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Friday, January 18, 2019, 10:57
Grungy, post-industrial Chai Wan draws artists
By Rebecca Lo
Friday, January 18, 2019, 10:57 By Rebecca Lo

Artify Gallery’s 1,500 square foot space is used to mount six shows featuring works by local artists every year. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Chai Wan, bounded by Mount Collinson in the south and the sea to its northeast, became a bustling industrial hub in the 1950s. Today it draws small art-oriented businesses because of its accessibility, sea and mountain views, generous spaces and neighborhood vibe, a combination that allows artists to focus on creative work while tapping into a network of like-minded people. 

Industrial designer Lee Chi-wing, founder of Milk Design, has been renting studio space in Chai Wan for 15 years. When Lee first moved here, the area was dominated by photographers. Now, he says, there are a lot more artisans. “For me, having enough space to showcase our products as well as a quiet place to design were the most important factors, along with the cheaper rent,” he says. 

Movana Chen’s knitwear installation in her Chai Wan gallery. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Fellow designer Julie Progin is one half of Julie & Jesse, a ceramic artist duo. “Industrial spaces were made for people like us,” says Progin, a Hong Kong-born Swiss. “We make and produce our ceramics, and many clients want to be able to see how we work. We started out in Kwai Chung, but found that clients didn’t want to go that far. We have been in our 2,800 square foot studio for about 8 years.”

Their studio comes with a gallery and showroom. The space contains two kilns and large benches where the couple crafts their wares. “Natural light is really key to how we create, as we need to see minute details in our work,” Progin explains. 

Rising rents convinced architect and illustrator Thomas Schmidt of Sepia Design to purchase a 1,800-square foot industrial space in Chai Wan. “For a space five times the size of my studio in Central, my mortgage was less than the rent I was paying there,” says the American. 

Thomas Schmidt of Sepia Design. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Eight years later, Schmidt has never looked back on his decision to head east. “There is a solid local community here, though everyone is doing his own thing,” says the writer and illustrator of the Bumbling Through… series of travel books. “The industrial noise, pollution and bad air quality of Chai Wan add to its appealing grunge factor.” 

Accountant-turned-knit artist Movana Chen works out of a 1,000 square foot space with sea views. “I started with a shared studio at Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in 2008,” she remembers. “We had to open our studio to visitors, which I found distracting. I didn’t want to entertain strangers — I wanted to work and needed to focus. Since I live in Shau Kei Wan, I never considered another district besides Chai Wan.” 

Ceramic artist Julie Progin with partner Jesse. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Chen has been expanding her repertoire from the body containers she knitted out of shredded paper to focus on installations made from dictionaries and maps. “As a woman, I love the safety of coming to Chai Wan at any hour — whenever the creative urge hits me,” Chen says with a smile. “Our Chai Wan chat group is quite active. We organize pot luck dinners every month or so in our studios, and help out newcomers with advice about the area.”

Gallery owner Cherry Ho established Artify in a 1,500 square foot space and mounts six shows focusing on local artists each year. “Our mother company Print-rite has been in Chai Wan for more than a decade, and we wanted to promote printing with art through Artify,” Ho notes. “Although we’ve seen people come and go, there is a solid base of galleries and studios here.”

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