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Brushstrokes of Identity: Exploring Memories & Emotions with Painter Kitty Ng
Journey through the life and artistry of Hong Kong-born painter, Kitty Ng.
Feature 20 Mar 2024

Meet Kitty Ng, a rising artist in Hong Kong’s art scene. In this exclusive interview, we learn more about the life and artistry of the Hong Kong-born painter whose narrative intricately intertwines personal experiences, cultural influences, and contemporary themes. From the vibrant streets of Hong Kong to the serene halls of the Rhode Island School of Design, Kitty’s evolution as an artist serves as a testament to the profound impact of art in navigating identity, memory, and the intricate tapestry of human connections.

You OK, Babygworl?, Oil on Linen, 130x150cm by Kitty Ng

Can you share with us your journey into the world of painting and how your upbringing in Hong Kong has influenced your artistic style and subject matter?

My journey with painting started when I was a teenager. It was actually my friend who suggested we paint together as a way to spend more time together. However, while she later moved on from painting, I found myself wanting to go back to it every single time. Perhaps growing up in the bustling environment of Hong Kong, I craved a private sanctuary where I have a private space for myself and to immerse myself in my own world. Painting became that sanctuary, offering me a personal space and a release from the complexities and distractions of adolescence. Later when I went to RISD to study, the change in communities and physical space took a significant adjustment. Suddenly finding myself in the minority (where I was previously associated with the majority community), questions about culture and identity became more prevalent—and painting took on an additional meaning as an outlet whereby I had to process these major changes in my life. Perhaps this constant flux pushed me to use painting as a medium to explore communities in transit and at home. Relatedly, my exploration of “home” grapples with the complexities of moments in flux. I often paint small moments from my life with my friends and family—at first to reify as a way to remember those moments as I moved from place to place. (This was, of course, made extra important to me after Covid). But my explorations of those moments grew into something more universal over time. As I navigated trying to paint moments from my life. I had to navigate between understanding my very memories of those moments. How does my memory change over time? How does the artistic representation of my memories of scenes and moments in my life take on new meaning with new contexts, under the tint of nostalgia, and so on?

Dinner at 812, Oil on Linen, 100x180cm by Kitty Ng

Your exploration into the traditional Chinese technique of 留⽩ (liu bai), is fascinating. Can you share the meaning behind 留⽩ with our readers, how you integrate this technique into your contemporary painting practice, and what you hope to convey through it?

Traditionally speaking, 留⽩ is an Eastern, and mainly Chinese, technique that literally means to leave something blank. By using empty space in their imagery, artists can evoke certain moods, emphasize existing imagery, and invite contemplation. My personal journey with留⽩ is influenced not only by Eastern traditions but also by my fascination with the Western concepts of unfinished works, reminiscent of the Renaissance idea of Non finito. I’ve always been drawn in by these works. Why was it left incomplete?  How do the aesthetics of the work change?  For me,留⽩ goes beyond mere omission; it’s a deliberate choice integral to my artistic expression. For example, my painting Daiqing and Xiao Lao Shu leaves empty spaces in blue gesso. While visually striking, they serve a deeper purpose and are an expression of my subject matter. I often paint scenes from my past. But when doing so, I confront the ephemeral nature of my memory. Over time, certain details disappear, leaving a blur of impressions. So firstly, 留⽩ for allows me to omit the details obscured by the passage of time and focus on the crucial bits of information, mimicking the ways our minds work. But there’s a further reason I use colored, but empty spaces in my works. When I paint moments from my life, I find myself asking whether I am painting the lived experience itself or whether I am painting my memory of that experience. Am I painting how I feel about that memory now? The passage of time, therefore, is also a mixing palette that blends our emotions, contexts, memories, and thoughts into a kaleidoscope of hues. So I use colored, but empty spaces to gesture at the interplay of my own memories, “re-memories,” interpretations,  and re-interpretations of moments in my life. The composer Claude Debussy once said, “Music is the space between the notes.” I think my goal of using this technique is, in some sense, similar to this idea. It creates breathing room for us to reflect and ask questions about our emotions, questions about memories and the ways they change, questions about what is and is not complete, and questions about appreciation of details that are and are not there.

Your recent exhibitions, such as “The Record, the Double, and the Singular” and “To  Build a Playground of Intimacy,” seem to explore themes such as human interaction and relationships. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind these exhibitions and the emotions you aim to evoke in your viewers?

