China Underground > China Trends > Interview with Graffiti Artist Alana Tsui

Interview with Graffiti Artist Alana Tsui

She is a freelance artist specialized in bespoke mural

Alana Tsui is a New Zealand mural artist based in New York. She was born and raised in New Zealand with parents from Hong Kong and Shanghai. She has worked on a multitude of projects besides being a freelancer mural artist, she is a model and an influencer. Alana has a Bachelor of Arts specializing in fashion design. When she moved to New York City, after graduating, Alana flourish as a mural artist due to her talent. Social media were a great jumping board and platform that helped her dive into a mural career. She worked closely with different fashion brands in styling and content creation. Alana has styled for several brands; M.A.C., YSL, TUMI, Lululemon, Lane Crawford, Calvin Klein amongst others. When Alana moved to Hong Kong and painted at WeWork in Causeway Bay, the Cross Cafe in Sai Ying Pun, and many bars and showrooms: she left her print in the city. Alana is passionate about her work and makes customized art mural designs based on clients’ requests s bringing something fresh and always adding her personal style of work. Her murals painting are soothing and at the same time full of meticulous details, bold patterns. Her works can also be recognized by monochromatic themes meaningful and symbolic hidden details. She draws inspiration from everything, especially her travels. Because she was born and raised in New Zealand, she is influenced also by Maori tradition. In her incredible artwork, they can be found also Feng Shui elements and Chinese Calligraphy. She customized and embodies the finest global urban-chic trends also to create around the world hot spots, that will bring people to the places, buildings, or urban areas. Her murals can be also a sort of interactive art that people can use to create a personal portrait as their memory or to share on social media photos.

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Can you tell us a little about you? I read that you graduated with a Fashion Design degree, and you were a full-time fashion stylist for HYPEBEAST when you first moved to Hong Kong. What motivated you to start making art murals? What inspired you to hit the streets?

I was born and raised in New Zealand, after I graduated with a Bachelor of Fashion Design Degree, I moved to New York for a year and a half where I first started painting murals. I was living in a loft apartment in Chinatown at the time with very dull grey walls, so I repainted the room white, but when I got to the fourth wall, I ran out of paint so I just started doodling and a whole mural came out. I loved the freedom of being able to express myself through painting on large scale, it’s a very liberating feeling that I never experienced growing up living at my parents’ house. I started painting all the other walls in my room and posted this on social media. From that, people started asking me to paint for their apartments, offices, etc and the biggest mural I designed and executed was for The Thompson Hotel in Tribecca that year. When my visa ran out, I moved to Hong Kong and stepped away from painting for a while, working full-time for HYPEBEAST as a fashion stylist. Through the street culture community, I was in, I was approached to paint for a couple of companies like Vans, Ecko, Wework and a street art campaign called “Love is Wild: Walls of Change”, alongside some renowned artists such as Shepard Fairey and HOPARE, who inspired me to pursue mural painting full time.

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Mural artist Alana turned what was originally born as a hobby into a successful career.

Where do you find inspiration when starting a new project? What do you want to communicate with your artwork?

My inspiration is always evolving. Influenced by my surroundings and different stages of life, I do find that I am naturally more drawn to patterns and monochromatic tones which is prevalent in my style of artwork. I strive to create pieces that exhibit a complex balance of clean, fluid, and intricate line work that is at once organic yet captivating, with hidden elements integrated within, to bring in new dimensions to each artwork.

How long do you generally spend on a mural work, considering also the planning aspect?

It varies from mural to mural depending on the size and the intricacy of the design. I generally spend a few days to a week on the initial design to show the client, if it gets approved right away then I would move on painting but if they want changes then we would go back and forth, which can go on for a few weeks until we get the design locked down. As for the actual execution of painting the mural, it also varies from a short few days to a week but I usually paint pretty fast.

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She does a lot of different murals focusing on clean brush strokes. Alana loves to work on large-scale murals. Her artistic style shows a balance of tidied, bold, and fluid line work that is at once organic patterns that flows with meticulous details

Do you have any preferred surface? What media do you currently most enjoy working with?

A smooth surface always helps so the paint can glide on evenly without me having to go over the lines numerous times, but I have become comfortable working on all sorts of surfaces over the years from concrete walls, wood, bricks to metal grates. For precision in my linework, I prefer to paint with paintbrushes and house paint for more control.

 

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How would you describe your ideal working environment? How do you see and feel the project blend into its surrounding space? Do you have a wish list of places where would you like to go to create new murals artworks?

