Masthead gets a glimpse into artist Cary Kwok’s cheeky mind.
Q: You grew up in Hong Kong, tell us about how you started drawing?
I’ve always drawn what fascinates me, I’ve done this ever since I picked up a pen as a kid. All my school books were covered with drawings of shoes and women in fashion and hairstyles from the past. If there was an old film on TV, I’d be glued to it. I find myself attracted to period themes and styles. As a child, my first infatuation was with the Rococo period and the 1950s and 60s.
Q: How has your upbringing as an East-Asian helped you create art in the UK?
I’m not sure. I guess my upbringing in Hong Kong must’ve given me a different cultural perspective to allow me to see things from different angles while living in Europe. In another way, it might have limited me from seeing things from other points of view because I didn't grow up in the same context or with the same references. I think it helped me create art in the way that I experience the world and how I see it through my eyes. It actually took me a while to figure out how to free myself from everyone else’s views being different from the way I see things.
Cary Kwok, Wish You Were Here (Highland Spunk), 2019, 32.6 x 40.5 x 4.5 cm, courtesy the artist and Herald St, London.
Q: Can you describe the fascination with the male body in contrast with the female body? You also studied fashion, how does this relate to your work?
My fascination with the male body is simply my sexual attraction to the male form. I studied fashion design in college, so to me drawing the female body just came pretty naturally. When I draw the female body, I always shape it according to the fashion of the periods and the cultures of the subject. Bodies are very different throughout the centuries.
Q: We would love to know about your process. Your work is so beautifully intricate, is this something that begins with a sketch and then develops?
I usually start with a concept. Then I do my research on the subject. For example, if I’m making a drawing inspired by architecture and fashion of a specific period, I like to make sure the details are historically correct. Then, I modify and sexualise them to the theme of the drawing. Next, I work out the composition, where to place what, and then the colour combination. I think the composition of my work is very much influenced by cinema. I always try to make my work quite cinematic. After I’ve worked out the composition, I map out everything on paper before I outline and then colour. The composition sometimes take longer than everything else.
Cary Kwok, Religion Triptych, 2010, courtesy the artist and Herald St, London.
Q: In many of your works there is almost a sense of voyeurism coming from the viewer watching these men in intimate moments and scenes. The characters don’t seem to mind that we are looking, was this something intentional that you wanted to achieve when creating this artwork?
A lot of my erotic drawings are an intimate peep into the private world of the characters. I guess I’ll leave it to the viewers to decide if the subjects are aware that they’re being watched.
Q: Your recent works seem to "zoom out” into elaborate environments, architectural structures and fantasy spaces, tell us a little bit about these scenes and locations?
Sometimes I like to merge my different inspirations (fashion, men and architecture) together. The architecture series I made back in 2016 displays the subjects of the drawings pimped out in buildings of various mixed architectural genres, one genre of a different period plonked on top of another.
The new series I showed back in March at Art Basel Hong Kong was inspired by historical and imaginary architecture from novels and movies.
‘Satyricum’ is inspired by the ancient Roman novel ‘Satyricon’ and ancient Pompeian architecture and interiors. The drawing depicts an orgy scene taking place in a typical Pompeiian mansion. The Chinese translation of the title reads ‘Only Met Up With My Mates’. It’s a satire of the double lives people lead throughout history.
Cary Kwok, Satyricum, 2019, Courtesy the artist and Herald St, London.