Thu, Jan 26, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Hello, more kitties

An animation artist has a refreshing take on the giftware business and is wowing fans with his cute cats that are hand-painted on stone

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTOS COURTESY OF HENRY DESIGN AND ASSOCIATES

The story began six years ago when the experienced animation artist Henry Lee (李鴻祥) tried to pick up a special gift for his German film director friend. Frustrated by the limited options in every gift store, Lee decided to make an original present of his own. He picked up some stones collected from east coast beaches and started drawing on them.

The result, after several days of painting, was two innovative, hand-painted kittens on the pebbles.

Much to Lee's surprise, the simple gesture of goodwill made his cat-loving friend burst into tears. It was one of the most memorable moments of his life, Lee said.

That experience kick-started a career-change, from being a well-paid animation art director to a stone-painting artist. Lee had fallen in love with his creations and delved ever further into the world of stone-painting.

Three years later, Lee set up a Mediterranean-style studio-cum-gift store in the misty hilltop community of Jioufen (九份). Cloistering himself at a spot overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Lee has perfected the artistic innovations which are now called "Henry's hand-painted stone cats."

"The reason why I choose stones as the raw material for my art is the unique texture of the earthly creations burnished after tens of thousands of years. They are nature's most refined works. And my job is to feel and bring out the life of this natural work of art," Lee said.

Lee's love for nature was sparked during his upbringing in a village in southern Taiwan. Seemingly out of place in the fast-paced urban scene, the soft-speaking artist stumbled across Taiwan's biggest animation film studio, Wang Film Production (宏廣動畫), 20 years ago and embarked on his profession as the art director of background (BG) design.

Having made a name for himself in the making of several Disney animations, including Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, Lee established his own production house in 1995 to begin long-term cooperative ventures with numerous international animation studios in Denmark and Germany. He also took on the role of chief art director for Taiwanese feature animation Grandma and Her Ghosts (魔法阿媽) in 1998.

Lee has found a refuge away from the harsh reality of the animation world.

"By bringing out the childlike innocence incarnated in the forms of animals, I want to create a world without wars and violence. I want to send out the message that we all have to cherish life and each other in order to live in peace, in a global village," Lee said with a bashful smile, as if knowing all too well that his simple take on the real world can only exist in fairytales.

A set of cat art-stones may sound like a collection suitable for grannies only, but a closer look at these feline creatures will soften the most hard-core cynic's heart. Each cat has a whimsical human personality and is produced with such great attention to detail that the lines and fur of the artistic creations look just like the real thing.

These one-of-a-kind art-stones take a long time to produce. Lee used to spend an entire day looking for a so-called "jade stone" (玉石), on the beaches of Hualien (花蓮). "Finding stones with the right shape, color, texture and density is a rather laborious task. You have to be able to feel the life of the animal in the original stones," Lee said.

Lee insists that each stroke of the paint brush has to be the natural extension of the lines and patterns on the unembellished pebbles. One stone cat can take up to three or five days to complete.

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