“My son is very much at ease when he is in nature. He’d talk to trees and insects.”
I met the painter Lok Yee Suen a few years ago. Over the years, we often lose touch with each other but we always manage to re-connect.
Lok Yee used to paint faces and naked bodies a lot, and they are mostly abstract; somehow it made me wonder if it’s because she can see that unique aspect of the objects that are not visible to us. Her painting career has been on hiatus for a few years since her son was born. What comes often is the news of how she spends her days with her son in the woods. As they live near the water and mountains, those places become their playground during the day. On occasion, they would wander around the village exploring. A day at home could be fun too. They would read, draw, and craft together. Even the most ordinary thing can be interesting when you are with a child. “Except for eating and sleeping that have to be repeated every day, each day is unique to us.”
“My son is a fearless one. Even if we visit somewhere new and strange, he’d always be the first to go around and explore. There are so many little things like that which made me realize my son has a true connection with nature.” The day-to-day adventures with her son in the woods became an inspiration, and by adding a personal touch and a bit of imagination, her first picture book The Secret of Trees eventually came into shape. In this book, Lok Yee adopts the idea of tree spirits, which is actually a tribute paid to her favorite Japanese animation Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki. In the animation, the tree spirits are the best friends of the earth. They appear when the flowers bloom and the trees flourish. “This picture book is not just for children, but also for adults.” The grown-ups might have forgotten about their connection with nature, but for the children, every little thing on earth sparkles.
Lok Yee told me that when she first became a mother, the change of identity made her feel very lost. “In the beginning, I had no time and energy to paint. To a certain extent, I felt that I was incomplete and dissatisfied. I wanted to be able to paint again so badly. Because painting is so important to me. It’s a way to release emotions, a replay of memories, and a dialogue with myself. It’s meditation.” Her son “becomes a teacher who loves me, inspires me, and teaches me to live in the present.”
As her son grew older, she started painting again. “I can’t paint like I used to anymore. What I have experienced over the years have changed how I think and see things. I am no longer the same. The paintings I did at different stages of life reflect a different me. I used to struggle a lot because of these differences. I wanted to paint like I used to. But now, I’ve learnt to accept the different me. After all, these are my paintings. What I draw now is still part of me.”
Maybe this is what living in the present is about. Right now, right here.
Lok Yee is still painting and doing what she loves. It’s her family and the four cats at home that give her the comfort and support she needs. Getting up every day, having your feet on the ground, running around with your child under the bright sunlight; it’s days like these that would keep your head up during the darkest time.
這裡預訂《樹的秘密》繪本 / Contact Lok Yee to order your copy of The Secret of Trees.