Bizzie Bee's Artist Interview: Magi Chen

Hello Bizzie Bees! What's been inspiring you this autumn season? I'm so excited for our artist interview this month with Magi. I saw her work downstairs from the Bizzie Bee HQ at G.O.D. last year when Urban Sketchers had a collaboration with them. Earlier this month I spent an art conference weekend with her and learned more about her process and saw more of her art. She inspires me to go out and capture in my sketchbook more of this beautiful city we live in.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from Britain and of Chinese ancestry, specifically Hakka (you can find lots of places in Hong Kong that has this root). I am the oldest of five and very close to my siblings. I have lived in Hong Kong for 7 years and love living here so I am sharing with you the drawings I have made of Hong Kong.

What is your workspace like?

In my workspace you will notice lots of natural light which is very important to me and for my work. There are several windows in my studio to provide this light and it’s an extra bonus to be able to view a natural scene. I try to keep my workspace organised but when I am really busy it gets quite messy! I have several sketchbooks on the go and there are many experiments as well as inspiration pinned to the walls.

What inspires you and how do you keep your creative spark?

I am inspired by pretty much every art form from installation art to classical painting and visit lots of galleries in my spare time. I spent some of the summer in Vienna, the capital city of Austria, and went to at least one gallery each day as I couldn’t get enough of it! If you ever get the chance to go, you should visit Vienna for the art (and music!). It’s a great city and I left with a plan of the galleries I would visit next time!

What are you working on right now?

I recently finished an illustration for the company TUMI and you can see it in their store at Hong Kong International Airport. The illustration is of a well-known scene of our city and I’m sure you’ll recognise it. Right now, I am working on a canvas for a gallery in Athens. It’s about my heritage and background. When you are making art you can look outwards and make it about the world from your perspective. With this piece, I am looking more inwards so it is to do with me, as well as to do with the past.

How do you know when a work is finished?

I don’t think you ever truly do know, even if you are a famous or long-practising artist. For instance, the British artist Francis Bacon, on seeing his painting after he had sold it to the Tate Museum, said he wanted to paint over part of the canvas—he decided that it wasn’t finished after all! If you are wondering whether your own work is ‘finished’ you should ask yourself if you are satisfied with it and if it does what you had planned. You can also seek advice by asking your friends, family or teachers and seeing what they think. Whatever choice you make, just like Francis Bacon, it's alright to change your mind afterwards.

What's the last show that you saw?

The last show I saw was by the sculptor Mona Hatoum at the White Cube gallery on Connaught Road, Hong Kong Island. I had seen Hatoum give a lecture at the recently opened Tai Kwun and I enjoyed listening to her talk about the way she works and the themes she explores. I also liked how she calls her sketchbooks ‘mobile studios’.

What is your favourite museum?

One of my favourite museums is the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I fell in love with it when I first went as a student and spent hours there taking notes and making drawing after drawing. You can travel through time and visit different parts of the world in this one building—yes, it's quite a big place. I can still spend hours on my visits to the V&A and see something new each time.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading a novel called Song of a Captive Bird about a creative and rebellious woman from Iran, and also a non-fiction book called 21 lessons for the 21st Century —both I’m enjoying very much.

If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

I would be a cat. I have two cats and they are really well looked after. They are independent, inquisitive and spend most of their days sitting in the sun. That doesn’t sound bad to me!

What do you collect?

I collect all sorts of things that I think might be useful for my art... from scrap pieces of paper and old envelopes which in the past I have made into sketchbooks - I love the different blue and white patterns you see on the inside of envelopes as well as the postmarks on the front - to colourful fabric from my travels - one of my favourites at the moment is a Yunnanese pleated and indigo-dyed fabric that I found at a market in Beijing.

What do you love most about being an artist?

I love the freedom to do what I want and the way many ideas can come from doing one piece of art. I get really absorbed from creating and you can express how you feel and see the world.

Why art?

It’s something I have always done and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t do art or could consider a life without... it would be a very different, less colourful and worse off place without it.

Name something you love, and tell us why.

I love sketching with Urban Sketchers Hong Kong and I have made many good friends from this active and hard-working group. From time to time, we will have an Urban Sketcher from another country visit us and that adds a new dynamic when we sketch together. We sketch outdoors and this can be quite difficult but it’s good to challenge yourself. It is also refreshing because when we go out sketching, our eyes are opened to the many interesting parts of this wonderful city that is our home.

What advice do you have?

Be true to yourself and don’t follow the crowd.

See what Magi is up to and what she has been creating: @MagiChenArt

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