24 March, 2023
lio sze mei local hong kong artist art people artists odds and ends ad astra
lio sze mei local hong kong artist art people artists odds and ends ad astra

“I want to build my own Neverland,” Hong Kong Artist Lio Sze Mei On Escaping The Real World With Her Art

24 March, 2023
lio sze mei local hong kong artist art people artists odds and ends ad astra

We spoke to up-and-coming artist Lio Sze Mei about escaping the real world and creating a quiet place for others with her art and more…

It’s Art Week — or rather, the city’s unofficial Art Month, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see the Fairs (namely Art Basel and Art Central) in full swing alongside some gorgeous exhibitions at galleries around town and other art-inspired happenings. To celebrate, we decided to check out a homegrown artist, someone born and raised in the city who’s making her mark.

We spoke to Lio Sze Mei, whose debut solo exhibition opened at the very beginning of March at a favourite gallery of ours, Odds and Ends. Read on to hear what she said about her literary inspirations like J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince”, dream and memory recollections and more…

Read More: Your Insider Look At Art Central 2023 – What To Expect & Our Favourites

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It takes Lio Sze Mei a little to open up — she answers most of our questions from behind a plastic folder she keeps holding up to her face. Realising the Hong Kong-born and raised artist is probably more comfortable in Cantonese, her first language, we turned to Odds and Ends co-founder and gallery director Natalie Ng to accompany us — who offered her own insight and thoughts as we toured Lio’s debut solo exhibition.

Born to Hong Kong office workers, Lio’s family was not as supportive of her artistic career. To them it “seems like a waste of time, a waste of money,” Lio tells us, which partially informed her decision to study art at home, at Hong Kong Baptist University. The 29-year-old works full-time these days, teaching young children art.

Lio Sze Mei_Round and round and round, 2017, Charcoal, ink, and soft pastel, on canvas, 20.5x20.5cm

Round and round and round, 2017, Charcoal, ink, and soft pastel, on canvas

Lio Sze Mei_Scattered Sparks II, 2022, Oil on canvas, 30x30cm

Scattered Sparks II, 2022, Oil on canvas

So if her parents didn’t see art as a career, why did she pursue it? “I love art — for me, it’s a time to escape the real world,” she tells us. “In primary school, I loved drawing and doing crafts with clay and paper. It made me feel very calm, exploring different materials. I studied painting and printmaking, ceramic-making and more mediums.”

Lio really lights up when we come to the topic of inspiration. Hers come from stories, like J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. “I want to build my own Neverland — but I want to be cleverer than him. He has to stay there; I want to be able to go back and forth from the real world.”

That’s why her show is called “Ad Astra”, a Latin phrase that means “to the stars”. “It’s so meaningful for me,” Lio says. “I want those brighter things, even to own for myself.” As we tour the space later, she adds “I want to collect all the beautiful things.”

new art shows photography exhibitions hong kong lifestyle march 2023 art month ad astra lio sze mei odds and ends hong kong solo brass copper ink oil

A Floating Planet (Detail), 2023, Ink on copper plate

 Gallerist Natalie Ng considers the notion of the stars like a guiding star, like the North Star. Something that conveys desire but you can’t quite grasp like a tangible thing. “All the works in the show, even if they look dark, there’s one trait that ties them all together — they all sparkle.

The two canvas pieces in the exhibition — the other works are on metal — consist of charcoal and black ink, and depict objects that twinkle. There’s a lit-up chandelier, a lit-up carousel, a young girl in a pretty party dress made up of lights. Even the surface of the ocean reflects, sparkles. There’s a hazy element to Lio’s pieces, a blurry “bokeh” out-of-focus effect.

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Lio’s most interesting pieces, to us, are her metal works, made by a timely process of scratching the surface of brass and copper plates and then processing it with ink and oil. We look at the cropped, detailed piece that shows the surface of the ocean, and you can see how the different textures create a twinkling, glistening effect. “She works on a negative, instead of a positive when you think about it,” Ng says.

Lio Sze Mei_Starry Sea (Detail), 2023, Ink on brass plate, 20x20cm

Starry Sea (Detail), 2023, Ink on brass plate

The subjects of Lio’s works come to her in her dreams — or rather, she says, she recollects old memories and images she sees when she’s sleeping. If you look closely, you’ll spot tiny ducks. Lio says they’re lost and lonely, and it’s meant to look a little uncertain and unclear — as if they could disappear. “I don’t like birds but for this illustration, when I’m far away, it’s okay — they’re so cute!” The aforementioned girl in a sparkly dress is also disappearing, “she’s going away to Neverland.”

Lio likes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince for a similar reason. “Because all these stories, [the characters] have their own world. I want to build my own world.

Lio Sze Mei_The Lost Duck (Detail), 2023, Ink on brass plate, 10x10cm

The Lost Duck (Detail), 2023, Ink on brass plate

Lio Sze Mei_Ad Astra (Detail), 2022, Ink, oil on brass plate, 20.5x20cm

Ad Astra, 2022, Ink, oil on brass plate

 When asked why she choose to work with Odds and Ends, a fairly younger local gallery, for her debut show, Lio says it’s her pleasure. Ng and co-founder and co-director Fiona Ho approached her at the Affordable Art Fair, where they both purchased a piece. “We really liked it and we wanted to visit her studio to learn more about her practice, and then the show just came about organically.”

And what would she want viewers to take away from “Ad Astra”? “I want them to feel calm, at rest. Like it’s a quiet place for them.”

You can view Lio Sze Mei’s debut solo exhibition “Ad Astra” at Odds and Ends, Block B, H307, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong, until Saturday, 8 April. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 7pm.

You can also catch Odds and Ends at this year’s Art Central at Booth B2, Halls 3FG, 3/F, Old Wing, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, until Saturday, 25, March.

Main image courtesy of Sakina Abidi for Sassy Media Group, all other images courtesy of the artist and Odds and Ends gallery.

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