French artist Elsa Jean de Dieu was sidetracked from moving to New York by Hong Kong more than 10 years ago. After a month, she was compelled to stay here. As a trained ‘peintre décorateur’ (special painter), Elsa creates textured interiors for retail, hotels and restaurants, but in recent years she has extended her talents to street art — you’ll spy her painterly, feminine murals adorning walls in Central, Uma Nota restaurant on Peel Street. The accomplished muralist talks to us about her love for Hong Kong, and the evolution of street art in her adopted city.and Sai Ying Pun, with one of the most recognisable being the laughing woman outside
Hong Kong is reflected in all my work. I started running because of Hong Kong and I’m glad — whenever I’m running I look at the colour of nature and I always bring nature elements to my artwork so it’s very happy, authentic, green, flowery.
The first mural I did was for Uma Nota (Brazilian-Japanese restaurant on Peel Street). When I was working, I could see people watching me, all smiling and I was so happy. It’s a happy artwork — she’s smiling – and I could tell that the artwork was talking to the people.
I don’t speak Cantonese but I’ve had the most amazing experiences with the old people working on the streets — particularly in my favourite neighbourhood, Sheung Wan, which is a friendly community. They come up to me, smile to me and check my work everyday. Through my artwork we have an amazing connection; we don’t talk the same language, but the universal language is happiness. They recognise me now. As a foreigner painting outside makes me feel part of the community.
When I first moved here there was very little street art, it changed in 2014 because of Bibo (restaurant that was in Sheung Wan at the time), whose French owner brought in artists like Banksy, Vhils, Space Invader and other famous artists who came to Hong Kong to create works for the inside [of Bibo], and they did artworks elsewhere in the city.
Today, street art brings a different kind of tourist; people travel to Hong Kong to just see the street art. Instagram is amazing for us artists, it’s really powerful as people see your work and travel. I think within two years Hong Kong will be different again and will have a stronger identity in terms of art.
Tai Kwun is amazing! M+ too... I think it’s good that Hong Kong is changing culturally. And PMQ I think is really good. It was the first time we had something more creative, unique and not so commercial like all the big global brands. The city is going back to its heritage, it’s more cultural, which is good.