Au Yeung Cheong isn’t one for modesty. He heralds himself as No. 1, the crème de la crème, the acolyte of famous Chinese calligraphers.
His kingdom is a cluttered corner shop in the residential Hong Kong neighborhood of North Point: Fluorescent lights line the ceiling, and scraps of plastic, sawdust, and empty paint cans fill almost every square inch on the linoleum floor. Newspaper clippings adorn the door jamb. It’s not exactly a place you’d stroll past and wander inside to check out, but nonetheless a cluster of people huddles outside late on a Saturday afternoon as the sun begins its descent, peering inside.
Au Yeung’s traditional handicraft can be found plastered across more than 1,000 buildings in Hong Kong if you just look up. He designs, builds and installs signboards across Hong Kong, everywhere from restaurants and jewelry shops to Chinese medicine clinics. The 65-year-old once even stood on the bamboo scaffolding outside a watch store to paint the company’s name onto a signboard.
Handmade neon signs may be the iconic symbol of the city’s visual landscape, but in the 1980s, government regulations and a preference for more energy-efficient signs began transforming Hong Kong’s streets. These days, Au Yeung’s work is primarily acrylic, plastic or backlit with LED lights. Producing handmade signboards is a skill in and of itself, but his use of the distinctive Zan script — a regal style of Chinese calligraphy — is what truly sets his work apart from machine-made typefaces.Continue reading “The Chinese Signboard Calligrapher”