Contemporary artist Red Hong Yi, who goes by the moniker Red, is known for her innovative and unconventional approach to creating art, with one of her most iconic early works being a portrait of Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, which she created using a basketball and red paint.
Since then, she has made stunning works of art using everyday objects and materials such as matches, teabags, flower petals, eggshells, rice and soil.
The Sabahan artist’s themes and diverse works often express her heritage and Chinese diasporic perspective, while also highlighting climate issues and making art against racism.
Earlier this year, she exhibited My Alleyway Memories: Once Upon A Longtang at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, a large-scale installation featuring eight canvas artworks “painted” with burnt red calligraphy paper, presented on a tall bamboo structure. This work, which is part of the National Art Gallery’s Single series of exhibitions, featured scenes from old alleyway houses – or longtang residences – in Shanghai, where Red lived for two years (2011 to 2013) with her granduncle and grandaunts.
Her methods of creating art have always been unique and her first book How To Paint Without A Brush: The Art Of Red Hong Yi, released recently by US-based publisher Abrams, shares her creative techniques and significant moments in her art career. There are also ideas for innovative art projects through a do-it-yourself (DIY) section in the book.
“Creating a book has always been a dream of mine, but it always seemed so out of reach. Over the years though, some publishers have approached me for a book, but I was never quite sure about their proposals. When Michael Sand of (publishing company) Abrams reached out to me in early 2021, they gave me some ideas, but ultimately wanted to know my vision for my first book,” says Red in a recent interview.
“I felt that they really understood and respected my work, so there was an immediate trust and rapport. We started by bouncing around ideas, such as: Who is this book for? Do I want a niche or general audience? Do I want the tone to be serious or playful? I felt very grateful that Abrams wanted to work with me on this. It was definitely an exciting process, and I learned so much about the publication industry in the process,” she adds.
How To Paint Without A Brush focuses on non-traditional art-making methods using common household objects. Organised by artistic medium, it summarises the first decade of Red’s career as an artist, with selected photographs documenting this journey and showcasing her diverse creations.
“The conversation with Abrams started in March 2021 and in between, there was a lot of back and forth on the editing and layout. We also had to create new images for many of the chapters. It is definitely a labour of love and it feels surreal to hold this book in my hands now,” says Red, a trained architect, who studied at the University of Melbourne.
Among the art projects featured in this book is a portrait of (Chinese film director) Zhang Yimou, which was created in 2012 with a cupboard full of socks.
“This is super memorable to me because it was the first ‘public art’ I created, and I did this in front of my grandaunt and granduncle’s old house in Shanghai when I was living there. They even helped me with the art direction and photography! Eventually, the neighbours came over, and it became a community project that everyone was excited about,” she recalls.
Also included is the Climate Is Everything piece, a Time magazine project, where Red and her team used 50,000 green-tipped matches to create (and then burn!) an art piece that illustrated the dramatic effect of the global climate crisis.
This artwork appeared on the cover Time magazine’s April 26 issue in 2021.
How To Paint Without A Brush is designed for a general audience, which means it is accessible for anyone from a young child to an elderly person who is interested in art. It is a picture-heavy book, with a layout that is sleek and clean, and the how-to section will appeal to the casual hobbyist as much as the emerging artist.
“I hope this book will encourage and inspire people to speak in their own unique voice, and to use tools and skills that they have on hand. Anything can be turned into art! You don’t need fancy equipment, you can really use anything around you. With hard work and determination, a creative life is possible. With the Internet and the creator economy, there’s never been opportunities for creatives,” says Red.
Red’s works have been exhibited at H Queens in Hong Kong, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the World Economic Forum in Davos, and the Anchorage Museum in Alaska.
Collectors of her work include JP Morgan Chase Bank and actor Jackie Chan. Her art has also been featured in publications including the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Sotheby’s Institute has named her one of the “11 art world entrepreneurs you should know”.