Counting Leaves, by Joe Fan.
Counting Leaves, by Joe Fan.

Fabulous fusion with north east artist Joe Fan

The sparkling granite buildings, tranquil parks and peaceful beaches of Aberdeen are far removed from the towering skyscrapers of the densely populated, bustling Hong Kong.

But for Joe Fan, the two places are inextricably linked. Born and raised in the East Asian city, Joe found the land of opportunity in Aberdeen when he arrived from Hong Kong in 1979. Aged just 17, he leapt at the opportunity of travelling to Scotland, not with the aspiration of becoming an artist, but to improve his English.

However, when the budding artist discovered the city’s Gray’s School of Art he actively considered, for the first time, the prospect of pursuing his inner passion for painting.

Counting Leaves, by Joe Fan.

Reflecting on his artistic journey, Joe says: ‘I used to paint for joy when I was young in Hong Kong. But I was never encouraged to take it up seriously as a profession. People in Hong Kong are a lot more realistic about artists. They think “you’re not going to make any money until you kick the bucket”.’

Forty years later the multi-award-winning artist and Royal Scottish Academician still lives in Aberdeen with his family and works daily in his nearby studio.

Joe recalls his first visit to Gray’s, the school which was to shape his future. ‘It’s hidden away in the forest, so I remember getting off the bus and when I saw the place I totally fell in love with it. It’s a stunning place.’

Graduating with first class honours in 1988, Joe won the Miller Homes Young Scottish Artist of the Year, the first of many awards, but according to the artist this was the one that ‘changed his life’.

The scholarship provided the young graduate with the opportunity to spend a year at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and on return to Aberdeen, the Peacock Visual Arts Centre offered him his first solo exhibition. ‘Looking back I’m very proud of it and I think that is why Gray’s offered me a job.’ Until 1997, Joe lectured at the city’s art school and has since concentrated on painting full-time.

Four Seasons in a Daze, by Joe Fan.

Joe begins committing his ideas to drawing before transferring them to paint. ‘I’m a painter – oil and canvas – pretty straightforward. There is nothing fancy.’ But with a magical, captivating style, he creates fascinating and mysterious artwork, partly influenced by early renaissance art which he studied at Gray’s, but also drawing on his wider personal experiences.

‘Hong Kong is very different from Scotland. It’s a city that’s jam-packed. My paintings are a bit like that, even the landscapes remind me of all the skyscrapers in Hong Kong. It’s a subconscious thing.

‘Watching my children growing up has influenced my work too. Toys everywhere, scattered all over the floor. In a way I find that element in my work too.’

Talking about his drawings and paintings, Joe explains that while he forms his own ideas behind his work he prefers to keep this vague and to let each individual viewer form their own interpretation.

Pop-up Diary, by Joe Fan.

‘I’d rather have people define something themselves. For me it’s a lot more interesting.’

Earlier this year, Joe had his first solo show at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh entitled Counting Leaves. Adopting a methodical approach, the collection took the artist almost a year and a half to create.

‘I start at about 10 or 11 in the morning and keep going until about seven, and I like to finish one painting before I move on to another. It depends how it goes and on the size of the painting, but each will take about a month at least.’

While we can marvel at the beauty of Joe’s intricate creations, he points out the challenges and deliberations he can face when conceiving his compositions.

‘Sometimes you just scream at yourself. You get all kinds of emotion in the studio. Sometimes you have a very enjoyable day, sometimes you have an absolutely rotten day and you can’t wait to get out of there. But then you have to pick yourself up and you have got to go back and face it. You need to have that kind of madness. That kind of motivation to spend all the time in the studio.’

Although, theoretically, Joe could paint anywhere in the world, his roots are now firmly planted in the north east. As most people welcome the warmth and light of long summer days, Joe finds he concentrates more easily in winter when the days are short, cold and grey. The artist describes Aberdeen as ‘just perfect’, providing the ideal backdrop for creativity.

To find out more about Joe Fan’s work, visit his website

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