Interview: Graffiti artist and illustrator Cath Love on her new gallery in Sai Ying Pun

Hong Kong artist Catherine Grossrieder, AKA Cath Love, holds the key to a gallery.

Well, it’s not exactly a key. It’s a remote control to unlock the door to what was, until recently, a stationery store at the west end of Third Street in Sai Ying Pun.

It now grants entry to Club Third, an exhibition and studio space set to open on Friday with an event showcasing the artist’s most well-known character, Jeliboo, whose curvaceous cartoon contours can be seen spray painted across the city.

The small set of buttons represents something big. This, you see, is her gallery, leased with a partner, Maggie Chiu, about two months ago.

And, just like the transition from a freelance artist to the role of running the show, the remote control’s taking some getting used to.

“When I first started using it, I kept locking the door instead of opening it,” says Grossrieder, as a handyman arrives. “It’s all been very fast — it’s coming together really quickly.”

Club Third in SYP.
Club Third in SYP.

Grossrieder’s prominence grew with graffiti and illustrations infused with her love of hip hop aesthetics and cartoon quirk, twisted into surreal characters, subtle subversive themes, and pop culture parodies.

Her sought-after work, according to some, successfully captured the city’s East-West zeitgeist, which is good because we were anxious at the thought of the zeitgeist roaming free around the streets.

But back to the gallery, where on a recent afternoon, after unlocking the door almost seamlessly for Coconuts HK, she spoke about making the move to management, her vision for the space, and the life and times of Jeliboo.

A starting point, it seems, is her own experience growing up in a city as the daughter of Swiss-Thai parents.

Long feeling like an outsider at home, Grossrieder says her vision is to make the gallery a home to such outsiders, a space dedicated to the work and perspective of emerging “third culture” artists.

“Even though I’m not really into that term, that’s what I am and I’m hoping the philosophy of this gallery resonates with those of the same background,” says the 34-year-old.

“It’s basically, you’re from Hong Kong, but you’re not really from Hong Kong — and I think that stance gives you a different perspective.”

Artist Catherine Grossrieder with the noodle-slurping Jeliboo on Ladder Street. Pic: Coconuts HK
Artist Catherine Grossrieder with the noodle-slurping Jeliboo on Ladder Street. Photo: Coconuts HK

And while the vision channels Grossrieder’s background of developing a niche amid a culture clash, the impetus of founding the gallery stems directly from the struggles of working as an artist in Hong Kong, a city where some of the most exclusive auction houses cater to wealthy collectors as local creatives try and make ends meet.

“This is a gallery that also came out of the frustration of not having a space,” says Grossrieder, noting Friday’s event will be only her second exhibition, coming some four years after the first.

“We have been waiting for a long time to have another show, and we could never find a space. That’s why this just worked out.”

Courtesy Catherine Grossrieder
Courtesy Catherine Grossrieder

The quick transition to a gallery owner, though, has also been eye-opening in another way. On one hand, there’s the workload — tackling the tasks of administration, marketing, setting up — but, on the other, there’s also the need to network and manage relationships, particularly with fellow artists who are seeking a space to showcase their work.

“I’m on the other side now, I used to be just an artist, but now I’m curating and partially own a gallery.”

“Now that I’m on this end, I have to be careful and much more diplomatic, I have to check myself. Because I get it now, when galleries were like ‘sorry we can’t take you’ … that’s them being nice.”

And while she hopes to start taking on artists soon, the first show, at least, will star Grossrieder — or, perhaps more accurately, her alter ego, the buxom and “bouncy,” large and lovable Jeliboo.

Courtesy Catherine Grossrieder
Courtesy Catherine Grossrieder

Created four years ago in a moment of inspiration brought on by a strenuous yoga session, the character has become “more fine tuned” and more pronounced as she’s shapeshifted over the years, says Grossrieder.

Since those early days, Jeliboo picked up a toy rabbit sidekick (Percy Fluffybottoms) and together, they’ve appeared as numerous incarnations that play on pop culture imagery and comedic everyday observations — as Cholos, C-3PO and R2-D2, rocking pink Juicy Couture sweat suits, and as stand-ins for Botticelli’s subjects in The Birth of Venus.

She is an extension of the artist with a life of her own.

So, as Grossrieder moves on to the next stage of her career, what will become of her creation?

“There are so many more to come. Sure, she’s special, and I can draw her many times, but I’ve got to think it through — what’s worth the effort, and what’s not. As an artist, you always evolve without knowing … and who knows if this is her final look.”

It’s A Little Jeliboo Party: The Exhibition! will be held at Club Third on Friday, Oct 26. The exhibition will run until November 17. The artist’s Instagram can be found at @cathloverosatwo

Shop 2, G/F Fook On Building, 192 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun

Courtesy Catherine Grossrieder

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