Peculiar encounter at the “Dark Art Store”

In my 2 month stay in Hong Kong, I must say that the city doesn’t strike me as the most welcoming place, particularly in the service industries like clothing shops and restaurants. With the exception of my coworkers and some chance encounters, most of the times I get the feeling that people here don’t have an interest in getting to know outsiders. I’ve held this as a postulation until it was confirmed for me by an artist I met last night on an after-work excursion in Tsim Sha Tsui.

After work, my co-worker took me to an unassuming boutique mall, the ones with levels  and levels of small stores packed with mid-priced mass produced goods. We were there to pick up some bags and clothes before I left the country. During my hunt for good among the latest fads and bling, however, I came across a tiny store stuffed with exquisite dresses that looked like they came out of a fantasy film.

In the back of the room,hidden behind the swirls and corsets was the artist, sketching intently into his notebook. He looked up behind his unbrushed waves of hair and then back to his drawing. Intrigued, I sat down to ask about him and his art.

What I realized was that I was talking to someone who could converse but was almost entirely in his own world.

“Jeff Dark”, as he calls himself, creates dresses that are dark and elegant. A former biology major, he decided, without any formal training, to pursue and devote his life to art. Dark’s garments I imagine are good enough to be sold in Bergdof Goodman for thousands of dollars (Dark was asked by a Forever21 executive to start a new line for the brand–which he declined–and has also held runway shows in Paris) Instead, he spends his days in his tiny shop drawing away. Tonight’s, his intricate ink pen sketch is of the store.

At the top of his sketchpad, in broken english, he writes, as if to preface himself before he begins sketching, “What point is Art, if there is no pain?”

Wanting to express this pain in the way he knows how is what keeps Jeff away from marketing his art and gowns to the world. Despite having held a fashion shows for his work, he still chooses to work out of his little shop so that he doesn’t have to worry about rent. “Business forces you to sacrifice part of yourself. I can live without the money. But without art,” he says, ” I will suicide“. I see the craze in his eyes, and I believe him. Jeff is crazy but more lucid than most at the same time. He talked about how people in the city don’t truly live, that living here over time causes people to ignore quality of life and instead focus on the wrong priorities, such as increasing wealth and maintaining face. That people talk to each other but don’t really talk to each other. That there is no love.
I don’t know that I agree with Jeff’s view of Hong Kong people all having superficial priorities because I have met many people who care deeply about people and don’t see money as the end all. But on the whole, I do feel there is a gross preoccupation with wealth and image that may frustrate, anger and tire the free-spirited soul. As an instrospective free-thinker, Jeff stands out as a  radical who has backed away from society to preserve his art, his essence. It’s an admirable trait to have, especially in a city focused on sticking to the norm.

Jeff’s “Dark Art Store” in Tsim Sha Tsui

Jeff in his corner next to a self portrait

Jeff's work at the Paris Fashion Show (picture from his laptop)

About Alice Wang

Considered a modern hippie by her friends, Alice Wang spent her formative undergraduate years at UC Davis doing interpretive dance to Britney Spears with her roommate and withstanding gawking from her friends for wearing offensive seatbelt strapped sandals from REI around town. Although she was an Animal Biology, Alice has loved the idea of being a journalist, of exposing or bringing to light raw truths. Blessed with a mom who loves to travel, she recently stayed on an ecolodge in the Brazilian Pantanal, floated on a boat through Malaysian rainforest and just returned from a two week trip to Egypt. Some of her fondest memories were spent soaked in sweat tracking bats in Taipei where she overindulged in street food, the dirtier the better. During her tours through these areas she developed an interest for the environment, human rights and how religion and tradition influence culture and lifestyle, particularly Muslim culture. With a love for novel experiences and thirst to know the details about everything, Alice hopes to parlay her travels and desire for deep human connection into a career journalistic blogging. Follow Alice Wang on twitter @wangwawang
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