“When you ask people why they go to the gym, they say they’re trying to build the body they want. So, technically, that’s a ‘living sculpture’ – and that, for me, is a work of art as well.”
Have you ever considered gymming an “art”? We haven’t exactly thought about it… But before you call it all BS, let us say in defence: a quick search on Google of “is bodybuilding an art” gave us a load of results, including a university thesis on bodybuilding and art; a lovely essay on Vice; and even an article from the New York Times, written in 1975! “What is art” – and what “shouldn’t be” considered art – have been subjects of debate for many centuries. And now, Lynus Woo, a certified personal trainer and Oxford art grad, is here to kindle the conversation in Hong Kong with his first-ever solo exhibition, A Pilgrimage in Colours. While the works displayed in the exhibition are not directly related to bodybuilding, the exhibition itself is being held at REP., Lynus’ own fitness-centre-slash-gallery-space. What’s this crossover about, and how did he arrive at this unique concept? We sat down with Lynus to find out.
Lynus Woo: A pilgrimage in art and gym
Congratulations on your first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Lynus! How did you go into art?
I’ve always liked drawing, but art wasn’t something that really stood out to me until high school, when I was picking my subjects for GCSE. Originally, I had planned to study architecture [in university] as I was keen on design. But after doing various internships and summer courses, I realised architecture wasn’t the thing for me, because I didn’t like the regulatory side of it (say, when a building could only be of a certain height by law, or something). Rather, I enjoyed the creative side of architecture and that, essentially, was art. Art – where there are no restrictions, no right or wrong, and is up to interpretation – is what I’ve chosen to pursue.
What was your experience like studying art at Oxford?
Art became more conceptual for me once I began studying it at university level. Before that, it was more about learning the practical craft, and I was simply painting pretty pictures. But once I got to Oxford, it made me think about why I might want to (or need to) do things in certain ways. Whether it’s painting the background a certain colour, or choosing my tools and media, I started to think more deeply about how to express myself.
In general, I’d say I had a good time at Oxford. Compared to some of my more hardworking peers, I was relatively free-spirited in terms of how I worked. As much as I liked art history, I wasn’t a fan of close-book, academic exams. Nevertheless, studying art at Oxford was, undeniably, a rewarding experience. I came across many different tutors who were all experts in their fields, and they gave great analytical advice. Thanks to them, I realised it’s okay if someone didn’t appreciate my art because, at the end of the day, it’s all about personal taste and preference. Some people would like my art while others wouldn’t understand it at all – and that’s fine. I can still take inspiration and advice from them, without changing the essence of who I am and what my art is.
Why did you choose to settle back in Hong Kong? Is there something about the city that draws you in?
The main reason why I choose to settle back here is because all my friends and family are here. Also, I was born here, and due to this sense of belonging, I want to experience this city as an artist. That said, I realise I can’t just be an artist in Hong Kong, because it’s not a very stable profession, especially when I’m only starting out. So, I decided to be a PT, too. I want to help people via both art and personal training, whether in terms of getting fitter and healthier by exercising, or having the space to destress and reflect by looking at my art.
As for the city itself, Hong Kong’s busy nature draws me in. Though I sometimes prefer the quieter neighbourhoods in Southside, I do like that the city is fast-paced and gives me the opportunity to meet different people. Hong Kong may be small, but it’s fascinating; it’s also very cut-throat, but that’s helped me grow quickly as a person. All in all, I just knew I had to come back to Hong Kong. Moreover, I have this whole space (REP.) now! So, I guess I’m here to stay – at least for now.
Please tell us more about your creative process, such as your inspiration and challenges.
In terms of inspiration, when I look at the works of other artists, I like to see if I can take out certain elements and use them in my art – this is 50% of what I tend to do. The other 50% is from what I experience. I’d say that all my paintings are a diary to me: I paint what I feel; I paint when I’m going through something; and I paint when something key is happening around the world (like Covid). I also take inspiration from people – even my trainees when I’m doing PT.
The biggest challenge for me is time management. As a professional trainer, I have to get up at 4.30am sometimes for a 5am session, followed by my last session being at 9 or 10pm. So, there isn’t really time for me to paint. Even when I make the time to do so, I’m not always in the right mindset. It’s important for me to have the space and time to feel, and think about what I want to paint. In addition, a lot of my work is trial-and-error. I often have several versions of a piece, because I want to rework them, or try a different approach. As a result, making art takes a lot of time, which is why time management can be an issue.
How do you juggle between multiple careers, then – especially now that you’re also kind of an Instagram influencer with over 40k followers?
Monday to Friday: definitely PT. I take my dogs out before I head out in the morning. After I come home, if I have time, I take the dogs out again. The weekend is when I try to paint or, at least, try to find inspiration. Then, I try to help out at animal shelters and adoption days whenever I can, and that’s usually on a Sunday.
Despite having so many followers on Instagram, I only really do social media to spread the word about REP., since it’s my brainchild and a new concept in Hong Kong. Instagram is simply the platform I need to send my message. But, honestly, I’d much rather stay low and do whatever I want…
Is there a piece you’re most satisfied with in this exhibition, and why?
Whenever I get this question, I’d answer that it’s my latest work. Because my art is my journal, my newest works are always the freshest in my mind and I can “feel” them best. My favourites this time are Soul Searching and Undressing. Through these two paintings, I believe that the audience will be able to look deep within themselves and experience the sense of isolation and self-evaluation, which are both themes of this exhibition. Also, I like Non-fungible. It’s… basically how I feel about NFTs. TBH, I’m critical about certain aspects of NFT, but I think it also benefits art in some ways, particularly in the way that it’s generating conversation – that’s what art is about.
What is the relationship between gym (or bodybuilding) and art?
I actually believe that gymming is a kind of art. When you ask people why they go to the gym, they’d say they’re trying to build the body they want. So, technically, that’s a “living sculpture” – and that, for me, is a work of art. A lot of people – whether it’s the people who attend art schools, or most of the general public – tend to be under the impression that art has to be something that can be put on the wall, or displayed in a show. But, even when I walk on the street, I see art around me. For example, how people dress is an art to me, too.
Some of the other similarities I see between bodybuilding and art include the level of dedication and effort we put into both of these things; how they both help me destress (by keeping me away from my phone); and how they’re great ways to communicate with people.
What does success mean to you?
Personally, for now, I think success means being able to help others. I’ve chosen PT as my main job exactly because I enjoy helping people and interacting with them. While I teach and educate my trainees, I’m also learning from them – their stories, their professions… Little by little, I’m learning more about the world, and this is rewarding for me.
What’s next in store for you?
After this exhibition and the formal launch of REP., I’d love to continue displaying art across the space. Whether it’s furniture, installation, performance art, or films, I want REP. to be always transforming – just like our bodies. I hope that visitors will be able to see many different forms of art and have different conversations every time they come by. Ultimately, I’m hoping that my project will go so successfully that I’ll be able to expand it. I believe the concept needs to be in a much bigger space and scale for it to flourish. Somewhere great would be West Kowloon – imagine if there’s a gym in M+!