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NAJ Portraits: At the Center of Wong Wai Kin’s World

From manga to contemporary Chinese painting, Hong Kong-based artist Wong Wai Kin rejects limitations. A profile by Kian Wong.

By Arts & Culture, Featured

  • The artist at work. Image courtesy Wong Wai Ken.
  • "漫畫戀事多" (“Loves and Hates as a Cartoonist") by Wong Wai Kin, c. 1996. Image courtesy the artist.
  • "Inside Outside 2" by Wong Wai Kin, 2012. Image courtesy the artist.

The “Portraits” series is a showcase of new writing by New Arts Journalism (NAJ) students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hong Kong-based artist Wong Wai Kin fell in love with drawing as soon as he figured out how to hold a pencil.

“My dream was to be a professional cartoonist from the time I was nine years old,” he said. “However, because my parents were poor, I wouldn’t even think about asking for money to learn drawing. So I taught myself through reading manga and practiced again and again.”

Kin’s practice of manga, that singular comic style first developed in Japan in the latter part of the 19th century, eventually paid off.

Instead of applying for college after high school graduation, Kin interviewed for a position at the most significant producer of manga in Hong Kong, Jademan Comics. They hired Kin as a cartoonist’s assistant at just 19 years old. Hard-working and motivated, he was soon promoted to become chief editor by 21.

“It only took me two years to be promoted, which was also the fastest promotion ever in that company,” said Kin.

The artist likens drawing manga to being a god in the story world.

“Everything is created by me, I am the center of the world, and it feels great,” he said.

However, due to the high demand formanga in the late 80s and early 90s, chief editors at Jademan needed to produce more than 30 pages per week. The company would first hire a comic screenwriter to create the story. Then it was time for editors like Kin to step in.

“I would wake up at 7 a.m. every day, eat breakfast, then sit in front of my desk and start drawing till [midnight. I’d have lunch for an hour, then start to draw again till 11 p.m. [It was] seven days a week with this life routine for a few years.”

In 1995, Kin decided to leave the job and start his own publishing company.

“I wanted to write my own stories, and have time to think and explore,” he said.

This past summer, “Inside Outside 2,” one of the paintings from Kin’s “Inside Outside” series, which reveals his passion for life and art and portrays the romance of the city, was begun in 2010. “Inside Outside 2” was selected for Ink Global 2017,  an international Chinese art exhibition in Hong Kong. Ink Global also recognized the artist as one of the “Ink Global Top 500,” distinguishing him as one of 500 elite Chinese elite around the globe.

Wai Ken says he won’t set  specific future goals as an artist.

“[In publishing],you can calculate and predict with numbers, but I don’t want focus on that with my paintings. I just want to paint wholeheartedly, following my intention, and enjoy what I am doing right now.”

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