Adorned with traditional Chinese calligraphy or imagery denoting happiness, prosperity, or good health, red envelopes, hóngbāo, or lai see are one of Chinese New Year’s most recognizable customs. Filled with a monetary amount, the packets—their bright red hues a symbol of fortune and a supposed method for fending off evil spirits—are typically distributed by married couples or older generations to single and young folks, making the holiday an unsurprising hit among Chinese youth.
At the Get Lucky Art Show, however, the stately envelopes will be serving a slightly different purpose: as blank canvases for over 35 local artists, each of them eager to make the striking sleeves their own.
Now in its second year, the free Lunar New Year–themed exhibition asks painters, illustrators, paper cutters, and others to present original art on a series of 9-by-17-centimetre red envelopes. Organized by Pearl Lam and Sylvia Tuason, cofounders of online-event platform District Local, the presentation at Fortune Sound Club (147 East Pender Street) on February 18 aims to highlight the intersection of art and culture in the city while building connections in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown.
More than three dozen artists, including Sandeep Johal, Graeme Zirk, and Moorea Hum-Spensley, are expected to showcase works that range from the abstract to the whimsical to the wildly intricate. All participants are given free rein as long as the red packets are kept in their consistent shape.
“I think they’re such a fun, vibrant canvas,” Lam, who was inspired by a similar exhibition she saw in Brooklyn, New York, during her travels, says of the lai see by phone. “They’re really cute and…it’s kind of a challenge for the artists because it’s a medium that not a lot of them have worked on, so that’s exciting.”
That aspect of Get Lucky was what drew local illustrator Priscilla Yu to the event. “I’ve never done anything on red envelopes before,” she says by phone, “and I’m always looking for an opportunity to paint on different surfaces or make packaging design.”
An artist who’s known around town for her dizzying, heavily geometric paintings and murals, Yu will be designing four sleeves that depict a selection of adorable, dressed-up pups. “One of my New Year’s resolutions is to have more fun,” she reveals, “so I decided, since it’s the Year of the Dog, I could do a bunch of dogs just having a good time.”
Beverly Lim, meanwhile, will be employing traditional Chinese paper-cutting techniques to carve detailed images of a koi, peacock, duck, and various florals directly onto the casings. The artist has attached two packets together in some cases to create a larger visual. “People who purchase it, they can actually use it as an art piece or they can give it to someone as a red envelope,” she says.
All of the decidedly practical art on display will be available for sale during the Get Lucky Art Show for prices that the designers set. (The average price of a lai see last year was $25 to $30, recalls Lam.) Conveniently situated along the route of the Chinese Benevolent Association’s Chinese New Year Parade, which begins at the Chinatown Millennium Gate at 11 a.m. on February 18, the show will also include a dumpling bar by Dickson Li, an exhibit by local illustrator Chairman Ting, and a raffle draw where guests will have the chance to nab prizes from businesses and brands like Kissa Tanto, Native Shoes, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.
In addition, there will be a pop-up marketplace onsite selling a curated selection of locally made treats, apparel, and greenery—items that are traditionally purchased and gifted during Lunar New Year. “In my mind, it’s almost like a Chinatown souvenir shop slash New Year’s flower market,” explains Lam.
For Lam and Tuason—both of whom are of Chinese descent—Get Lucky is an opportunity to preserve and showcase a part of their culture while helping to bridge young and older generations in the city’s sprawling Chinese community. “It’s something we know and it’s in our hearts,” says Lam. “We both grew up here, went to Chinatown as kids. And it’s very much part of our immigrant experience here in Vancouver.”
The Get Lucky Art Show takes place on February 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Fortune Sound Club. See event listing for details.