly look at how colonial influences persist in present-day Hong Kong despite fourteen intervening years of Chinese rule.

Shieh’s decision to embrace colored-pencil drawings (despite his skill in gongbi painting) allows the pictures to fight against the overpolished perfection they would otherwise achieve, giving them the right amount of roughness to suggest that the traces of any life, no matter how richly lived, are ultimately as fragile as pieces of archival cardboard or watercolor paper.