Arresting images? That's a fair cop for a painting policeman

For Chung Kin-san, the long arm of the law wields both weapon and paintbrush, writes Lee Wing-sze

Chung Kin-san has combined being both a Hong Kong police officer and a professional artist for more than 20 years. His works are in the collections of former governor Chris Patten, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the Hong Kong Housing Authority.

In 1997, he added one more job to that list: art gallery owner and manager.

The 42-year-old sergeant says art was always on his mind. As a young man fresh out of secondary school, he worked as the assistant director in an advertising company. He completed a foundation design course at Polytechnic University (then Polytechnic College), but fate intervened before he could continue in his chosen career. 'It was not easy to find a job at that time and I was pretty lucky to get a design job, but my salary was only about $1,000 a month,' Chung says. 'Then my father got sick.' Chung's salary was not enough to support his family, 'and that is what drove me to be a police officer' in 1983.

Still, he never stopped painting. He had his first professional show in 1989, and was included in the Hong Kong Art Biennial Exhibition in 1992 and 1996. Chung opened his own gallery in the Hong Kong Arts Centre in 1997, which moved to its current location in the China Resources Building last year.

Chung's lifelike watercolours stood out at the Biennial, which mostly featured abstract or avant-garde pieces. 'I'm not doing things like Salvador Dali,' he says, referring to his tranquil works that combine rural Hong Kong landscapes both real and imagined. 'I want to create reality. I want the atmosphere of my paintings to imply that these places really exist.'

Being at one with nature has something to do with Chung's childhood, which was spent on a family farm in Fanling. 'What I like most is greenery, like forests or natural landscapes. I'm more sensitive to these images from nature,' he says.

Chung taught himself to paint as a child and developed his own style as he went, opting to work in watercolours over other media. 'Ink is more surreal, oils closer to reality and acrylics more passionate,' he says. 'But watercolors can create the effects of all these media. It is a really challenging medium. I am still exploring it today.'

Chung is now holding a two-man show called 'Ingenuous/Natural', showcasing his own paintings alongside the famously voluptuous 'fat woman' sculptures of mainland artist Xu Hongfei. It is Chung's first major show since a 2001 exhibit at Chinese University.

Chung's signature pieces include compositions that play with trees, streams, light and shadow. There are also glimpses of local culture, such as a portrait of an old man sitting on the roadside writing Chinese calligraphy, and historical architecture, such as Yuen Long's famous Tai Fu Tai.

Other paintings, such as Dragon and Chariot, were created entirely out of Chung's imagination. These are of stone carvings on an ancient Chinese city wall. 'Many people may have seen such carving patterns somewhere. But in fact they aren't painted from real life,' says Chung, who also completed a series of dragon symbols from nine Chinese dynasties to show his own interpretation of Chinese history.

The day is fast approaching when the wheel will turn full circle for Chung. The sergeant has worked for the Police Tactical Unit, the Special Duties Squad and is now stationed at the New Territories North Police Headquarters in Tai Po. He plans to retire from the force at 45 to dedicate all his time to painting and teaching.

He is also a lecturer at the School of Continuing Studies Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Chingying Institute of Visual Arts.

'Being a great artist has been my aspiration since I was a kid,' says Chung.

'To me, a great artist is not a great artist because his works are worth a lot of money, but because his works move people.

'I'm not saying an artist has to do things to change the world. But if people can forget their unhappiness and put aside their negative thinking for the moment that they are looking at my works, that would be a great thing for me.'

Creative Art Gallery, Shop 202-203, China Resources Bldg, 26 Harbour Rd, Wan Chai. Inquiries 2824 1812, www.kinsanchung.com. Open Mon-Sun 11am-6pm. Ingenuous/Natural: Watercolours by Chung Kin-san and sculptures by Xu Hongfei until Wed. Chung's watercolours are there permanently.