If you’ve ever tripped past Soho’s Hollywood Road and Peel Street intersection, you won’t have missed the pastel-hued mural of the beautiful laughing woman outside Brazilian-Japanese eatery Uma Nota.
The painterly, feminine work is by French artist Elsa de Jean De Dieu, who after moving to Hong Kong 10+ years ago, has carved a stellar rep for her textured interiors and street murals, while simultaneously becoming one of the city’s top trail runners. As Hong Kong gears up for Hong Kong Arts Month, the accomplished muralist talks to us about her love for Hong Kong, and the evolution of street art in her adopted city.
How does Hong Kong influence your work?
Hong Kong is reflected in all my work. I started running because of Hong Kong and I’m glad – whenever I’m running I look at the colour of nature and I always bring nature elements to my artwork so it’s very happy, authentic, green, flowery.
How have people responded to your murals?
The first mural I did was for Uma Nota. When I was working, I could see people watching me, all smiling and I was so happy. It’s a happy artwork – she’s smiling – and I could tell that the artwork was talking to the people.
I don’t speak Cantonese but I’ve had the most amazing experiences with the old people working on the streets –particularly in my favourite neighbourhood, Sheung Wan, which is a friendly community. They come up to me, smile to me and check my work everyday. Through my artwork we have an amazing connection; we don’t talk the same language, but the universal language is happiness. They recognise me now. As a foreigner painting outside makes me feel part of the community.
What is the significance of Hong Kong Arts Month to street artists?
Art fairs like Basel and Art Central bring creative people to Hong Kong, which is good for inspiration. It’s a good month when you get more creativity around you; it’s good energy.
How has Hong Kong’s street art scene evolved?
When I first moved here there was very little street art, it changed about five years ago because of Bibo (restaurant in Sheung Wan), whose French owner brought in artists like Banksy, Vhils, Space Invader and other famous artists who came to Hong Kong to create works for the inside [of Bibo], and they did artworks elsewhere in the city.
Today, street art brings a different kind of tourist; people travel to Hong Kong to just see street art. Instagram is amazing for us artists, it’s really powerful as people see your work and travel. I think within two years Hong Kong will be different again and will have a stronger identity in terms of art.
What are the cultural highlights for visitors to Hong Kong?
Tai Kwun is amazing! M+ too… I think it’s good that Hong Kong is changing culturally. And PMQ I think is really good. It was the first time we had something more creative, unique and not so commercial like all the big global brands. The city is going back to its heritage, it’s more cultural, which is good.
Heading to Hong Kong for Arts Month? Get the inside scoop in the city’s best bits…