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Celebrate Sai Ying Pun art at theDesk with Mila Morton

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‘The Beating Art of Sai Ying Pun’ exhibition opens at theDesk on Friday May 5. Mila Morton is one of our three featured artists who creates her works in SYP

What is abstract expressionist art? Basically, it’s a post-Second World War art movement that focuses on subjective emotional expression and spontaneous creative acts. This style is, in fact, responsible for creating some of the most iconic works of modern art. And Russian artist Mila Morton demonstrates the potential of the style with breathtaking results when she creates her fascinating paintings using an array of art tools and materials at her Sai Ying Pun studio. Morton is one of three artists whose works are being displayed at theDesk co-working, events and exhibition space in Sai Wan as part of our special upcoming exhibition that opens on Friday May 5. It’s name is ‘The Beating Art of Sai Ying Pun’.

All three artists in the new exhibition create their pieces in Sai Ying Pun and they each use a range of techniques to produce their works, like abstract art, fashion and drawing. The opening on May 5 is followed up on Saturday May 13 with ‘SatArtDay’, an interactive art workshop, live performance and street sketching event that sees the talented trio working with visitors to show how these techniques come together and, of course, to have fun. The entire project is supported by Geneyclee Gallery in Kwun Tong, which also has a presence at both events.

Morton is exhibiting her paintings at theDesk until June 16. She’s also hosting a workshop at ‘SatArtDay’ where she helps budding artists to use tools and materials found in art shops to create abstract expressionist paintings. Plus, the events are being supported in terms of food for visitors by Taylor Shellfish Farms in High Street, Sai Ying Pun, and in terms of art materials by 168 Gallery, also in Sai Ying Pun. It’s a truly SYP affair!

SEE ALSO: 10 facts about Sai Ying Pun you (probably) didn’t know…

Morton was born and raised in Astrakhan, which is a Russian city on the edge of the Eurasian Steppe, next to Kazakhstan. She went to school there, with her ‘first views of the world’ being ‘the dome of the sky, the curving-yet-level horizon and the flatness of the desert’. At 18 years old, she moved north to the capital city, where she attended the Moscow University of Art. She studied cave paintings, Russian Realists and Renaissance artists, frescos and art history over six years, gaining a degree and a master’s before leaving at 24 years old. During that time, though, she also went to a film academy to learn the art of production design.

After university, Morton started working in the Russian film industry, becoming a production designer and storyboard artist. She worked on 10 films over two years, some of them being big hits in her native country and some she did just to make a living. “If you’re lucky enough to work with a talented group of people,” she says, “it’s really enjoyable to work in the film industry as a production designer. I worked on colour and all the visual elements in the movies, which is challenging and interesting, but like in most industries there’s another side to it all. You have to work and you have to eat and it’s not like there are great films being made every day! But I did work on some excellent productions and I also was able to work on my art in the realm of storyboards at the same time. I also met two of my best friends on set!”

Morton says she enjoyed mostly working on the sets of comedies and romances but adds it ‘would be a dream-come-true to work on fantasy films with aliens or hobbits because the greatest part in creating these worlds are that they have their own rules and don’t exist in real life’. Despite the makeup and costume fun, she says she wasn’t a fan of horror films, though.

“Sai Ying Pun is a great place for my studio because in many ways it’s still really traditional. It feels authentic. You can buy bamboo steamers and dried fish and you can learn Chinese.”

In 2014, Morton moved to Hong Kong with her fiancé, who had just landed a job here. “I felt I had gained great technical skills and experience in Russia,” says the 29-year-old, “but I wanted to try something new in a different culture altogether, surrounded by different people. More than seven million of them, in fact. And I’d always wanted to live in Asia because I was really fond of Chinese paintings but now I’d have the chance to study them. I was desperate to start painting again. Storyboarding is great but during my time working in movies, I’d had no time to paint or exhibit. Coming to Hong Kong gave me a chance to start all over again with my art and also learn Chinese techniques and the language. Not just the spoken word but the language of art and the many stories behind Chinese artworks.”

Morton moved to Sai Ying Pun two-and-a-half years ago and, since then, she’s been painting and learning new techniques like there’s no tomorrow. Her studio and home are in SYP and she often wanders the area, taking photos and drawing pictures so she can ‘learn about this fantastic place’. “The people are really happy here,” she says. “I can feel that and I enjoy feeling their happiness when I’m creating my art.”

The paintings that Morton has created since she’s been in Hong Kong are described by the artist as ‘abstract expressionist’. Her work is always multi-layered and incomplete but, in its own way, it’s always with meaning. At the same time, she loves the physicality of technique and is always exploring new methods to address the age-old questions of art and life through her expressions. Chinese calligraphic elements appear in some of her paintings, as well as themes like DNA and evolution. “My work is about patterns in the world around us,” she says, “finding abstractions in the complex and complexity in the apparently simple. It’s also about repetition and universality, as well as singularity and now.”

There’s an extra element to Morton’s art that catches the eye: she uses traditional materials and tools that you can buy in any art shop to create shapes and patterns in her paintings but it’s difficult to work out what tools have been used. There’s a bit of mystery around her methods and the artist won’t kiss and tell. In fact, this is the focus of her workshop at ‘SatArtDay’ at theDesk. Here, she helps people to create abstract patterns and shapes using all sorts of simple materials and tools. “You can buy these materials from any art shop,” she says, “but it totally depends on how you use them. That’s the secret!”

“Creating art is a wonderful experience,” she continues. “You feel and you see the picture in your head and then you start your journey to an art shop and find the materials that you think will be useful. Then you experiment for days or weeks until you create the piece that’s in your head. I’ve always experimented with my art but now I feel I’m at a place where my art is ready to be exhibited. This exhibition at theDesk is, in fact, my first Hong Kong exhibition!”

Morton also champions Sai Ying Pun as a district which gives her inspiration. “I think that Sai Ying Pun is a great place for my studio,” she says, “because in many ways it’s still really traditional. It feels authentic. You can buy bamboo steamers and dried fish and you can learn Chinese. I like to go to the parks in SYP or hike up to the Peak or just sit in the coffee shops watching people. Sai Ying Pun is, put simply, an inspiring area!”

Mila Morton: the facts
NAME Liudmila Morton but uses the artist name Mila
AGE 29
BASED Sai Ying Pun
MEDIUM Abstract expressionist paintings
SEE MORE instagram.com/mm.xuajia

Come to our grand opening of ‘The Beating Art of Sai Ying Pun’ exhibition tomorrow, Friday May 5, between 7pm and 9pm, at theDesk. Enjoy some wine and nibbles and meet each artist as you tour our exhibition as well as our co-working and events space. RSVP to the exhibition opening at beatingart.eventbrite.hk.

Also prepare for ‘SatArtDay’ with our three artists on Saturday May 13, between 1pm and 5pm at theDesk. There is to be drawing and painting workshops both inside the space and on the street, plus live dramatic performances every half hour and artistic talks, organised by theDesk, Geneyclee Gallery and the three artists. And it’s all FREE, with drinks and nibbles provided.

RSVP to SatArtDay at satartday.eventbrite.hk.

We look forward to seeing you!

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