Monday, August 26

Hong Yi, the artist who paints without paintbrush


KOTA KINABALU: It was all trial and error but after four tries, Sabah-born Hong Yi was finally ready for her latest artwork masterpiece.

Using 2,000 carnations, which she patiently dyed with the right colour of  pink and red, Hong Yi, who also goes by the nickname Red (Hong means red in Chinese), carefully arranged the flowers to the image of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Dubbed ‘the artist who paints but not with a paintbrush’, Hong Yi began her latest artwork on Jan 24, which also happened to be her 27th birthday, by filling each cup with the right amount of food dye to get the right colour tones.

It was all trial and error at first as she experimented with various methods, just so she would be able to find the right colour and hope the colour would last.

“I watched the movie “The Lady” featuring Malaysian actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh who played Myanmar’s activist Aung San Suu Kyi and was so inspired. So I decided to ‘paint’ her … this will be the my first artwork that I cannot keep,” she told reporters when showcasing another masterpiece at the Sutera Harbour Marina and Country Club yesterday.

Hongyi’s work was displayed at the hotel lobby which attracted a huge crowd, many of whom have seen the creation of her other masterpieces on YouTube.

“I am not afraid to share my work and its process. I have even posted my unfinished works, and get reactions from those who logged in to see the videos. I get to interact with the people and I appreciate every comment and feedback from the people,” she said.

Naming Picasso as her biggest inspiration, Hong Yi hopes to ‘paint’ Yeoh, saying: “I’m still looking for the right inspiration to do her.”

Born and raised here, Hong Yi, who has become a YouTube sensation, shot to fame with her painting of Yao Ming using a basketball and Jay Chou with coffee.

Her other artworks include portrait of Ai Weiwei using 10,000 sunflower seeds and Zhang Yimou with 750 pairs of socks and bamboo sticks.

Hong Yi’s 30 seconds HP Ink Advantage “Feathers” commercial, which she described as her most challenging project, is now aired on television.

After her artwork went viral, she found herself being sought for interviews by a stream of international media from ABC’s Good Morning America to requests to upload her video on Yahoo, NBC, Huffington Post and popular tech site Gizmodo.

“All I did was to share my YouTube link on my Facebook page ( and the rest happened from there,” said Hong Yi, who is an architect working for an Australian company in Shanghai.

She said the artwork here was the first time she used ‘living things’, adding that it was her way of celebrating life.

The only daughter of local developer Wedge Hong and Terry Ng Kin Wan, Hong Yi studied architecture at Melbourne University before joining an Australian company in 2010 and was recently sent to Shanghai.

She has always been inclined to painting and was introduced to abstract art by a teacher at the Seri Insan Secondary School here.

“It was a sudden inspiration and I decided to do a Yao Ming portrait using a basketball. I never expected it to be a hit,” said Hong Yi.

She was grateful to have learnt architecture, as by combining it with art, she was able to transform her inspiration by structuring her materials.

Meanwhile, Sutera Harbour Marina and Country Club is hosting Hong Yi’s latest project and has always been a big supporter of local talents.

Its general manager Howie Roberts said that the Resort was happy to be part of Hong Yi’s artwork, adding: “Anything we do to support local talents, we are happy to do it.”