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Five Minutes With: Szabotage, Hong Kong’s Cheekiest Graffiti Artist

Whether he’s dropping his drawers, spray painting cars, or going head to head in Secret Walls battles, graffiti artist Szabotage sure knows how to keep us on our toes. We catch up with the British-born talent ahead of his third solo Hong Kong exhibition, Gone Fishing, to find out what inspired the koi themed series, where to find his favourite works, and what to expect at the show. Nothing too fishy we hope!

Where did the inspiration for your koi fish series come from?

Long story short, I offered to paint a wall for a restaurant which wanted a fish design. After 8 or 9 drafts the owner said it looked too ‘weird’ and that I couldn’t draw fish. Rather than take offence, I decided to paint the koi everywhere. So it’s a bit of a f*** you, of course I can!

What has it come to represent for you?

It’s a fish out of water. The koi represents to me a period of doubt in my work, and then the gift and jubilation of realising it doesn’t matter what other people think – just do your stuff! The koi is jumping with joy and freedom. It also has a very strong lucky meaning in Asia so it seems the perfect symbol for me to use.

Where can we go to see your first koi fish piece in Hong Kong?

Good question, I don’t know to be honest, as these back streets always look the same in the dark. However, it would have been in the Sai Ying Pun area.

And your favourite koi fish piece?

They’re all my offspring, therefore they’re all my favourite. However, if I must choose, I love the beautifully accidental juxtaposition of the koi on Water Lane. I just love that.

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Grab your camera and get hunting for koi fish around the city – those who snap a Szabotage creation, and tag #koihunter and @szabotage_me on Instagram will be in with a chance to win a signed Szabotage print!

Good luck fishers!

What can we expect at the Gone Fishing exhibition? 

It’s going to be great. Most of this body of work is based around recycling and being more conscious as an artist, so my work has two levels to it. There are works featuring an architectural theme, and a premium collection addressing the koi and how you ‘CAN’ achieve. The specifics of the recycling and ‘can’ elements will be revealed on the night. Also look out for the central piece – it’s gonna be big!

Have you got any signature, cheeky Szabotage antics planned? 

Well, pants might have something to do with it! Let’s just say ‘expat’ the unexpected! Haha!


What’s your favourite piece that you’ve created in Hong Kong?

Oh shame, it was buffed not so long ago! It was Hong Kong on my Mind (pictured above) on Square Street in Sheung Wan. The shop owner realised the success of the painting with tourists and locals, as it was being used for fashion shoots and pop videos, so she wanted me to alter the painting to incorporate her shop logo into the artwork. I flatly refused as it would ruin the painting, and she never offered to pay me as an artist. Instead, she decided to remove the entire artwork. It is her wall I guess, but ironic as it is standard practice to pay to use work commercially. Totally my frustration with Hong Kong.

And your favourite piece by another street artist here?

Oh, there are a few and they’re constantly changing. I love Hopare’s work. Also Lister’s work in Sheung Wan, which has been around for years and is still untouched – it’s so raw and offers confidence to believe in yourself and paint the way you want to. They are both very admirable artists and a real source of inspiration.

Who or what are your artistic influences? 

Well I’ve just mentioned two of them. It ranges a lot for different things. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Pure Evil– a very nice guy– Tristan Easton, and Victoriano, an amazing realist and all-round good guy! Hong Kong has got plenty of amazing artists that massively influence me and my work.


How do you keep your work exciting?

It’s important to me to be diverse as an artist. It’s always challenging and you never know when you will reuse that experience again. Lately I have painted rooftops, kayaks, cars, and motorbikes– anything that might stay around long enough. I also recently made a 30m x 20m koi – it rocks doing big stuff! I hope to see that piece from the air on my way home to the UK as the flight departs Hong Kong.

Why do you think Hong Kong is such a great place for creating street art? 

What is especially great about Hong Kong is that the scene is so fresh and young and people are slowly waking up to it.

Where else in the world can we spot your work?

Mostly Thailand and London. I’m working on some stuff in the UK this Christmas – so watch this space.

And finally, what has the future got in store for you?

I am so geared up – more than ever before! It’s incredibly exciting for me to explore my creative process and what switches me on. It’s about to get even more wild!

unnamedCheck out Szabotage’s latest series, Gone Fishing between November 18 and 21 at Loft 22, California Tower, Lan Kwai Fong. The Localiiz team will be out in force, so make sure to come over and say hello!

Plus, you have the chance to paint with Szabotage and create a unique piece of artwork to take home with you on November 20. Email hannah@graffiti4hire.com.hk to enquire about this free event.

Read more! Join Szabo Behind the Secret Walls of Hong Kong’s Street Art or find out what else is going on in The Weekend Ahead.

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