“An artist’s life is tough”: Chui Pui-chee on the importance of supporting Hong Kong artists

Chui Pui-chee, Nine Abysses IV, 2019, ink and charcoal on paper, 154 x 141 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.
Chui Pui-chee, Friends of Humble chamber XIX, 2014, ink on paper, 137 x 33 x 4 pcs. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.
Chui Pui-chee, There’s the snow again IX, 2017, ink and colour on golden paper, 94 x 150 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.
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ART Power HK

Hong Kong artist Chui Pui-chee has won awards and exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and Art Basel Hong Kong—and now he’s up for the 2020 Sovereign Asian Art Prize. We spoke to the Chinese calligraphy artist about the variety of inspirations behind his works.

TEXT: Leanne Mirandilla
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation

 

This isn’t Hong Kong artist Chui Pui-chee’s first time as a finalist for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize—in fact, it’s his third. He might not have taken home the prize in previous years, but he is certain that this year will be different. “My reason for being this confident is that I have made progress in my work,” he says. “Nine Abysses IV is the biggest gongbi landscape painting I have created. I put a lot of effort in it and I am very content with it.”

Drawing inspiration from literati painting, a style which emerged during the Northern Song period and involves prioritising personal expression over the literal depiction of physical forms, Chui spent over three months on Nine Abysses IV (2019), painstakingly rendering the Northern Song dynasty landscape of pine trees and jagged rocks with the detailed, realistic gongbi style of strokes and painting the background with ink splashes.

Nine Abysses IV is a reflection of my experiences and emotions,” Chui explains. “I encountered a series of difficulties in my work and private life in recent years and have been down in the dumps. But I manage to persist in the creation of art and the pine tree symbolises this persistence. The dark background represents the sadness I have been through.” Besides serving as a channel through which Chui could express his emotions, the piece also helped him heal and achieve a sense of calm. He turned to traditional Northern Song landscapes for solace after being upset and perturbed by COVID-19 and by the recent social and political upheaval in Hong Kong. “Throughout the whole process, drawing the pine needles was meditative and soothing to me,” he explains. “There are many layers of pine needles, and I drew them one by one with calligraphy techniques. Somehow I found inner peace. I hope the audience can feel these emotions through this painting.”

 

Chui Pui-chee, Nine Abysses IV, 2019, ink and charcoal on paper, 154 x 141 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.

 

In many ways, from the subject matter to the techniques employed, the work exemplifies traditional Chinese painting. And no surprise, considering that Chui largely developed his art through formal academic study and apprenticeship. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s department of Fine Art and a Master’s and Doctorate from the China Academy of Art’s department of Chinese calligraphy. He has taught calligraphy at the United College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“Academic study helped me a lot—not only the knowledge and skills I learnt from the institutions, but I met good mentors and companions who pushed me to continue working on my art and making it better and better,” he says. But despite his background, Chui acknowledges that the formal study of art has its limits. “In some cases, students may be influenced by their teacher’s style,” he explains. “It may help during early development, but sometimes it can be a barrier preventing the student from being promoted to an advanced level. Both academic study and self-learning shaped my career as an artist.”

One of his most valuable learning experiences, in fact, was working as a specialist in Chinese painting and calligraphy at auction house China Guardian for two years. “I came across so many brilliant classical and modern Chinese paintings,” he recalls. “And I studied their skills, techniques, and materials.” In particular, he admired the splash-ink paintings by Zhang Daqian, that merged the traditional and the abstract through superior techniques, and the peaceful yet sometimes humorous literati paintings of Pu Ru.

But Chui doesn’t only look to the past for inspiration—he also considers the present. In his 2015 solo exhibition at Grotto Fine Art, he covered traditional scrolls in lyrics by local pop singers such as Eason Chan and Sammi Cheng. In addition to landscapes, he also painted bees, flying ants, and mosquitos—creatures hardly known for their beauty. The sight of the insects escaping into the corners of the paintings is more likely to evoke fear or restlessness than serenity. Two such works were shortlisted for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize—Friends of Humble Chamber XIX (2014) in 2015 and There’s the Snow Again IX (2017) in 2018.

 

Chui Pui-chee, Friends of Humble chamber XIX, 2014, ink on paper, 137 x 33 x 4 pcs. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.
Chui Pui-chee, There’s the snow again IX, 2017, ink and colour on golden paper, 94 x 150 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and The Sovereign Art Foundation.

 

Chui was considering the average life of a Hongkonger when creating those works, which can often be a stressful struggle—especially when you are young and an artist. “An artist’s life is tough, very tough, and it is too easy to give up,” Chui says. “It is very important to support Hong Kong artists. If local collectors are only interested in international artists, then who will support the local artists? Without support, it’s very difficult for artists to survive and develop their careers.”

 

Stay tuned with the website for updates of 2020 Sovereign Art Prize.

 

 

About the artist: 

Dr Chui Pui-chee (b. 1980, Hong Kong) holds a degree from the Department of Fine Arts, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and a Master of Arts (2007) and Doctoral Degree (2010) from the Department of Chinese Calligraphy, China Academy of Art. Chui has taught Calligraphy at both United College of CUHK and The Hong Kong University of Science Technology, and served as programme coordinator at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, CUHK. He has also been the Honorary Advisor of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, CUHK (2016-2018).

Chui has gained prominent recognition in Hong Kong, having been presented with the Award for Young Artist (Visual Arts), Hong Kong Arts Development Awards (2015, 2016), the Young Artist Award, The Hong Kong Contemporary Art Awards (2012), and was a finalist for The Sovereign Asian Art Prize (2015, 2018). His work was exhibited in Classics Remix: The Hong Kong Viewpoint, Hong Kong Museum of Art (2019) and Grotto Fine Arts Hong Kong, Art Basel Hong Kong (2014-2019).

 

 

 
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