Hong Kong’s beloved surrealist Tommy Fung takes inspiration from Johnnie Walker Blue Label for his latest series of must-see images
The surreal world of Tommy Fung came to be in 2017 when the photographer/graphic designer started his Instagram account @surrealhk to document life in Hong Kong. Fung’s snapshots of the city were not your typical sweeping cityscapes with a million twinkling lights. Rather, they were an expression of how he experiences life in the city after returning from spending his formative years in Venezuela.
In a world where “no filter” is an always popular hashtag, Fung goes full throttle in the opposite direction. His heavily Photoshopped images contain specific cultural references and the artist admits that his Instagram followers are mostly local (and therefore understand such references). However, he believes that his creations aren’t limited to this demographic.
“Though my work is mostly appreciated by Hongkongers, Instagram is an international platform. That’s why I always try to show the most iconic scenes that depict Hong Kong, such as Victoria Harbour,” Fung says. “Everyone knows that’s Hong Kong.”
When Johnnie Walker first approached Fung to collaborate for the Affordable Art Fair 2021 in Hong Kong, the artist’s reaction was one of surprise. Why would one of the world’s most renowned whisky brands want to work with me, he wondered. His astonishment would soon turn into excitement.
“This is a very big brand, and [I wondered] why are they pursuing me? I thought they were very old-fashioned and [wouldn’t] want to experiment with new things – because I’m something new, “ he recalls. “After I did a bit of research about their collaborations with past artists, I realised they give a lot of freedom. They just said, ‘Well, do whatever you want. We’re not going to interfere with your creativity’. That’s something very refreshing, isn’t it?”
It’s unusual, Fung says, because typically clients have many demands. Creative freedom is, after all, the driving force behind most artists’ best work. To break free from a mould conceived by the world. And nothing does it the way a Tommy Fung photograph does. His surreal imagery infuses local elements with humour that keeps his followers on Instagram entertained. Oftentimes, they’ll scour the picture for his watermark, which appears as part of the landscape in subtle and sometimes less subtle ways.
For Johnnie Walker, Fung imagined the brand’s longstanding history and transformed its Blue Label bottle into Hong Kong landmarks. The colour blue as reference to the Johnnie Walker bottle is also prominent.
“This is the main colour,” says Fung of his work for the liquor brand. One of his images takes inspiration from the biblical opening of the Red Sea. In it, Johnnie Walker steps toward the Hong Kong cityscape through what appears to be the waters of Victoria Harbour opening up a path for him. “Because the [ Johnnie Walker] man always keeps walking and nothing can stop him.”
“No matter how tense [things get in the city], you can always find your place – a place where you can relax and enjoy yourself” -Tommy Fung
Through the magic of Photoshop he also turned the not-blue water to an electric blue to further emphasise the connection with Johnnie Walker Blue Label. You’ll find the same reference in another of Fung’s works in the form of rooftop swimming pools seen from a bird’s eye view on top of a group of buildings. “No matter how tense [things get in the city], you can always find your place – a place where you can relax and enjoy yourself,” says Fung as a way to explain the photo.
As his piece de resistance the artist created an animated work, which aptly encapsulates Hong Kong’s recent sentiment. He came up with a panel that shows a collection of blinking lights that make up a constellation: “People look at constellations for direction – to look where your destiny [will] guide you and somehow show you what to work towards.”
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