I always like to go for a site visit and meet the client before starting the design process so I can really get a feel for the space in person, to ensure the style of artwork fits. My ideal working environment would simply be a well-prepared wall that is clean, with the base prepped and any cracks and holes to be repaired before I begin my work. I also like to paint for hours on end when I get in the zone, so it’s best when I have 24 hours of access to the space. I do not have a specific wish list of places I’d like to create murals for, I am open to everything and like to paint for a variety of clients, businesses, and projects to expand and push my own boundaries. However, I do wish to paint in every country I visit, to spread my art globally, and to be able to add more businesses and addresses of my murals to the treasure map for my REAL FACE NFT holders as a part of the utility of owning one of my NFTs, offering them special deals and exclusive access to each place. Please check out www.realfacenft.io for more info on my NFT series I have just launched with 7753 unique pieces – 1 in a million for the 7.753 billion people on the planet.

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Alana’s art has always been designed to inspire, bring light, and have positive messages to the masses

What were the biggest challenges when making murals? What about the unexpected situations during work on a mural? Do you have a nightmare painting story?

It’s mostly the outdoor murals that may have more complications as the quality of the exterior wall could be in bad shape, or the painting timeline could be interfered with by the weather. The most challenging job I did was the two-story wings mural for The Mercury serviced apartments in Hong Kong. I flew over from New York to paint, but there was a typhoon during those few days I was in town. So we ended up having to drape a massive plastic tarp over me and the boom lift so I could paint without being rained on. It was like a boiler room under the cover and I was also not able to step back to look at it, so I freehand-painted the whole symmetrical design, hoping for the best, that it would turn out even and in proportion. It wasn’t until I fully finished and we took the cover off for the unveiling of the mural in front of photographers and journalists that I also got to see it in full scale for the first time myself. It was pretty nerve-wracking but luckily it turned out how I envisioned it in the end.

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From New Zealand to Hong Kong and New York. How’s the street art scene? Which are the biggest advantages, which are the main differences you have found?

My mural painting career started after I left New Zealand, so I have much more experience in the street art scene in New York and Hong Kong. Despite that, I have been fortunate enough to still have painted a few murals each time I have gone back to New Zealand to visit my family over the years. Both New York and Hong Kong are unique and inspiring in their own ways, obviously, the street art scene in New York is much more established with some of the most legendary street artists. The amount of ever-changing murals to see, especially in Brooklyn is astonishing, there’s always something new to discover. Whereas Hong Kong’s street art scene has grown dramatically over the last few years, showcasing some of the best local and international artists’ work in a much more compact environment, and once you throw a couple of murals up on the walls, it’s pretty easy to get noticed in the scene.

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How does living in international cities, with different cultures have influenced the development of your artistic career?

It has definitely broadened my vision of being a full-time artist by being immersed in such creative and art-driven communities, in these large cities with endless opportunities. I have also found the different cultures to have influenced the style of my artwork along the way, as I started with the Pacific Island style of patterns but when I moved to Hong Kong and got more in touch with my Asian roots, my style evolved to incorporate Chinese calligraphy-like strokes, and the designs became integrated with a lot of Asian influenced elements such as koi fish, lotus flowers and Phoenix birds.

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What do you see as the role of street art in society?

Streetart is much more acceptable these days as an art form on its own rather than seeing it as graffiti or vandalism. Hand-painted murals are used for advertising, bringing a certain aesthetic into spaces to make them “Instagrammable” to help businesses get noticed. A lot of the time street art is used to convey a certain positive message, to bring awareness to current affairs in society, which has been very effective as it’s able to capture the audiences’ attention in a more fun and visual way.

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Racist episodes towards people of Asian origin have been in focus following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. You had worked on a mural focused on Stop Discrimination against Asian people. Can you tell us more about it?

There was a heightened period of time when Asian people were being threatened for being out and about in New York City, I am sure in other areas/countries too but from what I experienced, New York Chinatown was highly affected, safety-wise and with many businesses closing down. MuralsforGood is a non-profit organization that works with local mural artists to beautify the city, using the power of public art to promote equality, inclusion, and belonging. They approached me to do a mural for a Macaron business that was reopening after a long period of being closed down during covid. I was honored to be a part of such a good cause, they also had a program working with the youth from Carnegie Hall to get them off the streets by having them onsite painting with the artists. It was a very meaningful piece to raise awareness against racism towards Asians, something I have gone through all my life, as it was something I experienced growing up in New Zealand too.

Photo courtesy of Alana Tsui

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