Johnson Tsang

Surreal fantasies and lucid dreams preserved in masterfully-sculpted porcelain.

Johnson Tsang sat at his desk in his studio surrounded by tools and paintbrushes as he paints a small sculpture in his hands
a row of sculpted heads with unique, varying expressions lined up on a shelf
artist working into a small three-dimensional head that rests in his left-hand
5 images

Johnson Tsang was born in 1960 in Hong Kong, where he continues to live and work.

Career

Tsang spent 13 years in the police force before beginning his career as an artist. To this day the memories from these years provide inspiration for his uncanny, serene-yet-sinister sculptures.

Did you know?

In 1983, the artist founded Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong, now one of the city's most established galleries. In 2009 he received The Secretary for Home Affairs' Commendation on account of his widespread and enduring international success.

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Practice overview

Tsang’s illusionary compositions are juxtaposed by their hyperreal aesthetic. The delicacy of the craftsmanship is set against the grotesque scenarios that the sculptures depict: a human face twisted like a wet towel; a fed-up newborn trapped inside a birdcage; or stacks of human heads squashed inside glass cabinets. Half cherub, half Buddha, Tsang’s bulbous figures have a profound (and often amusing) fleshiness. The expressions of the characters he creates are wholly convincing, and freeze extreme moments of pain, frustration, joy, and love. While Tsang’s work recalls aesthetics from across art history, such as Chinese ceramics and Neo-classical sculpture, the self-taught artist predominantly draws from personal experience and his intense, bizarre dreams. In his waking life, these are, through immense skill and long studio hours, co-opted into a strange elegance that is both enticing and unsettling.

Throughout Tsang’s practice, ominous undertones linger. His tragic sense of humour surfaces in political satire including a figurine of Donald Trump and piles of baby heads on top of a Chinese flag. Security Summit (2015), is a particularly potent work: seven porcelain babies sit in a circle ridiculing one naked baby in the middle, a cherub. The figures around the edge are dressed in army uniforms, casually holding machine guns, while the humiliated cherub holds a measly bow and arrow. The explicit cruelty in the scene and stark inequality of power, along with the macabre humour of babies with machine guns, criticises the political notion of ‘security’ itself and undermines those who hold the power to act in its name. Thus, the work confronts military power, state-sponsored violence and acts of aggression perpetrated throughout history and today, in order to maintain stability for certain groups, nations or political elites at - more often than not - the great expense of others.

“Imagine Nation” is the name Tsang gives to his world of lucid dreaming. Tsang values this dreamworld as much as our collective physical reality. In his sleep, he travels through time and space, meeting his heroes, and, most importantly, creating art without material limit. In fact, many of his works are replicas of visions from his dreams. For this reason, he refers to himself as an intermediary, channelling ideas brought to him by a force beyond his individual consciousness. Thus, Tsang's perspective speaks, not necessarily to some god-like being, but instead to the human capacity for creativity: creativity that is embedded in both external reality, and the internal subconscious. Tsang’s delicate and unusual work has a powerful ability to distill complex subjects, thoughts and emotions into calm yet arresting beauty.

"Art changed the way I observed things happening around me."Johnson Tsang