CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Local iconographer says beauty can save the world

HONG KONG (SE): “An icon is always a copy,” Hong Kong-born artist, Lino Wang Wing-kuen, told the Sunday Examiner. “But the copy must be creative, as every icon has a meaning. But I always try to add some artistic touch of my own to what I do.”

Wang explained that painting an icon is not like other artistic work as it is a prayer. “I always pray when I paint,” he said. “Because of the way I pray, I try to take some of the rigidity out of the images that I have studied. Every iconographer has their own style.”

The graduate in architecture from the University of Hong Kong said that his involvement with icons led him to faith. “I used to regard Christians as being weak,” he reflected. “I thought that they must be weak, otherwise they would not need so much help from God.”

However, he explained that when he moved to Italy and began to face life alone, he discovered that we are weak in the face of the decisions we have to make, especially with no friends or family around to help or give advice.

He said that he had been interested in art since he was a small boy and his sister gave him a sketchbook when he was about 10-years-old for his birthday. “This got me going,” he reminisced. “Then, when it was full, she gave me another one.”

Wang explained that he became exposed to religion when he went to Italy in 1991, because he stayed at a church for a few years. “This was my introduction to icons as well,” he continued. “The parish priest gave me a book on icons while I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. After that I began to learn and discovered their profound meaning.”

He said that it is difficult to make a living as an artist, so he supplements his income by teaching Italian to Chinese migrants, but also gets a bit of artistic work from some convents or people who want something original to give to friends for birthday gifts and things like that.

“But in 2003, I became really serious and went to Greece and became a disciple of a good iconographer and the following year, a priest from the Pontifical Foreign Mission Institute gave me some help in developing my technique.”

However, Wang explained his real break came in 2006, when he got permission to stay in a Greek monastery on the island of Rhodes and study with an iconographer monk. “He taught me a lot about old technique and traditional process,” Wang said.

“It was a real privilege, but I could only stay 20 days and my real ambition now is to get permission to go to a famous monastery on a mountain in Greece, but because I am Catholic and not Orthodox, usually only a three-day stay would be possible.”

He explained that he was allowed to work with a real master iconographer in painting on the wall of a church. “Only background and patterns,” he said, “the real master has to do the faces of the saints and their clothing.”

However, he does have one work of his own on the wall of a church in Italy, entitled The Baptism of Jesus, a rare privilege for a man so young.

Wang came to Hong Kong to support Father Olexander Kenez during his lecture tour on eastern Christian spirituality and help offer an experience of this different type of tradition to people in Hong Kong. “I will have an exhibition of my 26 icons in the cathedral,” the 43-year-old explained.

“And I really hope that non-Christians will come and see them as well, as I believe that anyone can pray with an icon, as they have an innate beauty, which speaks and takes people beyond themselves,” he said.

On October 8, around 60 people gathered in the cathedral in the evening to pray among the icons by candlelight. In the quiet of the shadows of the church, they moved from icon to icon, stopping a while to pray collectively and individually, finally spending a long period in silent reflection with the icons to inspire the spirit beyond the everyday.

He also conducted a teaching session for 29 people on October 9. Wang said there is always the hope that someone else will get bitten by same bug that he did, and really take up the prayerful art seriously.

“I believe that beauty can save the world,” Wang explained. “I would also like to share this beauty with people in China if I get the chance one day.”

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