The height and breath of Hong Kong’s glittering skyline are a crick in the neck, but the vibrant street art in Old Town Central draws the eyes back to the ground and shirks the all-business vibe.
Wrapped by high rises and financial offices looking down, the Old Town Central district of Hong Kong appears to be blissfully unaware of its surroundings. Here, the past decided to stay and the present crept up on it.
In the heart of this urbane city, contrasts comfortably sit with each other in the Old Town. There are street food stalls and trendy restaurants & rooftop bars, local markets and high-end boutiques, natives and foreigners co-inhibiting the space and time. In this crowded, colourful neighbourhood there is something to catch, whichever direction one looks.
Here, walls, stairs, roads and entire buildings even, become a canvas for artists.
In the sloped streets, small alleyways and stairway roads, traversing is best done by abandoning the taxi. The easy pace of exploration by foot allows the jubilance of stumbling upon the street graffiti. They are smattered all over the neighbourhood, and walking the lesser known streets will unearth obscure, new work.
The art pieces and murals are contributions of both renowned artists and budding ones. Edgy and riveting, they are, as if, a precursor to the bursting creativity in the district that houses art institutions, world-class galleries, auction houses and performance stages. Some artwork have become famous and turned into a permanent feature of the streets. Some others are topical and revamped periodically by new artists.
Intrigued by the conspicuous presence of the art, I researched the graffiti laws here. Per basic law, modifying a public property without permission is illegal in Hong Kong. The government has, on several occasions arrested artists or fined them and taken down the work. Ai WeiWei with spray painting and Invader with mosaic print tiles have been spreading their work, later removed by law for safety reasons. Largely, however, the government seems to have accepted the ‘graffiti community’ even though street artists are violating the law.
Most art seen here is either an emotional outlet, an expression of political dissent or an advertisement.
52-55 Staunton Street Almost like a scene from the movie, inception, Spanish illustrator Cinta Vidal Agullo has created a mind-bending piece featuring inverted architecture and gravity-defying grey buildings. Taking over the facade of Italian bar Station Novella, Agullo invites passersby to take a pass and re-examine reality on this steep slope of Aberdeen Street.
42 Staunton Street A street art pioneer Fromm China, SENK has decorated the wall of an unassuming staircase thats George's Lane as part of the HK Walls Festival in 2018. In between the residential buildings of Staunton Street, SENK's striking and vibrant mural is done in his signature old-school graffiti lettering style. It's a splash of colour in an otherwise quiet back alley.
Madera Hollywood Hotel Covering the facade of this Hollywood Road hotel, the screen legends Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin accompanied by Frank Sinatra, are painted in pop art style before the imagery of the Hong Kong skyline.
Lyndhurst Terrace It's hard to miss the massive portrait of a man surrounded by rising bubbles on the slopes of Cochrane Street. Set against the black mosaic tiles of Lush Spa, Hong Kong based French muralist Elsa Jean de Dieu has injected her signature joy and lightness to the bustling stress of Soho. The mural is also one of many born out of the HK Walls 2018 project.
82 Hollywood Road Two giant koi fish swimming is Danish urban contemporary artist Christian Storm's way of combining geometric elements and Chinese culture in a larger than life mural that turns a simple blank wall into a vertical body of water.
Tank Lane A tribute by South Korean graffiti artist Xeva to Bruce Lee, Hong Kong's local export to the world. He uses his signature mosaic technique to create this large mural capturing the likeness of the martial arts superstar.
I didn't manage much information on this one, but it was my favourite in the way that it was an extension of the street food shack. And, turning the menu boards on the faces of the graffiti proclaimed it was currently shut.
PMQ Formerly the Police Married Quarters, houses works by promising young artists and designers in Hong Kong. There is a fascinating line-up of creative studios and designers produce here, along with exhibitions and workshops all year through. The flight of staircases here have been decorated by groups of talented artists who were all inspired by tales of Hong Kong.
Lest we forget of the unrest in Hong Kong, alive for over 8 months now, there are some strong messages against the government too.
If you are lucky, you might catch an artist at work!
While there is plenty to see on Hollywood Road, if you haven’t had your fill of street art, venture out towards Sai Ying Pun’s Artlane, where building walls of Ki Ling Lane and Chung Chin Street are turned into kaleidoscopic canvas.
Hong Kong Tourism offers maps for self guided walks. This one is the OTC map for their 'Crazy for Art' walk, courtesy discoverhongkong.com.