All paintings are an exploration of the self. One thought I’ve had since I was a young girl: my upbringing and who I am now are a result of my relationships and attachments. My friends and family didn’t just make me who I am, they just are part and parcel of me. Once I went to school abroad, I started to especially miss and cherish a lot of the tiny, seemingly inconsequential moments with my friends and family. The exhibition “To Build a  Playground of Intimacy” is in part, inspired by these moments. Beyond laughter and joy,  feelings of sadness and anger are inevitable within the plane of intimacy, all of which are crucial for strong relationships to form. Intimacy here doesn’t only mean romantic intimacy but speaks to the intimate moments shared between people—something I believe we should treasure. “The Record, The Double, and the Singular” has a lot of the same themes. Yet, it’s different in that there is a more focused study on how our memories and our reflections add layers of color, complexity, and emotions into what feels like simple, everyday experiences. The title is a reference to my collaborator Taedong Lee and my practice of using photographs in our paintings. For me, I often take photos of my phone of my friends and me just eating or hanging out. There’s already an immediate double meaning here. We might think the photo is a representation of that experience. But a photograph takes a fleeting moment and reifies it, transforming it into an immutable object, frozen in time. Then when I go through these photos of my phone and recall these memories, certain feelings come up and transform these photos into something altogether different. But painting them is once again, a different kind of endeavor. It involves consciously choosing what and what not to paint—it involves reimaginings and reinterpretations. When viewers come to see the painting, their personal lives and emotions also once again add meaning to the work. This sequence of events is both a record of that original experience of my friends and family, but also takes on double, triple,  quadruple, (and so on) meanings and speaks a language that—I hope—is a bit more universal for the audience.

Do you like to listen to music or enjoy silence while you are working? And if music,  what song is currently on repeat?

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts! My favorite podcasts are ‘Rotten Mango’ and ‘Baking a Murder’ by Stephanie Soo, she’s a great storyteller.

Graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design must have been an incredible experience. How do you feel your time there has shaped your artistic journey, and are there any particular lessons or experiences that have stayed with you?

When I was at RISD, I was so lucky to have studied under some inspiring artists—of these,  perhaps Jennifer Packer was the most fascinating. Her work is phenomenal and she pushed me in my exploration of my art, especially in the ways in which I use color. Outside of that, I found that the friends and people I met during my experience there were particularly important to me, too. Many of my friends worked in different mediums but they’re all awesome artists in their own respects. They’re also super supportive of me and my studies and that solidarity allowed me to push my own limits and grow as an artist (and as a person) at a breakneck pace. 

TGIF, Oil on Linen, 160x120cm by Kitty Ng

As someone based in Hong Kong, how do you navigate the art scene in the city, and what do you think sets it apart from other artistic communities around the world?

Being back in Hong Kong as a working professional feels markedly different than when I was growing up here. As a professional now immersed in the vibrant artistic landscape of  Hong Kong, I find the dynamism here so exciting. This is in particular because, in recent years, there has been a surge in artistic activity, with a burgeoning community of artists calling the city home. Relatedly, there has also been an increasing number of programs aimed at nurturing local artists and fostering their artistic development. However, what’s most special about the Hong Kong art community is it’s very tight-knit and supportive. I have been so lucky to have found a network of many mentors, colleagues,  friends, and art lovers who are passionate about the arts and excited about my growth here.  What others don’t often see is that the process of making art is often a lonely and arduous one —this camaraderie is therefore something I really treasure and has been instrumental in my own journey.

Mom and Dad with CC, 08/21/2022, 19:21, Oil on Wood Panel, 80x60cm by Kitty Ng

Can you share your top 5 places in Hong Kong to seek inspiration?

Given my affinity to painting daily, and everyday interactions between my closest friends and family, I find a lot of inspiration in just spending time with them. However, outside of that, I would say: 

1. Walking along the Central Harbourfront 

2. The Victoria Peak Trail 

3. My spin or pilates studio – moving my body allows my brain to be active as well

4. Friend’s house for late night mahjong 

5. The Southside – there is a cluster of galleries there that I love going to and getting inspired by!

You can find out more about Kitty and her practice via her website here: www.kitty-ng.com / Instagram here: @kittyngstudio

All images courtesy of Kitty Ng

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