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The Ballpoint-Pen Master, Oscar Venhuis

TavernArt Gallery, presents a showcase of three recent artworks by ballpoint-pen artist Oscar Venhuis, among a selection of its artists in this year’s Affordable Art Fair (August 4-7, 2022; stand 3C, Hall 3BC, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai).

This year, for Hong Kong’s Affordable Art Fair, local pop-up art show curator and exhibitor, TavernArt Gallery, founded by longtime Hong Kong resident Barbera Taverard has an intriguing new featured artist among the half a dozen or so artists from Hong Kong and further afield that are in its portfolio.


Three substantially proportioned blue-and-white works on paper by local entrepreneur-turned-artist, Oscar Venhuis are certainly more than meets the eye when first glimpsing them from afar. All are figurative renditions that emit a certain harmony and first appear to be indigo-blue monochrome paintings or perhaps pastel drawings. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that countless thousands of fine-gauge marks have been meticulously put down on paper by the artist to build up form and tone.


When a viewer learns for the first time that these marks are all made with the humble ballpoint pen – usually a classic BIC, to be specific – so many questions come to mind …

“People often ask how long it takes to complete an image or how many ballpoint pens do I get through for one artwork,” admits Venhuis, with a smile.


So why a blue ballpoint pen? After years of working as an entrepreneur in the tech industry, Venhuis – who is now devoting himself to a full-time career as an artist – says that working with something that is 100 years old and is a slow process is the antidote to his former fast-paced business routine. And the palette of blue on white is also present in the tradition of Chinese and Asian porcelain, as well as Dutch Delftware ceramics – which is all very significant, as Venhuis is of Korean ancestry, brought up in Holland and has been resident in Hong Kong for 25 years.


“While the ballpoint pen is an archetypical product of our mass-produced culture, ink on paper is the oldest and most revered art form in Asia,” he adds.

Early Venhuis ballpoint-pen artworks are more obviously recognisable as female portraits, from head and shoulders upwards, with an emphasis on the fine detailing of hair that is often depicted as if being blown askew by the wind or falling across the figure’s face. In more recent work, the artist pushed this constant subject into some slightly more conceptual compositions, requiring the viewer to look at the image a little longer to understand and respond to the pieces.


“What I try to show, is that we need to take a step back from the ‘rat race’ that we are in,” Venhuis says, when asked to describe what he would like the viewer to understand from his art, “hence the deliberate practice of using a very slow medium.


“For one smaller drawing it takes about two to three weeks and about five ballpoints. For the largest of my works – such as the big one [EightandEighty] on show at the Affordable Art Fair – that took about a month of working on it full-time and about 10 ballpoints.”

Of the drawing process, the artist says, “By simply following my intuition and how I feel about a drawing, a new piece emerges and it slowly starts to take a life on its own. The final work is rarely a resemblance of what I had originally imagined.”

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