The term ‘artist-architect’ may not be familiar to many but it is the title that Hong Yi, better known as Red, has held throughout most of her professional career. Well-known in the country and the world for her unconventional way of making art, the Malaysian lass is currently on fire for her latest portraits of famous footballers made using a football in celebration of the World Cup 2014. Recently, Top 10 of Malaysia speaks with the home grown unconventional artist about her background, her everyday challenges and what keeps her creative juices flowing.
Known as the artist who ‘loves to paint, but not with a paintbrush’, Red’s artworks are just as unique as her name – which was given to her by a best friend for having a surname that sounds like the colour ‘red’ in Mandarin. However, setting her apart from other contemporaries in the art industry is her method of crafting her art – using various types of unorthodox materials ranging from sunflower seeds and melted candles to coffee cup stains and shuttlecocks. Specialising in portraits of renowned luminaries, Red’s past muses include Yuna, Lee Chong Wei, Jay Chou, Yao Ming and Adele.
Born and raised in Sabah, Red’s childhood dream was to be a cartoon animator, citing Lion King as her favourite animation. Her grandparents and father left Shanghai in the 1960s during the start of the Cultural Revolution and moved to Borneo. Growing up, she has always heard stories about how life was like for them and her relatives in China but did not give much thought to it until she took up an offer to work for the illustrious Australian architecture firm HASSELL in their Shanghai office. It was there in the land of her ancestors where she was first inspired to create art using local everyday materials as her medium. It functioned as an outlet for her to express her feelings for the place her grandparents once fled from.
Her strong passion for art however has never overshadowed her other passion: architecture; hence the ‘artist-architect’ title. “I’ve always loved art but in university I was trained as an architect. I do not think I could let go of either one because they have both been a huge part of what I am,” admits the architect by day and artist by night. Red holds two bachelor degrees from the University of Melbourne – one for architecture and the other, planning and design. She was also awarded a Melbourne Abroad Scholarship to study European Architecture at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands.
Red’s accomplishments on the art scene are far too many to be counted. Her creative creations have landed her on a multitude of media around the world, including the Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CNN, NBC and the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, videos of her developing her works that are uploaded onto Youtubeand Youku have garnered millions of views from around the world. Throughout her career she has worked with many high-profile clients as well, such as Hewlett Packard, Unilever, Nespresso, AT&T, Esquire and Astro, besides being invited as a speaker at the 6th and 7th EG Conference in California, at TEDxkl 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, at the APEC Young Entrepreneur’s Summit 2013 in Beijing and as a guest lecturer in design universities -Domus Academy and NABA in Milan.
Judging by the way things are going, it is for certain that Red is not running out of steam anytime soon. When asked about what she sees as the source for her relentless energy, she says, “Being able to do what I love for a living, and have other people appreciate it too.” Appreciation, too, abounds for her in the architecture world: she was an Australian finalist in the SONA Superstudio competition in 2009 and 2010 where she was given the Jury Special Mention and awarded the Elenberg Fraser Prize for Best Presentation in both years. She also received a Special Mention for the AA Prize for Unbuilt Works in 2010, besides being featured in Architecture Australia Magazine. In 2013, she was named Esquire Magazine’s ’12 Brilliant Malaysians’ and was also given the Perspective Global Hong Kong’s ’40 Under 40 Designers’ award.
As an international artist, Red’s career has not always been smooth sailing. “Having an international team and working with clients from around the world has proven to be quite a challenge. I’m absolutely grateful that the internet has allowed me to share my work with everyone all over the world, but sometimes it is hard travelling from one place to the other and organising my team from across the oceans,” explains the talented artist-architect who wishes to continue inspiring and encouraging her team to achieve goals and shared dreams. Her very own role model, meanwhile, is Michael Hawley, the director of EG Conference in Monterey, California for being an accomplished person who leads people around him to reach greater heights. Now, where does Red see herself in the next ten years? “Working closely with notable galleries, working as a social entrepreneur and having a happy family.”