"Le Petit Prince" Solo Exhibition Features Artworks From Award-Winning Hong Kong Illustrator Steven Choi
2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the Le Petit Prince's original publication in French and the book has transcended through time—holding the record as the most translated literary piece in French literature. In celebration of this historic year, an exhibition is coming to the city where Hong Kong illustrator Steven Choi, the first from Hong Kong to be officially authorised to illustrate a Le Petit Prince picture book, will be showing his rendition of the classic tale.
Choi illustrated the 75th-anniversary special edition picture book, which debuted in July 2019 and quickly sold out. Building on this, Choi continued on a new special edition which will be featured in this exhibition, Le Petit Prince — Le Havre. Taking place at the Gallery by the Habour in Harbour City, the exhibition is a prelude to the second part of Le Petit Prince and will include over 30 artworks illustrating the Prince's everyday life while wandering around the galaxy.
Tatler caught up with Choi to talk about this achievement, what new elements he incorporated into this upcoming exhibition and what we should take out of it.
Tatler: You’ve made a lot of “firsts”, the first Chinese person to have won the Champion of WIA and JIA Prize and now the first one from Hong Kong to be authorised to illustrate Le Petit Prince Picture Book, how were you able to get these opportunities?
I think it's because my works were seen in the exhibitions in Hong Kong. I love reading and for a long time, I find Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince which I had read when I was young, Michael Ende’s Momo and Erna Tauro’s Moomin as some of the most beautiful books I've read.
In November 2019, I met the licensee of Moomin through a friend for art creations and during our chat, I learnt that the French licensee of Le Petit Prince would be in Hong Kong. We met, and they loved the painting style of one of my works, Wanderer Endless Dark Forest—they believe it matches that of Le Petit Prince's. At first, they invited me to be one of the 75 Le Petit Prince artists worldwide in 2021. But after further discussion, they eventually also invited me to recreate a new Le Petit Prince in my own style. Given that I have been collaborating closely with KAIYODO on toys, I was also invited to create the ever first set of Le Petit Prince’s blind box toy.
Tatler: Le Petit Prince, as a classic, has been reinterpreted many times. What new elements do you bring to the book?
Choi: As one of the best French books of the 20th century, Le Petit Prince has been translated into 250 languages. Having to work on it, my initial thought was, this wildly circulated literature – together with its other renditions in films, cartoons, novels and other products—must have already created a certain understanding amongst us. What kind of Le Petit Prince would I really want to illustrate?
While I was doing my research, I realized that most of us have this "fantasy" image of Le Petit Prince’s look. I like French cartoonist Joann Sfar’s humour and Korean illustrator Kim Min-ji’s elegance. Yet, I wonder if the meaning and message in the story itself would be lost in such fantastical settings.
For this creation, I’ve decided to forgo my fantastical style. At the time, I was in Japan and saw Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi’s work. I was deeply affected by his style of “space-transcending emotional penetration". That fierce determination and profound emotion portrayed on a clean picture are perfect for the Le Petit Prince picture book. I was also captivated by the huge amount of metaphors and classic quotes in the story.
Hence, I have used many metaphorical drawings on the illustrations, adding multiple layers of meanings onto a piece of drawing. This also served as a great practice and experience on my journey of creation.
Tatler: You mentioned using a lot of metaphors hidden in the drawing, what to you is the most significant?
Choi: It's to feel with your heart. To feel with your heart is to bring things that have been forgotten and overlooked back into our consciousness. That is very important to me.
Tatler: Your work resides in prestigious galleries such as the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou, how important is it for them to back to Hong Kong?
Choi: Those are just experiences. What’s important is what you wish everyone to see and feel every time when you create, whether it's Hong Kong or elsewhere.
Tatler: What do you think the readers can take away from seeing your reinterpretation of the book?
Choi: As I grew up, I learn something different every time I read Le Petit Prince. But regardless of the circumstances, it will always touch my heart. When we left our innocence behind during childhood, it's important to be reminded that we shouldn’t become the adults that we don’t like and that to me is heartwarming.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has provided us with a story where that ties closely to our reality yet at the same time, also so otherworldly yet the story is universal: the Prince embodied the bravery to dream. And the reason why you would miss him so much is that he may have held your hand once when you read the book to remind us that we will never be dreaming alone again.
See also: Q Contemporary And K11 Art Foundation Partner Up For "Tracing the Fragments" Showcase
Le Petit Prince — Le Havre Solo Exhibition by Steven Choi runs from January 29–February 21, 2021 at 11 am–10 pm in Gallery by the Harbour, Shop 206, Level 2, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong