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Who is Omacke? The Funky Canadian Graffiti Artist in Hong Kong Known for His Pop Art Red Face Series
by: Rubin Verebes
May 13, 2022
Bartender-by-day and graffiti artist in his free time, Canadian artist Omacke is instantly recognisable for his zany graffiti sketches and stickers of black-masked and crazed-looking red and orange men and women dotted around the walls of the city.
Having emigrated to Hong Kong in 2020, the Toronto-born hotel worker employs his cocktail shaker and corkscrew to source emotion and drop into a glass, whilst manning himself with a mask and spray cans to tag his moniker brand on city walls.
“I have been [graffitiing] for more than 20 years,” he told The Beat Asia in a phone interview, but his pop-art style and black-red-and-white palette composing his popular face tags matured when he emigrated to Guangzhou, China, in 2010 for work. “The stuff I am painting now, under Omacke, began in 2015.”
Omacke first travelled to Guangzhou for work in the local design and F&B industry after following an expat friend who lived in the southern Chinese city. “I didn’t start painting under the Omacke name, the faces, until I was in China. Previously, I used to do traditional tagging and lettering, signing my name around town.”
“I had a friend growing up that always painted faces. I remember asking him why he painted faces, rather than like normal graffiti letters that I did. He told me how you can spend all your time painting on the street, taking chances, signing some name that 99 percent of passersby will not understand or look at.”
“After spending years painting in Guangzhou, it dawned on me. If I was back in Toronto, where I come from, painting my name is one thing. In Guangzhou, where people aren’t paying attention or noticing you. The likelihood of them being able to read it is so slim that it felt futile.”
Herein, Omacke’s signature graffiti materialised into its current form: embellished, oversized red-faced men and women with wacky black hairstyles, often adorning a face mask.
“I started painting these faces to create something more meaningful to myself and people. If I were to paint [a face] in a neighbourhood, someone walking by would take notice, rather than looking at some scribble on the wall.”
The face series, which began seven years ago north of Hong Kong, which Omacke has called home for one and a half years, “came out of a need to paint something recognisable that the regular person would be able to interact and connect with in.”
The masks, however, came when he lived in Shanghai in 2018 observing mask wearing a commonality amongst locals to protect from air pollution. “Coming from the west, I was curious seeing people doing that [pre-COVID].”
“It stood out to me, and it was the perfect solution to cover the nose and mouth [of my characters] because I could never find a way to paint them in a way that I liked. Putting this big blob of colour of a mask was practical and aesthetically pleasing. I liked the look of it and that is how the mask graffiti came about.”
In reference to who the characters are and what they represent, Omacke explained that his vocabulary has expanded approaching the drawing of different emotions and techniques. “They are the same face usually, but more illustrative versions of the same person, with bodies, clashing, and a lot of negative space.”
“When I first started painting, [the face] was referred to as the red guy. It was always a red face with either black or white or both, because you can always buy those colours in store. They were the best colours that you could get the best consistency from.”
“Aesthetically, red, black, and white look really cool. It is the red that stands out,” he said.
Up close, his work can be seen as more illustrative and detailed; at a distance, his illustrations are more abstract, and you get a “strong feeling of [depth] from the colours playing off each other and the negative space.”
Omacke’s work is most notable within Hong Kong’s growing sticker hobbyist circles, where his signature stickers of a cartoonish masked and red-faced pigtailed woman and orange-faced man have been stuck on streetlamps, electricity boxes, and old storefronts across the city.
“Stickers were something I have always just done; it is in the repertoire of doing graffiti. It’s a way to put your name up.”
“[Coming to Hong Kong], I have done stickers within my repertoire of doing graffiti. It's a way to put your name up. [Stickers] were something I wanted to do and in Hong Kong focused a lot more on. It’s a fun way to kind of interact [with people] and be able to put up stuff all over the place in a very noticeable, but kind of lowkey way.”
Whilst Omacke admits he does not pay too much attention to the reception of his artwork – staying anonymous removes him from the equation of producing art ready for critique – but it is his self-critique that drives him to innovate on his previous graffiti work. “Personally, I am never satisfied,” he said.
“I will paint something today and think it's super dope, but by the time I wake up tomorrow, I’m already not into it. But this is what keeps me motivated to keep going and trying to capture whatever is in my head. It's constantly evolving.”
His evolution has pushed the Canadian to involve himself in the Web 3.0 world, delving into a project creating NFTs for public auction. Titled “TheNewNormal,” Omacke is recreating 1,000 different versions of his signature masked couple for public purchase, tying in techniques, artwork, and motifs collected over the previous few years in greater China.
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