Cross-media artist Alice Chan is known for her doe-eyed character Asteria, who wanders in the fairy-tale landscape of Asterialand. Always wearing a sweet smile, Asteria was designed to serve a purpose. “Her sparkling big eyes convey warmth and goodwill. With big ears, she is a sympathetic listener,” Chan says. “Asteria spreads the message of peace, love and happiness.”
Chan creates mixed-media paintings, using acrylic and watercolour, while also producing computer graphic artworks. The home-grown artist has collaborated with international brands and presented her work in an array of products, from calendars to cakes.
In 2005, Chan was invited by Italian fashion label Max Mara to design fashion dolls. She also took part in a live painting show at an art exhibition hosted by Galleries Lafayette, a department store in Paris, in 2008. That same year she became one of 50 artists commissioned by the municipal government of Lyon in France to design artistic road signs for the city.
Chan opened an art gallery at The Peninsula Hong Kong in 2009 and was honoured in the prestigious 40 Under 40 Awards for artists last year.
How did you develop your distinctive style?
I have been fascinated by art since childhood. I studied at [the Jockey Club] Ti-I College in Sha Tin [a secondary school that focuses on sports and visual arts] before enrolling in a two-year, full-time programme in visual communication at Lee Wai Lee Technical Institute [now the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education]. Over the years, I have developed skills in drawing, painting, graphic design and photography, and my style reflects influence from these forms.
Why did you set up Asteria?
After graduating from Lee Wai Lee, I spent several years working for production houses and advertising agencies as a designer. But my passion for art drove me to create artwork in my spare time. Based on my idea of a utopia and a character that could cheer up others, I created Asteria.
In 2000, I quit my job to focus on developing the brand and the Asterialand website. My products and website caught the eye of an art gallery manager in Japan, who organised an exhibition of my paintings in Japan in 2001. Meanwhile, a Tokyo-based stationery producer, Sakamoto, asked me to develop an exclusive line of highly decorative products with the Asteria design.
What's your career's turning point?
As Asteria became known to a wider audience, it attracted the attention of international luxury brands. They launched cross-over projects that integrated my artwork to appeal to younger buyers. Max Mara asked me to create several 12-inch dolls outfitted with miniature designs of the label's collection in 2005. The resultant promotional campaign was implemented at the brand's outlets around the world and covered by fashion media in Italy and France. I guess that was when companies in Hong Kong saw the potential of using art in cross-over projects.
What inspires you?
I enjoy travelling and visiting museums around the world. Contemporary art by artists such as Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami has enormous appeal to me because their work has been integrated into consumer products, becoming part of our everyday life. I am also inspired by music and movies.
Do you think Asteria is becoming too commercial?
When art items are sold to individuals, they are for the enjoyment of a select few only. But art applied to different products becomes some sort of mobile art galleries for a larger audience.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
Opening [a gallery] at The Peninsula was a major challenge. The project encompassed different elements, including fashion accessories, charity chocolate gift sets and the Asteria strawberry roll featured in the hotel’s high tea set served in its lobby.
The whole process – from the hotel’s invitation and conceptualisation, to the decoration of the gallery and product development – took about half a year. There were many meetings with different departments of the hotel. I am a perfectionist, so I was very much involved. But at the same time I had other projects going on. I had other projects and was not able to catch much sleep.
Is it difficult to operate a gallery?
I have established a company and recruited professionals specialising in retail operation and product development and merchandising. I focus my creative energy on paintings and staging exhibitions locally and abroad.
What is your goal?
I want to have my paintings exhibited at prestigious museums, such as Tate Modern in London and The Louvre in Paris. I also want to leverage art to help increase awareness of charity groups.