Hive Life caught up with the person behind the whimsical and colourful illustrations of Messy Desk, Hong Kong artist Jane Lee. Her creations are brought to life at Tung Chung’s Citygate Outlets in a spectacular “Colour-Popping Summerland” display.
Internationally loved local Hong Kong artist Jane Lee, aka Messy Desk, is well known for her delightful, colourful illustrations overflowing with friendly faces, clouds, and rainbows. Jane’s work is visible globally on murals and in exhibitions. Inspired by the European “bande dessiné” art style, every piece of Jane’s art places hidden meanings and a new charming character every time you revisit her work.
This summer, Jane brought a “Colour-Popping Summerland” to Citygate Outlets in Tung Chung, a delightful interactive exhibit encouraging visitors to revisit childhood dreams and explore different whimsical instalments. We spoke to Jane about Messy Desk and the inspiration behind her colour-popping exhibit.
Can you introduce us to Messy Desk?
In Hong Kong we have a lot of high density landscapes with many buildings. And Hong Kong people usually have a very hectic lifestyle. I view myself as quite a positive person and find the outside world messy but with an explosion of colour. My iconic character is the cloud called “Cloudy Bear,” and in my “Colour-Popping Summerland” exhibition it is the four-metre high bridge with blinking eyes.
What is your creative process?
First I start with sketches, and then colour the illustrations on my computer with Photoshop. 3D installations are produced in my workshop.
What inspired you to become an artist?
Since I was very little I always enjoyed drawing and was inspired by Japanese animations. I always wanted to be an artist when I grew up, so I got into the Hong Kong Design Institute to study art, and that was when I created Messy Desk. I was also inspired by Dutch artist M. C. Escher’s work during my studies.
Why did you choose the name Messy Desk?
The name Messy Desk is actually very literal: it reflects my lifestyle which is quite hectic, and also I have a messy desk.
Was it challenging when you first started as an artist?
When I first started Messy Desk, the unstable income was the most challenging for me, and I had to take part-time jobs to sustain myself. My belief is what has supported me to overcome every obstacle I encounter, because I want to bring happiness to my audience. Through my brand I want to spread joy and happiness, and this is how I support myself and overcome any challenges.
What is characteristic of your artwork?
People are usually attracted by the colours of my work, and if you look into the details, you will find there are a lot of similarities to the Hong Kong landscape. You will find a lot of buildings and people will turn into my own characters.
How did you get your work showcased at galleries when you first started?
A gallery curator approached me when they saw my mural on a street. They found me on social media, and that’s how my art was exhibited in their gallery in Los Angeles. They reached out during the Covid-19 pandemic, so I was not able to install my work directly, and had to mail my art to the gallery instead.
What was the inspiration behind “Colour-Popping Summerland”?
Citygate approached me to create this exhibit. They found that my art really aligned with their summer campaign “Colour-Popping Summerland,” with the aim of spreading childhood joy and happiness. There are various classic playground activities on display, so the Cloudy Bear represents myself, and we also have two arches, a seesaw, and giant speakers.
How did you create such a large instalment?
I have a production house where I turn 2D drawings into 3D illustrations. I had already produced 3D installations for the KCC building in Kwai Chung.
The safety issues that come with 3D installations were the most challenging for me, compared to just 2D illustrations. I had to think about safety measures for the installations, for example, the seesaw of the exhibition can’t be moved, because there are safety concerns when children play with it.
What is the most satisfying part of Messy Desk?
The most satisfying part for me is actually turning my 2D drawings into 3D installations- actualising my drawings into real life installations. Another part for me is that the facility allows kids and families to have fun there and have a happy time.
I’m very happy seeing people playing in my playground, I feel joyful afterwards, and satisfied with my work. When I look at my social media feed of people who visited the exhibit and tagged me on Instagram, I am really happy to see they came and had a good time here.
Did the Covid-19 pandemic have an effect on your work?
During the pandemic, I had more time to focus on my own creations. This was how I could send art pieces to a gallery in the US, and spend less time working on events and campaigns. I was able to focus more on my artistic side, versus commercial.
What is your advice for those looking to start out as an artist?
My advice is to start your own art business by posting your creations on social media platforms: Facebook, instagram, or any platforms you can find. Street art is an option as well. I myself have murals on buildings in Poland, across Europe, and also in Hong Kong.
I also believe that looking at art from various artists from all over the world helped me to develop my own art style. For a new artist, the first stage of developing your own style is mocking other people’s art and learning their techniques. By creating an iconic signature character, like Cloudy Bear, this will also help to distinguish yourself.
What is your favourite creation so far?
My favourite creation is a mural I did on a 28-metre high building in Finland. It took me three weeks to complete the entire installation. Before Covid, I often travelled to Europe to create murals on buildings in different countries.
Do you have a favourite artwork from your childhood?
What is your favourite gallery in Hong Kong?
“Colour-Popping Summerland” is open for visitors at Citygate Outlets until Sunday, August 22nd, 2021.