Enter into the history of art

Henry Ho

From the age of 12 to 18, in those years of being an adolescent, I studied art under the instruction of Henry Ho. I expressed an interest in learning to draw and paint, and my parents soon began bringing me to Henry’s classroom studio once a week after school. I had imagined that I would learn skills, such as drawing and painting – activities I enjoyed doing. Little did I imagine that my time with Henry would be exceptionally formative, not only in my artistic abilities, but in my understanding of my Chinese-Canadian identity, my faith and spirituality, and my approach towards life and success.
早在少年時期,我開始對繪畫有興趣,在父母鼓勵下,跟隨何家強(Herny Ho)老師 學畫,正式接觸藝術訓練。起初,我抱著學習繪畫技巧的心態上課,豈料他竟成為我的生命啟蒙老師,不僅引發我對藝術的興趣,更在多方面影響我的人生,讓我重新思考我的身分、信仰和人生目標。

When the opportunity arose to interview an artist for this publication, Henry immediately came to mind. He was an artist who had influenced my life in profound ways, such as showing me the wisdom of ancient Chinese art and calligraphy while I was yet an arrogant, young Chinese-Canadian with little appreciation of my Chinese roots. I was curious to learn more about Henry, his artistic lifestyle, and his artwork. The interview was light in spirit and deep in inspiration, revealing Henry to be a man with rich passion, vast wisdom, and focused determination to become a great artist.

The interview was light in spirit and deep in inspiration, revealing Henry to be a man with rich passion, vast wisdom, and focused determination to become a great artist. Naturally curious about how people choose their professions, I first asked him,
“How did you become an artist?”

Henry explained that he had already been artistically inclined from a young age – every spare piece of paper would be covered with his drawings, sometimes even the furniture! When guests came to visit, he would draw them something as entertainment and everyone would applaud. As he grew older he began to read a lot, including a book of the 20 greatest philosophers and their work. Henry recalled with vigorous excitement one specific moment when he was 17 years old. He had been reading when suddenly he slammed the book shut in his hands, stood up, threw the book to the ground, and declared with one arm raised, “I am going to be an artist!” At that very moment, a ray of sunlight burst through the window and shone upon his face. With this passionate declaration Henry embarked upon a lifetime journey of becoming an artist.


“But becoming an artist isn’t easy,” I inquired. “So many parents often reject their children’s dreams of becoming an artist, and beyond that, so many artists struggle to make a living. How did it happen for you?”

Henry had a plan that he systematically and purposefully followed to establish himself as an artist. First of all, he had to prove to his parents that he could responsibly support himself as an artist. In Hong Kong, he studied design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in order to find work. He sent money home and spent money carefully. It was important for him to become independent first. With his natural talent, brilliant mind, and focused hard work, Henry quickly rose in the ranks of the design world in Hong Kong, becoming a designer of the Hong Kong Television Broadcasting company, the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Cartoon Association, and a lecturer at the First Institute of Art and Design where he gave lectures on TV graphic, illustration, cartoon and general art.

Although his design work enabled him to continue fine-tuning his artistic abilities, he soon felt limitations on his potential growth as an artist. With his wife, Flora, he immigrated to Canada in 1988 choosing Toronto as their landing point simply because it was closest to New York City and it would give him more opportunity to explore Western art. He decided that in Canada, he would no longer work in design – it was his time to become a fine artist and an art teacher.

The change of environment and transition in career was very difficult.

Henry spoke of a despairing moment when he lay down in a corner after teaching young children who had crawled all over him and he remembered how in Hong Kong he used to teach university- and college-level students. This moment led to a profound understanding: “When you realize that no one is going to push you anymore and you still want to do it, that’s when you know that it is truly your passion,” Henry admitted. When he reached the pinnacle of a design career in Hong Kong, he felt there was no more room to be original. In Canada, he had enormous space, but he also needed to develop personal discipline to remain faithful to his artistic vocation.

At the age of 60 and after several exhibitions in Canada and China, Henry believes he is finally ready to create his masterpieces. His next project for an exhibition in China is to paint life-sized horses in the Chinese brush and ink style. Using paintbrushes the size of mops and large swaths of xuan zi (rice paper), Henry says that his art has taken decades to train for. He practiced Tai Chi for 30 years to develop the strength, force and power in his body to skilfully manoeuvre the brush, as well as the spiritual connection he experiences when he creates art. Henry also studied art theory, both Chinese and Western styles, in Canadian universities so that he could have the language to articulate his creative expression.

As an art teacher, Henry has taught hundreds of students, some who have become artists themselves. Henry’s teaching philosophy is simple: “I need to do it. I need to help others do it.” Even though my vocation was not to become an artist, Henry’s way of living and his artistic lifestyle have been deeply ingrained into my life. To spend time meditating in solitude, to recognize the inherent beauty and aesthetic grace around myself, to enjoy art in its creation and created form – these are my teacher’s gifts that enrich my quality of life.

According to Henry, the greatest hindrance to an artist is not failure, but rather, success.
“When people begin to admire your art and many people buy it, will you still paint for yourself or will you paint for others?” Henry asks. Henry’s vision for himself as artist is much grander—to enter into the history of art.
As we can see, he is well on his way.

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