On Oscar yi Hou

On Oscar yi Hou

Oscar yi Hou (b. 1998, Liverpool, UK) is a Brooklyn-based figurative painter exploring queer subjectivity, relationships, language and East Asian iconography and symbolism. Yi Hou was recently selected as the UOVO prize winner with an upcoming exhibition opening at the Brooklyn Museum October 14, 2022. East of sun, west of moon will be on view through September 17, 2023. An opening talk and celebration with the artist will take place October 20th, 2022 from 7-9pm at the Brooklyn Museum. 


On the occasion of this special exhibition, ART FOR CHANGE is excited to take a closer look at the inspiration behind Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den (2022), an edition of 25 unique hand-embellished prints that launched earlier this year to benefit the Brooklyn Museum.


Please inquire with hello@artforchange.com regarding further availability.

In his own words: Oscar yi Hou’s Three Perfections

My practice can be seen as embodying my own iteration of the Chinese tradition of the "Three Perfections"—the classical combination of poetry, calligraphy, and painting within a single visual work. “ — Oscar yi Hou 


The “Three Perfections” represent the unity of poetry, calligraphy and painting, encompassed in the high esteem that calligraphy has held in Chinese culture since the dynastic periods. Practicing calligraphy is considered one of the highest representations of the self for many Chinese artists and philosophers working before even 200 BCE. Here, emphasis, meaning, and energy are wrought from not only the sentiment, but also the pressure between strokes and the path of the characters across the page—fusing poetry with the visual arts. Confucian scholar, Yang Xiong (53 BCE - 18 ACE) shared: 


Speech is the voice of the mind; writing is the delineation [hua: painting or picture] of the mind. When this voice and delineation take form, the princely man and the ignoble man are revealed.


Oscar yi Hou’s works unify poetry, calligraphy and painting to build upon the tradition translated through a first-generation, diasporic perspective. Playing with polysemic symbols and various cultural ephemera, the artist grapples with questions of identity and expression through densely packed, highly detailed compositions that continue to unfold across a diversity of contexts. Ranging from five pointed stars and cowboy hats, to illustrations of fawning cranes and raging bulls, Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den embodies a ripe example of the visual language the artist has built over the last few years of his practice—only enhanced by the artist’s expressive, painted hand-embellishments.


In film: The World of Suzie Wong (1960) dir. Richard Quine

 Nancy Kwan in The World of Suzie Wong 1960 dir. Richard Quine

Nancy Kwan in The World of Suzie Wong, Paramount Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Image source.



Building from his contemporary interpretation of the Three Perfections, Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den speaks to the heroine and love interest of The World of Suzie Wong, an adaptation of the popular Richard Mason novel from 1957. The 1960 film directed by Richard Quine stars a young Nancy Kwan in the titular role. Following the romance between a Wan Chai girl working in the Nam Kok Hotel in Hong Kong and a penniless American painter who takes residence there during a one-month sojourn. 

The award-winning film paints a one-dimensional, fetishistic portrait of female desire and Cantonese culture in a battle between love and shame undergirded by the racial dynamics of Great Britain’s influence before the handover of the island nation to China. Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den is a sensuous rejection of the film’s gender and racial expectations, revering lesbian homoeroticism between the work’s East Asian trans subject and her partner.


In person: Queer desire and painting from life

“No man is an island. Like everyone else, artists should strive to enact the most social good they can.” — Oscar yi Hou

Oscar yi Hou’s subjects are a critical part of his practice, with his subjects being close friends, lovers, acquaintances and more who have impacted the artist’s life. Each of the portraits included in Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den reveal a sense of care, saturating the intimate studio or otherwise constructed environment of the sitter with an explosion of symbols and gestures that explode with character around the subject. The characters and archetypes of his subjects embody in their final forms present a unification of the personal with the popular and political that will also be on display in the works in his upcoming show, opening at The Brooklyn Museum on October 14, 2022.



 Oscar yi Hou holding Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den
Oscar yi Hou holding Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den ed. 23


Oscar yi Hou explores queer subjectivity, relation, language, East Asian iconography and symbolism in vivid paintings and drawings that straddle multiple worlds. Sayonara, Suzie Wongs, aka: Out the Opium Den is one of the most mature and enlivened iterations of his practice, making him a rising artist to watch.