It was February in Paris. The plan was to spend three days in the Montparnasse Cemetery. There was one day with rain, the temperature was low. However, instead of bleakness, there was an unexpected sense of warmth.
The reckless web of tree branches, words inscribed on the tombstones, and the statues in eternal silence… When making sketches of this place with a red colored pencil, Wong realized he was, in fact, illustrating a reflection of his state of mind. He then had the sketches published in Where She Sleeps after returning home from the trip.
Wong Sze Chit is an illustrator from Hong Kong who is as well the co-founder of the local independent bookshop “Book B”. Before setting off for his trip to France in February 2017, he had already decided to spend three days in a row in Montparnasse Cemetery, which is the final resting place of one of his favorite writers, Marguerite Duras. Wong always enjoys strolling around in cemeteries. Few years ago, he also visited Kafka’s tomb in the Czech Republic.
“I started those days at 9 am. I would walk to the cemetery while nibbling on my bread. When I arrived and settled down, I would tell myself, ‘Okay, let’s not think about anything particular today.’ There is nothing that I really needed to draw, I would only sit down when I wanted to draw.” These few days have ended up teaching him another technique of drawing — honesty.
“I would say, those sceneries have gone directly into me. I simply drew what I saw without even trying to think. I required myself to be very direct. Just let things look tilted if that was the case. When emotion was added to the scenery, even the still images would become dynamic. This is because your heart was shaking, your disturbed mind would make the world vibrate.” Not thinking at all is sometimes even more powerful than willpower. Subconsciousness is a latent force in one’s mind that continuously grows until it becomes an actual power that affects one’s body and soul.
“A few years ago, I wrote in my diary, ‘I am afraid of getting old.’ I did not mean getting weak physically. I was talking about how the mind and the soul would deteriorate and cease to think or to feel. This was my true fear. Drawing has always been rescuing me from falling into the state of being shattered or rotten.” Such feeling of liberation is not necessarily connected to happiness, rather it is some kind of preparation for the future. Sometimes things just fold out like a scratch-off lotto game, it looks easy enough but you just never get to win.
Wong Sze Chit never received any training in drawing. For exactly this reason, he does not really feel constrained. To him, the content is far more important than mere skills. “Books are usually published to convey a certain kind of message. But this book basically does not carry any message, which is something that I like in particular. Such form is similar to the cemetery. All the bygones were buried and they no longer flow.”
He deliberately waited until the last day to visit Duras’s grave — which is a tombstone lying flat on the ground with a flower pot sitting on top. Inside the pot are a plant and many pens in the soil. “I believe many people would leave their pens and pencils in the pot. Although my pencil was still usable on the last day, I left it there as a gift for her. She was the reason for me to visit the cemetery, but at the end, it did not seem to matter. I was at her grave at dusk, I sat in front of her grave for a little while after putting my pencil in the pot. When I turned to leave, I was greeted by a wonderful sunset. This memory is still very vivid until now. It was such a great feeling, as if I have gained peace after achieving something. After feeling lost for such a long time, peace finally came back to me.”
Like finding yourself afloat in the air, failing to keep your feet on the ground. When you felt all this effort of trying to reach the ground would go in vain, there you returned to the ground again. It does not matter if you float into the air again, you will still be back someday.