Australian artists' sentimental strokes of China inspiration

Updated: 2014-03-30 07:51

By Rebecca Lo in Hong Kong (China Daily)

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 Australian artists' sentimental strokes of China inspiration

Euan Macleod's Hong Kong Triptych is on show. Provided to China Daily

Michael Nock has come full circle.

"All I wanted to do was paint in high school," the longtime Hong Kong resident admits, as he points to two oil paintings produced when he was a teenager. We are in the heart of industrial Aberdeen, where Nock has a space for his Art-Lease collection and a studio upstairs where he paints.

He is feverishly preparing for The Painters' Journey, an exhibition featuring the China-inspired works of prominent Australian artists Peter Godwin and Euan Macleod. Also included will be photography by Hong Kong-based Australian Jason Capobianco.

Nock hopes that alongside those distinguished names, his own paintings will pass muster. Campbell Robertson-Swann of Sydney's Defiance Gallery will have the final veto; his gallery represents Godwin and he is curating The Painters' Journey. "He will act as our independent arbitrator," smiles Nock.

Paul Tighe, Australian consul general for Hong Kong and Macao, will officiate the exhibition's opening at Pao Galleries on April 2. Nock envisions the show as a promising start toward a long-term relationship between Chinese and Australian artists.

Originally from Australia, Nock moved to Hong Kong 34 years ago to set up Merrill Lynch's office. He continued to build his career in investment banking until the age of 35, when he sold his business and moved to Los Angeles to pursue his original dream of being an artist.

Although not exactly a starving artist when he labored toward bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts, he nevertheless moved back to Hong Kong and into fund management again after he had two daughters.

A longtime art collector, Nock got a call from Art-Lease founder Belinda Kruger in late 2012. "'I'm moving back to New Zealand'," he recalls her saying. "'What do I do with Art-Lease?'" Nock took it over at around the same time that one of his Aberdeen tenants vacated an industrial space that was ideal for storing canvases.

Art-Lease primarily loaned assets to corporations. Nock wanted to expand upon those assets without having to invest heavily in new ones. He invited other art lovers to share their collections.

"We share the economics," he says.

He also set up The Nock Art Foundation, a scholarship and artists-in-residence program that commissions new works by artists he feels would contribute greatly to the Art-Lease portfolio. "I've endowed a scholarship in the name of art professor Jules Engel at CalArts," Nock says. He has two apartments in Hong Kong where visiting artists can stay for weeks at a time. Plus, there is a designated corner in his Aberdeen space where they can paint.

"I felt that no one had painted Hong Kong well. So I asked a few of my favorite painters to come here. I also took Peter and Euan to Guilin (capital city of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region). The key is that this is not a one-off exhibition. I imagine they would return to Hong Kong every 12 to 18 months. We would visit and paint other places in China."

Australian artists' sentimental strokes of China inspiration

He recalls the friendly competition between the painters during their visit to China. "We would go to the roof of their apartment to check out the view," Nock recalls, "and Peter would claim it for himself! He did a number of skyline paintings from the roof."

While Macloed, a New Zealand-born resident of Australia, prefers to paint in situ, Godwin prefers to sketch and then assemble the paintings in his studio. "Euan, on the other hand, will paint three or four canvases in a day. He's fearless!" Nock says. Macleod's Typhoon 3 captures the ominous energy of a summer storm as it crossed the harbor.

Working side-by-side with Godwin and Macloed, Nock has regained his passion for creating art. The exhibition is just as much about their China landscapes as it is about Nock's path home.

(China Daily 03/30/2014 page9)