Interview: Jasper Wong, the least-uptight straight man in Hong Kong

Interview: Jasper Wong, the least-uptight straight man in Hong Kong

With a homoerotic Mr. T as his muse, illustrator Jasper Wong injects a much-needed shot of humor into Hong Kong's art scene
Jasper Wong
Jasper Wong is totally floored by art. That's his own on the floor of the G.O.D. at The Peak.

"Royal Pain"Hawaiian-born, Hong Kong-based Jasper Wong creates images shot through with crass homoerotica and pop culture -- Superman with a giant phallus, a rouged Mr. T in a full-body swimsuit -- all stained in shades of flamingo pink. It's almost too easy to pigeonhole the guy.

Named by "Archive Magazine" one of the 200 best illustrators worldwide in 2008 and profiled in Taschen's "Illustration Now! 3," the hotshot illustrator's work is currently part of "Untitled Enemies," an exhibition of international street artists that opened on October 21 and runs through January 7, 2010, at G.O.D. at The Peak.

When CNNGo met up with him at the exhibit, Wong revealed himself the opposite of his bawdy art, speaking drolly about orgies, art and his Mr. T obsession.

CNNGo: What's with the homoerotica and pink in your work?

Wong: I use a lot of pink in my work, and I get a lot of hate mail from homophobes. For one, I'm not even gay. I just find it a nice color, and controversial. If you like pink, you're associated with being gay. But why? Even with penises, why has it become so taboo to draw it? It's not like no one's seen it before.

CNNGo: Tell us about your muse, Mr. T.

Wong: I don't even know why I started drawing him. For me, he's the symbol of manliness. Growing up, you wonder what it is like to be a man. You grow facial hair, drive big cars, watch football. But because I'm Chinese, I can't really grow any facial hair. I had one hair on my chest and I plucked it out.

"I Love Fishballs" -- Wong's works fuses Asian and American pop culture.

CNNGo: What would Mr. T say if he saw your work?

Wong: He would probably beat me up if he saw my work. I draw him in really bad situations. I recently did a drawing full of naked women with Mr. T heads, squirting rainbow lasers out of their ass and nipples. I don’t think he will like that.

CNNGo: Why does Superman molest people in your art?

Wong: I did that piece in a delirium one night, randomly, and I woke up in the morning and thought, 'What the hell happened? What did I just draw?' But I dig it.

The funny thing about that piece is a year later advertisers for Jet Blue airlines saw that and wanted me to do something in a similar vein.

CNNGo: You say your work often involves 'orgies of characters hanging out.' Inspired by any real-life experiences?

Wong: No, I haven’t been in an orgy before! I’ve had two girlfriends my whole life. So, no orgies. So maybe I’m hoping one would come along some day! No, I’m just kidding.

CNNGo: Any wacky collaborations you want to tell us about?

Wong: I used to do a lot of work for Jackie Chan, for the packaging for Jackie Chan fragrances. Weird. I actually went to karaoke with him. He was singing his own songs all night. He’s weird.

CNNGo: How do you feel about the Hong Kong art scene?

Mr. T would probably beat me up if he saw my work.

Wong: I'll probably get a lot of crap for this, but to be totally honest, it's really bad. 

All the galleries in Central are all into mainland Chinese art and the reason they’re into it is because it’s a good investment. If you walk into a gallery, they don’t tell you about the art, they ask you if you want a good investment. And even when they do art shows, it’s all wine and crackers. It’s so boring and repetitive, it makes art too uptight.

If I buy art, it’s because I dig it. People here who buy art, they put it in storage and wait for the price to go up again. Artists don’t make art for this reason.

I once did a show in Paris where they set up a wrestling ring at the venue. They had a wrestling match and a rock band playing at the opening, and more than 1,000 people showed up. You don’t feel, God, I don’t belong here, people are so stuffy. People should just be at art events to chat with the artist, enjoy art and have a good time.

CNNGo: Why settle in Hong Kong then?

Wong: Hong Kong is like New York or Tokyo or London was before it became like that, art-wise. It’s wide open for someone to try something.

CNNGo: What can we expect from you in the future?

Wong:  Right now, I'm trying to start a gallery, to help breed artists and expose the kids to what's going on outside of Hong Kong. From DJs to everything. 

 I want to make art more interesting, more appealing to the kids. You don’t want to be part of the art scene if you saw the stuff in art galleries in Central. What if they saw something cool, like what the graffiti artists are doing on the streets? On top of that, I’m also working on Seymour, my own brand that I’m starting with some other Bay Area artists. We’ll do apparel first and it should be out next year. 

"Snagglepuss" made for "Untitled Enemies"

Untitled Enemies

G.O.D., Shop 32-41, Level 2, Peak galleria, 118 Peak Road, The Peak
October 21, 2009 - January 7, 2010