Listen to your heart

There are moments in life when we can identify with Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Le Petit Prince. As the most read and translated work of literature ever, the classic novella holds a special place in its readers’ hearts.

“What’s special about Le Petit Prince is that we learn something different – something profound and meaningful – every time we read the novella,” said illustrator Steven Choi.

For him, the book embodies the innocence of childhood, a deja vu of adolescence and an enlightened heart after growing up, and this has given him a brand-new interpretation of the novella. His favorite part of the classic is something the fox tells the prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

That is the theme Choi expresses through his illustrations in the Le Petit Prince – Le Havre at Gallery by the Harbour, which runs until February 21. In all of them, the prince’s eyes are closed to better perceive everything with his heart.

Although highly acclaimed for his fantastical style, Choi, who is the first Chinese artist officially authorized to illustrate a Le Petit Prince picture book, incorporated his own unique style into the illustrations.

While conducting his research, he realized that Le Petit Prince’s fantastic and dreamy image has been deeply ingrained into the general public, which led him to think about a new, original way of interpreting the novella. So he returned to where he first started: rereading the classic and researching the author’s life.

During a visit to Japan, he happened to see Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi’s work and was deeply affected by his “space-transcending emotional penetration.”

In Choi’s words, the fierce determination and profound emotion portrayed in a clean picture are perfect for a new version of Le Petit Prince.

In the over 30 artworks that illustrate the prince’s everyday life while wandering around the galaxy, the backgrounds are usually clean and ethereal, offering a soulful refuge. While using bright and clear acrylic colors, Choi uses dry brushes to add grey hues to the scene, giving a retro and melancholic feeling that draws people in.

Many of his artworks also come with hidden metaphors. For example, the color of the prince’s scarf changes from the classic yellow to red as he leaves planet B612, which portrays his lingering desire for Rose, who grows in size as her ego does.

The exhibition also premieres a brand new sequel to Le Petit Prince.

New characters, such as adorable little foxes, are introduced, all of which are an extension of the imagery and relationships found in the classic.

One of the most eye-catching works, Cape of Love, reveals new elements Choi blended into the classic tale – personifying the prince’s most beloved rose as a fair lady for the first time ever.

In their reunion, the lovers’ moving story continues, with the rose leaving the planet to search for the prince and feeling what love is. The rose also experiences human emotions and understands how to express love by becoming an earthling.

Choi’s favorite work is Tiger and Snow, which depicts a warm and romantic scene of the prince and the fox facing each other in a desert under a meteor shower.

Inspired by a plot in the Italian film The Tiger and the Snow, where the lovers get together when a tiger appears in a snowy Italian city, the seemingly absurd scene was used by Choi to say we must be hopeful.

“The present may seem bleak, but we must find hope for our souls,” said Choi. “Hopefully, visitors will feel happier and healed after viewing the exhibition.”

(This article was published at The Standard on February 5, 2021: Weekend Glitz: Listen to your heart )

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