Hubert Burda Media

Q&A: Artist Alana Tsui on Social Media and Making Incredible Murals

We speak to New York based mural artist Alana Tsui about art, social media and Robert De Niro’s dog.

Alana Tsui is a mural artist based in New York. Many in the city might be familiar with her work as a fashion stylist and model in Hong Kong too, where she lived for five years until recently shifting to the US. She is one of the few popular artists who uses monochromatic palettes with bold and clean patterns for her signature style murals.

The artist is now back in Hong Kong to work on her “Angel Wings”, for The Mercury (a New York-style residential property located in Tin Hau). We had a quick chat with the artist — who created the mural surrounding her portrait exclusively for Prestige — before she jetted off back to New York.

How did you get started?
I started in New York about eight or nine years ago when I first moved there. I moved into my first apartment in downtown Manhattan and the walls were pale green, very dull and I wanted to brighten it up. I asked the landlord if I could paint it myself, turn it white. I painted three walls and… ran out of paint! On the fourth wall, I started doodling with whatever colours I had. Every time I was bored, I’d paint on the walls, posted it on Facebook and people started reaching out to me, getting me to paint their properties.

This simple act got you bigger gigs?
My biggest job in New York was for a hotel in Tribeca. I painted their hallways, painted a lot of apartments, advertising spaces, I painted restaurants in New Zealand whenever I went back to see my family. When I first moved to Hong Kong, I painted at WeWork in Causeway Bay, the Cross Cafe in Sai Ying Pun, and many bars and showrooms — I definitely left my print on the city. 

Was social media a great jumping board and platform for you to help dive into this new career?
Social media definitely gave me the start. Absolutely. I’ve never really promoted myself as an artist until very recently. All my gigs have come from word of mouth and social media — it’s been fun. Many might complain about posting or trolls or whatever, I have no complaints; I got a career out of it!

Do you get complete creative freedom or are there restrictions?
Most of the time, I get complete creative freedom. People come to me because they like my style. For bigger spaces, usually clients have a theme in mind or certain elements they want me to put in, but otherwise they are completely open to what I have in mind. I propose ideas, there’s some discussion and I go for it.

Did you study art?
I studied fashion design, I have a Bachelor of Arts specialising in fashion design — and I’m still doing fashion, just not designing. I have styled for several brands; M.A.C., YSL, TUMI, Lululemon, Lane Crawford, Calvin Klein amongst others. I think of myself as a freelancer who does many things, I can’t just do one thing.

What’s the best part of your job?
Everyone in the team working with me on “Angel Wings” has been amazing. It’s the freedom of doing whatever I want to do, especially when having large scale murals to work on.  I have a reference point when I start but, as I tell clients too, the rough sketch on computers will not be exact or what finally comes out. When I see the final product, I often surprise myself!

What’s the worst part?
It’s usually in the early stages when working with new clients, when you don’t understand each other. The worst by far is when a client changes their mind mid-way or after the work is done, and when they don’t know what they want either! But now that rarely happens.

What’s the one thing about you most people don’t know?
I have Robert De Niro’s dog.

I’m sorry, what now?
A French pug. My boyfriend’s ex used to work for De Niro’s group. DeNiro got this little dog called Lilly but his other huge dog was super aggressive, so he had to give his puppy away — and we got it. So now, we have a famous dog, Oscar-winning Robert De Niro’s dog!

Check out Alana’s art work on her website or on Instagram.

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