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Above: a young Kim Wan with his first work of art – c. 1983

Wan’s writing on the walls – again

Kim Wan is a Hastings homeboy and one of the town’s biggest artists – in stature, as well as the size of his canvases and his reputation. HOT’s Erica Smith caught up with him just before Coastal Currents to find out about his latest venture re-decorating the Union Bar this Friday – and to learn about his spray-can happy past.

Kim Wan in front of one of his canvases. Photograph © Annie Morris, 2014

Kim is showing me a very old photo album and proudly points out the photograph shown above “I was the first person to spray paint in the town centre. This is me with my first ‘bomb’ in the underground car park”. The boy in the photo is unrecognisable – a kid from The Bronx rather than a 13 year old student at Thomas Peacock.

Like a lot of kids, Kim Wan first learned to draw by copying comic book characters. He loved drawing and was always good at it. Unlike most kids, from 13 onwards, he lived pretty much on his own. “My godmother lived in Rye and I lived in the house next door to her.”

Whilst most arty kids go straight from school to foundation course to Art School, by 18, Wan was working full time at the new Covent Garden and had a kid of his own.

By 21, he finally made it to Hastings College of Art and ate up the range of artistic skills on offer – observational drawing, charcoal drawing, and oil paint. “I was always interested in surface qualities”.

For the next five years he carried on painting on his own in his flat, and eventually studied an Access course in Humanities. This led him to an interview with the influential Vanessa Jackson at Winchester School of Art. He had a 1 in 5 chance of getting a place, and he took a huge pile of his own paintings under his arm. When he was asked the archetypal interview questions “Who is your favourite artist?” and “Whose work do you look at?” his answers were a monosyllabic “Me” and “Mine”. He landed a place and worked obsessively throughout his degree.

Was he a model student? “Some kids just go to art college as a kind of finishing school. I wanted to go there to work. I challenged everyone all the time – I didn’t accept dogma, but I did learn about painting”.

Three of many self-portraits © Kim Wan

Dollar$ Vs. Prayers © Kim Wan, 2013

After Wan graduated from Winchester, he returned to Hastings, and despite numerous shows in London and internationally (including three shows in New York), he has remained in Hastings. When I asked him why, he said, quite simply; “It’s the best place to make art.” The sky is important to him, and his new flat has a bay window looking out high over the sea. There’s nothing to see except the horizon. A blank canvas.

"Flying SYN" graffiti piece, Brick Lane, London, 2009 © Kim Wan

The Kim Wan artworks that I am familiar with are all painterly – whether it’s the obsessive exploration in his series of self-portraits, or the ‘decorated’ dollar bills. It was a surprise to me to discover that graffiti has been such a strong thread throughout his art career. “Spray paint is a really sharp, graphic medium, and you can get very detailed effects. I’d use it more if it wasn’t so expensive these days!”

Kim Wan will be working in the outdoor space at the Union Bar from 6.30pm on this Friday, 29 August. He is one of eleven artists who have been commissioned to redecorate the Union Bar pub. You are welcome to watch the artists in action. To find out more, visit his website.


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Posted 10:54 Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014 In: Arts News

Also in: Arts News

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