Muralist Alana Tsui brings a singular artistic aesthetic to urban spaces and in doing so creates value that’s hard to measure.
Alana Tsui has always been a doodler, always creating something. A native New Zealander currently based in New York, she initially started down a fashion design path since it runs in the family. But the increasingly digital focus in learning design led her elsewhere. “When I began my studies, fashion designs were still hand drawn,” she begins, sitting in Savills’ boardroom. “But by the time I graduated the whole industry was taken over by technology. Everyone was sitting in front of a computer, and that just wasn’t me. I like the tactile side; I like to draw. It’s just a different feel, so I moved on to styling.”
Styling, and eventually content creation, took her to Hong Kong for four years to work with Hypebeast, later stumbling upon creative murals when she relocated to New York and lived in a flat with dull grey walls. Unable to stand the grimness, she decided to repaint. “I got through three walls and I ran out of paint, so I started doodling on the fourth. A whole mural appeared out of that doodle. I found this to be fun, therapeutic and very creative.” A few Facebook snapshots later together with some word of mouth referrals found Alana as a muralist by career.
Since then, Alana has completed art for the opening of Thompson Hotels’ boutique Gild Hall in Manhattan, WeWork’s Causeway Bay office, Cross Café in Sai Ying Pun and Bobby’s Rabble on Peel Street among others, and now her first serviced apartment in Hong Kong. Art, design, fashion and real estate are increasingly crossing over and are “more connected than ever,” for her. She also sees the likelihood of the trend sticking around as cafés, offices and retailers are finding ways to distinguish themselves from each other.
Alana’s latest pieces are two murals in the forthcoming The Mercury serviced apartment in Tin Hau. These two works are among her biggest jobs to date. The mural featured in the resident’s lounge on the rooftop has a rare inclusion of colour. “The Mercury was very open to what I had in mind; it was all up to me. I wanted to give them something they could relate to,” she notes. The result is a 14-metre wide half wall that exploits the building’s harbour views and sunset lighting. The images incorporate water and all its associated elements to give the picture a Hong Kong twist. “I didn’t want it to be too aggressive. People would be relaxing on the rooftop,” she explains. “I included some of the more local elements, the junk, for example, and the feng shui phoenix for luck and prosperity.” At the ground floor entrance the intensely “wearable” and Instagrammable four-metre wings are ideal for The Mercury’s overall profile. “I took the long, stretched out wings of the phoenix from the roof downstairs — it still has the water and the patterns that relate — and it’s got a hashtag.”
Bespoke art and design have become crucial elements in everything from advertising and marketing, to retailing, dining, hospitality and offices. Meaningful or eye-catching art has an intangible value that is priceless for its ability to give space personality. The crowds that gather beside G.O.D on Graham Street or stop and snap a picture of the Madera Hotel’s wall size Hollywood icons are testament to that.
“In New York artists are hired to paint murals directly on billboards,” states Alana. “It’s more interesting to look at, it’s more organic, more personal, and more expressive than a poster.”
Alana is keen to continue applying her signature monochrome wall art to both private and public spaces, but finding the right design for any given context is the key. “I’m open to anything. Everything I do is within my style but I love working with different ideas, themes, and elements that push me to another level with my designs” she comments. She’s also flirting with muralling beyond conventional spaces such as restaurant interiors and hotel exteriors. “I’m trying to do more live paintings. I [paint] very fast and I enjoy it,” she explains. Her murals have an urban aesthetic that gives her work a cohesive look. Alana is also interested in merging street culture and music with painting. She points to the redevelopments in Brooklyn and the Hong Kong Wall murals she completed in Sham Shui Po as examples. There are also opportunities to work on outdoor festivals that lend themselves to spontaneous art — like Coachella, Glastonbury and, perhaps, Clockenflap. “The idea of murals is not very common yet but I can see spaces where murals could enhance them.”