10 questions with’ mural artist Alana Tsui

Mural artist Alana Tsui paints a mural at the entrance of Hong Kong's new urban-chic residential building The Mercury (photo: curtesy of the artist)

For the past eight years, New Zealand-born Alana Tsui has been making murals around New York City and Hong Kong, turning what was originally born as a hobby into a successful career in the art world. Her customised works are now recognisable by their monochromatic theme, bold patterns and hidden details.

By definition, a “mural” is simply an artwork directly applied on a wall or a ceiling. But from its Mexican origins to the graffiti movement, there is much more to this art than the eye can catch at first sight.

Tsui’s latest works are two personalised murals for The Mercury Hong Kong in Tin Hau, a recently inaugurated New York-inspired serviced residential building that embodies the finest global urban-chic trends. As murals have been gaining momentum over the past few years, we talked to her to discuss her works and ask her some of the things you always wanted to know about mural painting.

Tell us more about your partnership with The Mercury. What’s the inspiration behind the artworks?

For the first mural on the rooftop, given the stunning view of the harbour, I wanted to focus on elements of water, fish and sunset with an iconic Hong Kong component, which are the junks that are all brought together with swirls found in my patterns. To keep it soothing and easy on the eye but still full of meticulous details, I added the bright fiery phoenix right in front of the sunset. As in Chinese Feng Shui practice, the phoenix symbolises harmony and luck, therefore, with this powerful feature right in the middle of the mural, I wish to bring great peace and prosperity to The Mercury building.

Moving on to the inspiration for the second mural on the ground floor, I wanted it to still bear a connection to the rooftop piece and be a social media photo opportunity that will bring people to the building. To link it with the main Phoenix feature, I decided to do a pair of bold long wings filled with my patterns that also include elements of fish and water. I made it sort of interactive for people: they can stand in front of it for photos with the wings stretched high up and coming out from behind them as if it were lifting them up.

What is it like to make customised art based on your clients’ requests?

Customised art designs are great, I love being able to satisfy my clients’ requests as long as it’s in line with my style of work.

How did you get into mural painting?

I moved to New York from New Zealand when I was 21, right after I graduated from university, and the walls of my room in my first apartment were a dull grey-green. I asked my landlord if I could paint it white and got through three walls before running out of paint for the fourth and final wall, so I started doodling with the remaining paint and before I knew it, a whole mural came out.

It was so much fun that I immediately fell in love with mural painting, as I never had the freedom to express my art on such a large scale on the walls when I was living with my parents. From that moment, I got more paint and I painted on my other walls whenever I was bored at home. I posted photos on Facebook and soon people started messaging me asking me to paint for them.

Tsui's rooftop mural at The Mercury (photo: curtesy of the artist)

How would you describe your artistic style?

Bold patterns that flows with meticulous details and clean line work. My works also often have hidden objects and elements from a theme intertwined in it.

For people who are not familiar with mural painting, what are the main techniques that you use?

I do all my murals with a paintbrush, focusing on the clean brush strokes.

Are there hidden elements in your murals that allude to less obvious themes?

Being born and raised in New Zealand, the traditional Maori patterns are a subtle influence in the style of all my art.

How’s the street art scene in New Zealand and how would you compare it to Hong Kong’s?

I have not lived in New Zealand for almost nine years now, so it is hard for me to compare. But from what I remember growing up, the street art scene was very old school with a hip-hop vibe, it was mostly graffiti tags done by street artists in crews.

Tsui often incorporates elements of Maori art in her pieces (photo: curtesy of the artist)

Who’s your inspiration?

I find inspiration in everything, especially from traveling so it is not really a particular person.

You’ve previously collaborated with many fashion brands, what’s your relationship with the industry? Is fashion also a passion of yours?

I graduated with a Fashion Design Degree and I was a full-time fashion stylist for HYPEBEAST when I first moved to Hong Kong before I became a freelance mural artist and stylist. To this day, I still work closely with different fashion brands in styling and content creation.

How do you select the pieces that you share on your Instagram page and how important is it for a young artist to have a presence on social media?

My Instagram is a lifestyle feed that represents me. I only work with brands that I genuinely like and I think with the growth of social media, it is a great platform for young artists to share their work. I don’t think it is necessary to have a large presence but it definitely does help.

Follow Alana on Instagram 

In this Story: #culture / #art & design