Whether he’s dropping his drawers during Secret Walls art battles, spray painting his famous koi carp tag on walls around the city, or giving bars an edgy makeover (check out Le Boudoir on Wyndham Street), street artist Szabotage sure knows how to keep us on our toes. We catch up with the British-born talent to find out what inspired his famous koi character and where to find his favourite works around the city.
Where did the inspiration for your famous fish 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.
What’s your favourite piece that you’ve created in Hong Kong?
Oh shame, it was buffed a while ago! It was Hong Kong on my Mind 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.
Tell us about your Le Boudoir makeover. How did it come about and what was your inspiration?
Through ArtQube, I was asked to create a satirical take on their existing interior — to Szabotage Le Boudoir, and was given free rein to do my thing. Le Boudoir is a very cool speakeasy bar and has been around for a number of years. The owners are passionate and renowned for their great cocktails, and with ArtQube’s guidance they were confident to let my humour and art imagination run wild. The space was rife with interesting artefacts, detailed decor, and old-fashioned paintings, so I had a lot to work with. I had a great time playfully trashing the interior with rebellious neon colours, giving the space an extra dynamic when the black light is turned on. Some of the paintings I vandalised with humour, turning a traditional piece into work that literally takes on the themes associated with Le Boudoir.
Any more makeovers on the horizon?
There’s lots in the pipeline and I am hopefully going to be doing more installations and exhibitions. Creating art is my addiction and something I do on an everyday basis, like a goldfish in a bowl on caffeine.
How do you keep your work exciting?
It’s important to me to be diverse as an artist. You never know when you’re inspired by an experience or a testing moment. Lately, I’ve painted rooftops, kayaks, cars, and motorbikes – anything that might stay still long enough. Last year, I made a 30m x 20m koi – it rocks doing the big stuff! I hope to see that piece from the air next time I’m flying out of Hong Kong airport. On the other hand, I’m also exploring the opposite and am creating a miniature series. So, there’s lots of variety in my work!
What makes Hong Kong such a great place for creating street art?
The Hong Kong scene is so fresh and young and it’s growing, and there’s so many walls in the city. It’s an exciting place to be to sew a few seeds and make contacts with brilliant and driven people, and watch it develop and be part of its growth. Exciting times!
And finally, what has the future got in store for you?
I have a lot of plans for the year ahead! I have learnt to say yes to anything that has legs and that’s not just in Hong Kong. I enjoy exploring opportunities and not knowing where they will take me. This year I’m planning to do some painting in Beijing and exploring Asia more. It’s amazing what comes your way when you’re active, so lots of active-ness … on it like a car bonnet! [Speaking of which … ]