Blog Art Disrupted—Both the Medium and the Message

Art Disrupted—Both the Medium and the Message
Ever painted with a stick of celery? You can make art from anything reckons Red Hong Yi, a Malaysian-born artist and designer who shot to fame after painting a portrait of Yao Ming, China’s most famous basketball star, and uploading the process to YouTube, where it’s been viewed over 1 million times. 

“Painting” doesn’t really capture Red’s innovative approach. She made the Yao Ming work by dribbling a paint-covered basketball on a sheet of paper. She’s also done portraits of pop star Jay Chou using coffee-cup stains and of the actor Jackie Chan using bundles of chopsticks, alongside countless other ground breaking projects.

At the 21st Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference (AIC), Red attempted to prove that creating art doesn’t need to start with a paintbrush by getting volunteers to create pictures with things like the aforementioned celery stick and a fork daubed with paint.

“Challenge yourself to see ordinary things with fresh eyes,” she told the audience.

Red’s bid to disrupt art goes beyond the medium an artist can use for creation, to the media they use to reach audiences.

When starting out, "It was really tough getting gallery representation, fighting for exhibition space... The artists I spoke to were struggling,” Red said. “I thought, ‘can I disrupt the art market with digital tools? Can the gallery space be much more than these four walls?’”

She’s proved the answer is yes. Others are following suit: the British artist Damien Hirst, she said, has recently taken over his own Instagram account and is being much more open about the creation process. The result of this interaction, Red reckons, is that “more and more, we’re seeing a switch from the artist being cold and standoffish to more personal.”

But focusing on social media likes and shares can be distracting, she warns.

"It can be a powerful tool to spread content in an instant but it can be dangerous too, an approval-seeking machine."

The lesson, as with most areas of technology disruption, is to use it judiciously—and don’t let the social media message overtake the medium of creation.

The hard part about creativity is not in coming up with an original idea; the hard part is to make something happen despite your fears and doubts.

More to the point, the best art is still at its core deeply personal, Red insisted. “The hard part about creativity is not in coming up with an original idea; the hard part is to make something happen despite your fears and doubts.”

So even if you have nothing but a blank canvas and a stick of celery, you have no excuses not to try, Red said. “Make something happen, even if it’s a small step.”

'Yao Ming Portrait Painted with a Basketball' — Red Hong Yi

Watch the video here.

'Jackie Chan Chopsticks Portrait' — Red Hong Yi

Watch the video here.

'Jay' — Red Hong Yi

Watch the video here.