To commemorate Affordable Art Fair’s 10th anniversary edition in Hong Kong, Hive Life catches up with local artist The Tiny Smile on their participation in AAF 2023, exploring TTS’ minimalistic and powerful pieces which draw from traditional Chinese influences, and much more. 

The Tiny Smile (TTS) is a Hong Kong-based artist exploring the emotional depth and contrasts experienced with the arising and ceasing of feelings – “fictionality and trueness.” Drawing from traditional Chinese artistry, there is more than meets the eye with TTS’ pieces, which upon closer examination unveil powerful messaging and meticulous attention to detail. TTS will be joining Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong’s 2023 edition for the first time from the 18th to 21st of May where visitors will be able to appreciate the tiny smiles in person.  

Inspired by Chinese monochrome glazed porcelain and embossed pattern techniques, TTS integrates ancient aesthetics with contemporary motifs on canvases with simple yet profound colours. Using repetitive layering techniques to build up an array of emotionally driven tactile elements, TTS transforms canvases into contemplative spaces with quiet yet dynamic energy.

By repeating the Chinese Han character 「笑」(which means smile) to create an original pattern, or the artist’s signature upward-downward smiley motif, The Tiny Smile vividly brings a modern twist to traditional Chinese artistic techniques guiding viewers to reflect on the importance and significance of the emotion of happiness in life despite its frequent fluctuations.

Dive into TTS’ world as we explore their creative journey, inspirations, and get a sneak peek into their attendance at AAF 2023 in Hong Kong. 

The Tiny Smile: A Contemplation of Minimalism and Emotion Inspired by Ancient Chinese Artistry

Can You Tell Us More About Yourself?

Art has always been part of my life. From creating graphic design works to making fashion films, and now painting. The joy of the creative process is the same but just with different forms, mediums, and skill sets.  

Having experienced shifts in perspectives on life when Covid-19 hit, I saw art as a form of self-exploration and meditation. In 2019, I decided to pursue art and painting full-time. 

The name TTS (The Tiny Smile) is a self reminder to be present, to find beauty in the mundane and little things in life. 

The Tiny Smile: A Contemplation of Minimalism and Emotion Inspired by Ancient Chinese Artistry

Who Are Your Biggest Artistic Influences?

Cultural heritage, ancient Chinese ceramics and artworks aside, artworks by Agnes Martin, Pierre Soulages, and Kazimir Malevich are also important to me.

Can You Share More About the Nature of Your Art Pieces?

Art is a tool to help me engage with myself and the world I’m in today. I harness the power of monochrome and duocolour, scale and repetition in my artworks which calls for self-analysis and questioning on our own existence.

Being an ancient Chinese ceramics enthusiast, the monochrome glazed ceramic wares in particular influenced the colour palette of my artworks.

The concept of ‘white space’ in traditional Chinese aesthetics is also important to me. The literal text and motifs created by repetition become pure textural and tactile elements on monochrome canvas. It is a manifestation of being and non-being.

The Tiny Smile: A Contemplation of Minimalism and Emotion Inspired by Ancient Chinese Artistry

What Inspired Your Upward–Downward Smiley Face Motif?

The upward-downward smiley face motif is inspired by the coexistence of emotions, the ups and downs of lives. Some see a smiling face while some see a sad face – there is no right or wrong. Happiness for me is the presence of all other emotions: life, death, sickness, anxiety, fear…I feel that only by being present and accepting the ups and downs in life can we find happiness.   

The process of painting only the han character ‘smile’ (笑) and upward-downward smiley face motifs repetitively often takes weeks and even months. It is a ritualistic and meditative journey. 

Through this period, my emotions change but I am tasked with staying focused while painting with emotions that are not visible on the canvas, and they supported me from going through the long painting process. 

For instance, my first paintings in 2019 are a series of smiling motifs on black canvases that encompass both light and darkness. Having an intimate relationship with every single artwork I create, I would say essentially, paintings are collections of what I am/was going through, be it visible or not.

The Tiny Smile: A Contemplation of Minimalism and Emotion Inspired by Ancient Chinese Artistry

What Message Do You Hope to Share Through Your Works?

I hope viewers can see beyond the canvas, the colour, the motifs…It is not about being able to analyse them in expertly technical terms or labels, but just being present and observing how it connects with your inner self.  

It feels like a dialogue in a way that I have spoken with my artwork, and after the artwork is done, I become the listener for the viewers. Creating the artwork is like taking a step forward. After the artwork is completed, I would let go, take a step back and let the viewers experience themselves. 

Each viewer of an artwork is unique. Each comes with their own emotions, memories of their past and life experience. Therefore, I welcome any form of interpretation or meaning. 

The Tiny Smile: A Contemplation of Minimalism and Emotion Inspired by Ancient Chinese Artistry

Congratulations on Joining AAF Hong Kong’s 2023 Lineup! Can You Share Some Insights on the Artworks You Will be Displaying?

Thank you! I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of AAF this year and for visitors to experience my artworks in real life. In addition to the first ‘hundred smiles’ series that I started in 2019, I will also be displaying paintings from newer series such as ‘fly, flying smiles’ and ‘up, down, haha.’

Where Do You Envision Buyers Displaying Your Works?

Anywhere they want. 

The Tiny Smile: A Contemplation of Minimalism and Emotion Inspired by Ancient Chinese Artistry

How Do You Pay Homage to Chinese Art Culture and Raise Awareness of its History Through Your Works?

There is so much to discover through digging into ancient Chinese art. For example, my painting series ‘hundred smiles’ was inspired by the traditional scrolls of “Hundred Fortune and Longevity”(百福/ 壽圖) – a traditional folk art that first appeared in China 700 years ago. 

Bringing a modern twist to this tradition with a new focus on the emotion of happiness, a notion of equal importance in modern life, I hope I can bring awareness of this tradition.

What Advice Would You Offer to Emerging Artists Looking to Make Their Mark and Spread More Awareness of Their Work?

Be confident in your own work. Try not to be confined by the idea that you ought to approach things in a certain way. And when you’re ready, share [it] with the world. 

The Tiny Smile: A Contemplation of Minimalism and Emotion Inspired by Ancient Chinese Artistry

Are There Any New Collections You are Working on at the Moment?

I’m working on a new painting series called ‘waves’ and creating clay objects.

I’m also in talks for a new exhibition in Shanghai this coming autumn. I’ll be sharing updates on my work [and] exhibition on my Instagram @thetinysmile

Last but not least, I will be at Booth C09 at Affordable Art Fair HK, come say hi!

More information about Affordable Art Fair and ticketing details can be found here.


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