I live in Causeway Bay, by the sea. From the rooftop of my twenty-story building there are some incredible views towards Central and Kowloon, with the beautiful Perfumed Harbor in between. I have lived in this apartment block for more than a decade and, until a few years ago, I used to visit the rooftop pretty often and as I pleased. I would simply hang out and take in the breathtaking scenery, thinking how lucky I was to live in such a great city. At times we tend to forget. Sometimes I would just spend a couple of hours there playing guitar. I used to perform “dirty tasks” up there such as varnishing. This activity could be very tricky if performed in a small Hong Kong apartment artist’s studio because of the fumes, and because those chemical products can really mess up a wooden floor.
Later on they decided to install an alarm system to the metal door leading to the roof. Apparently the roof space was not for public use, and would only be opened to residents during the fireworks, which happen three times per year – and only under the close supervision of the housekeepers. During a heated committee meeting I tried to retain the access to the roof I felt I should be entitled to. My stance was that I had used it for five or six years without causing any trouble or damage, and I was, “Celebrating our beautiful city.” Well, unfortunately, I lost my case. For my varnishing endeavors I could only use a dark, narrow, enclosed alley instead. This space also belonged to the building, apparently. Diligently, I followed this guideline for the next three years. The alley was infested with rats and cockroaches. Three cats that, I believe, were not doing their job properly also lived there. Or they were simply outnumbered by the rodents. Despite the circumstances, I’ve varnished many pieces in that shithole – please forgive my language but it’s hard to find a more fitting description. Every now and then I had to remove the dead body of an unlucky roach that had either committed suicide or simply gotten stuck to the deadly protective layer. I write this to make you understand that the life of an artist can be tough sometimes. The only reward to working down there is having easy access to a nice latte at the next-door 18 Grams, my favorite coffee shop in the Kong. It’s literally a hole in the wall where I have been a regular for ages.
A couple of years ago the committee and its president changed and I decided that enough was enough. I stood up for myself and proudly reclaimed my rights to the roof, and I was re-granted permission as long as I notified the housekeepers when I began and when I was done so that they could switch off and on the alarm and be sure everything was fine. After such a long wait those views are even more breathtaking and Hong Kong looks more beautiful than ever. On a sunny and slightly windy morning I would go to the roof and varnish or resin a big piece, leaving it to dry in the open air before recollecting it at night. The process is still hard though and I, without fail, make sure I reward myself with one of those lattes down at 18 Grams.
Francesco Lietti visited Hong Kong for the first time when en-route to Sydney from London overland. Instantly, he fell in love with the city, mesmerized by its vibrancy and beauty. The pull of Hong Kong proved too strong to resist and he was drawn to return and stay since early 2006. When not painting in his studio, Francesco is probably riding his motorbike on the hills trying to catch a new view or travelling across Asia in search of inspiration.