Last week, on an unusually warm December night in Toronto, was the opening of Blank Boy Canvas, a collaborative project with selected artists and Hong Kong’s creative godfather Danny Yung. Twenty-five artists were selected to create their own interpretation of Yung’s iconic character, Tian Tian. The artists were given blank 50cm tall, 3D blank vinyl Tian Tian figures to work with, along with complete creative freedom.
Tian Tian is the creation of celebrated Hong Kong multidisciplinary artist, Danny Yung, who was inspired to create the character based on a well-known expression from the 1950s, “tian tian xiang shang” which translates loosely to “everyday we look up” or “making progress every day”. This saying references former Chairman Mao Zedong’s message to school children in China to work hard and boost their aspirations for the future. Though it was intended to be inspirational, the way in which it was painted onto walls and drilled into children made it feel threatening and oppressive.
What began 30 years ago as a conceptual comic strip to express Yung’s childhood fears eventually led to the creation of the current, empowered character Tian Tian. Originally, Yung had created a minimalist form of a young boy in the limp posture of a bystander. However, in 2007, Yung altered this form to include the boy pointing upwards with his head towards the sky, creating the vision of a braver, more proactive youth.
“I have always wanted to stimulate and inspire our society to be more innovative through creativity[…] to stimulate thinking and enhance communication, to create a more open, equal and interactive platform,” Yung said in an interview.
A few years ago, Yung began working with schools to explore the expressive power of Tian Tian and is now celebrating the figure by inviting a new generation of artists to interpret its form. Each artist lends their own artistic lexicon to the figure with designs ranging from a highly detailed alien to a Tian Tian with nothing but a neon pink heart. Alongside the sculptures are also a series of children’s programs where kids get to customize and create their own miniature Tian Tian dolls. Yung hopes that children who visit the exhibition will feel empowered to create on the same canvas as the established artists on view and aid in creativity and cultural exchange.
Participating artists include; Talwst, Artchild, Rcade, Wysper, Peru143, Chris Dyer, Bryan Espiritu, Elicser Eliiot, Gary Wintle, Emily May Rose, Jon Todd, Janice Colbert, James Soy, Jeff Blackburn, Doug Brown, Jessica Volpe, Allister Lee, Justin Pape, CJ Hungerman, John Shock, Elisabeth Weinstock, Nelson Dedos Garcia, Sebastian Eismann, and Lovebot.
The exhibition runs until December 22rd at the Gladstone Hotel in the Queen West area, and will then embark on a North American tour before it heads back to Hong Kong. Follow Blank Boy Canvas to see where the exhibition will head to next!