Artist Interview: Percy So (Hong Kong SAR)

Bookbinding is a traditional and laborious procedure. Could you tell us more how you were attracted to and entered the world of bookbinding?

I have always had a love of paper and my family is a bunch of bookworms. In a place like Hong Kong where people don’t really read, it didn’t make any sense to become a bookbinder; even until today when people ask me what my profession is, they are baffled with the answer and try to make sense of it their own way. I started making books when I was doing my A Levels in England – I made this really simple book, a structure that I came up with for one of the modules. When I went to college, I started exploring printmaking, and fell in love with the printing process and how I could express myself through print. This interest extended into photography; I loved how it could capture moments in time and memories. The next medium I was intrigued by was papermaking. When I was exploring these “flat” mediums, one question always popped up: where do I go from here to bring all of these elements together, and how do I make it three-dimensional? The answer was the book format. I did some book arts, was slowly exposed to book artists and just loved exploring the book structure as an art form.

Bookbinding, fine binding, design binding and restoration happened a few years after college. I was clinically depressed and didn’t know the purpose of my life, but I remembered that if I didn’t have anything to worry about I would be making books. I then enrolled myself in a two-week class at The American Academy of Bookbinding, and, as they say, the rest is history.

For your submission Covid 19, what prompted the decision to install the series on a wall outdoors?

I decided to install the series outdoors as it speaks to the situation at hand. People are stuck at home, people are social-distancing; to be able to view art is considered a luxury, much less being able to view it out in an open space under bright sunlight.

Your work takes a direct reference from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Do you think it is particularly important for art to function as social commentary during this time?

I actually don’t think that it is that important for art to function as social commentary; I know this contradicts my work in a way. I believe art should bring about emotion, be it good or bad. A successful piece of work is something that speaks to the viewer, so it doesn’t have to be social commentary. Of course with a common topic it is easier to speak to broader viewers as you don’t need to do a lot of guessing as an artist. Out of all the projects I’ve done, this one is the strongest in commentary on the world at large.

Could you expand on other bookbinding and paper cutting projects you’ve recently been involved in?

I just finished a fine binding for a client. The client is a poet, he has written many poems for his wife over the 20 years that they’ve been married. For her birthday this year, he wanted to bind his top hit poems into a book. He came to me with this idea and after talking through a few elements, he gave me all the creative freedom to do as I please. When he came to pick up the book, he was really pleased to see how it turned out and he thought that the design really captured the poems and his wife’s personality.

I’m still in the construction phase of creating something for an exhibition in fall in the USA. I want to go larger scale, as it’s something I’m not that comfortable with. I will be using different elements of paper, book and photography. I’ve been exploring writing and writing equipment; I think I might write on different papers, cut the papers and collage them back together. It’s all still brewing in my mind at the moment…

Would you say there has been a growing interest in paper arts in recent years?

I certainly see a growing interest. Paper is so versatile and can take form to become different things, there’s really no limitation as to what it can do. When I first started 10 years ago, there weren’t that many people interested in paper arts, at least in Hong Kong. I was involved in a group show called Paper Tales; there were 15 artists, but only 3 of us were really paper artists. The other artists were invited to do an interpretation of the theme, but in their own mediums of choice. In recent years, there are definitely more people exploring this as their main medium. I think it’s an exciting time to be a paper artist.