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French and Brazilian street art meet in HK

Fine and street art smash as two key artists work on Converse's Wall Art project in Hong Kong

Things have been written on walls since walls have existed – but in Hong Kong, street art is in short supply. The Wall to Wall series, produced by Converse, sends artists to urban centers around the world so that they can layer empty spaces with fresh color and artistic innovation. An international group of artists were commissioned to do the same in Hong Kong, each adding their own unique pieces and perspective to a city that’s yet to experience a full street art transformation. 

Onesto, a São Paolo born-and-raised street artist, painter and sculptor, was brought in from Brazil. French-born fine artist Charles Munka, who now lives in Hong Kong, was also commissioned. For this special feature, Dazed interviewed each artist and inquired about their own artistic practice, how their respective country treats urban art, and how they conceived and executed their work for Wall to Wall

Onesto, whose legal name is Alex Hornest, honed his skills on the often-dangerous streets of his hometown Brazilian metropolis - and also in the classrooms of art school in the 90s. “I began to notice the graffiti on the streets of São Paulo when I was still a child. I looked at different lettering styles and character designs but did not know what they meant.” Pixação, a native style that originated in São Paulo and Rio, is a type of cryptic lettering that evolved from political statements written on vacant buildings in the 1940s and 50s to the tagging of names. Onesto was influenced greatly by this form, and also by well-respected graffers working in the city – not to mention the fine art history he studied: 

“After I met Os Gêmeos [two renowned street artists from São Paulo] and Barry McGee, it changed my whole way of doing graffiti. From that moment on I realized I didn’t need much to make my work. I just needed to have good ideas, daring, and a little paint. And as time went by, I realized the need to study other forms of artistic expression – that’s when I started discovering Rembrandt, Hieronymus Bosch, Richard Serra, and others.” 

For his Wall to Wall piece, Onesto was sent to the Loong Wa Theatre in the Tsuen Wan neighborhood. This Hong Kong hood was a fishing village as the city and the rest of China started to expand, and it rapidly became a self-sufficient enclave of creative and artistic relevance. Onesto created a piece showing a series of black and white characters tumbling against a vivid, pop-inspired background. This being Onesto’s first time in Hong Kong, he was struck by the parallels between the two societies, both working to improve living conditions and create uplifting art. 

Whereas Hong Kong has little street art, Onesto commented on the problems that come with having too much graffiti in his hometown halfway across the world: 

“I think that graffiti is encouraged too much in São Paulo. Anyone thinks it’s easy and that it’s just a way to be recognized. Many don’t understand that graffiti is a doorway to doing any kind of art. I’d like to see these young people receive genuine support and encouragement, so that the art can actually help change the sad reality that many people live.” 

Converse knew that it was important to have local voices participate as well. Charles Munka has lived around Asia for ten years. His move to Hong Kong was necessitated after being “blown away by the city's aesthetics - and since then it has been an endless source of inspiration for [his] work.” The history of his art making is wildly varied, geographically and inspirationally, and it shows in his work. 

“I've always been drawing, and I dreamt of being a comic artist as a kid. I studied illustration and animation in Lyon but dropped out of school early to move to Japan. From then on I was learning from the various jobs that I've taken, from video game background designer to art direction for communication agencies. And I was always keeping some time on the side to develop my personal universe.” 

This personal universe of Munka’s consists of a motley assortment: “Japanese Manga, the New York School, abstract expressionists, Greco-Roman literature and mythology, ancient civilisations, yesterday's front page…” All of it makes appearances in his work, and much of it peeks through in his piece for Wall to Wall

Situated in the central business center of Hong Kong, Munka’s mural is a gigantic collage composition, playing with multiple local and international symbols and juxtaposing various colorful shapes. The work is centered on the idea that everything that exists in a city has an emotional impact on its inhabitants, and it uses these ideas to provoke its own response.

“The Wall to Wall piece is a painting on a tarp that is 6 x 4.5 meters. It's made out of various graphic elements gathered in the area where the piece is installed and rearranged so they create a sort of new cityscape. The rounded window-like shape was, for me, a way to give an architectural feeling to the piece so it would fit in the urban environment without drowning into it. These shapes have more of a European and slightly religious character to it, rather than the vertical straight lines of Hong Kong.” 

Onesto and Charles Munka have both created a distinct addition to the visual panoply of Hong Kong, respectively adding a their own, unique voice to the small chorus of HK street art. Our next feature will showcase the Hong Kong/ Shenzhen based graffiti crew IDT, and the Melbourne-hailing master of masking tape, Buff Diss. 

Project co produced with Philip Rodgers
Photography by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

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