I was delighted when we got to our second accommodation and saw the street it was on; Elgin Street, which was one of the more characterful streets in Soho on Hong Kong Island. There is around the clock activity on Elgin Street. Not strictly pedestrianised although the temporary street venders seem to be holding their ground and keeping the usual heavy traffic away. The lack of cars means more Chinese setting up store selling second-hand clothes and goods in the mornings, and drinkers and Shisha smokers spilling out from the bars into the street at night. Apart from the shops the more permanent street vendors included several fruit and veg sellers at the top of the street, a noodle shack at the bottom and Tom’s curiosities in the stall featured in the centre of the painting.
Tom was wonderfully uninterested and uncomplimentary about my work and yet he became a firm friend during our short visit to the street. Tom and his wife are great examples of the work ethic of the people of Hong Kong (I witnessed him working 12 hour days, seven days a week on the stand) and also the generosity, giving me during my different visits producing the painting – four bananas, a packet of chocolate straws, a packet of coconut snow cakes, a kiwi and a yellow fruit that I didn’t recognise, with a dry flesh.
Tom was an easy model in that he always seemed to be in that stooped position whether I was painting or not. That was his ‘work zone’ where he could make ‘improvements’ to his ‘antiques’ involving gold spray paint.
The fascination in this subject was also above street level; the mixture of old Chinese buildings with the mishmash of window frames, washing drying, air-conditioning units and signage hanging over, all balanced on this particularly steep street.
Perhaps it seemed steeper to us than most as it marked the base camp of our climb back to the room. These older buildings are without elevators and we knew intimately each of the seven flights of stairs after a few trips carrying easel, paints, canvases and weighty camera lenses.
I have distorted the space in the painting to make the steepness of the street the primary subject – condensing a 180° panorama into a portrait format and skewing up the right hand side to dramatise the slope.
A book featuring this work can be purchased at our Picture Library