There is still a hint of anger in Eddie Lui Fung-ngar's voice when he talks about his stint at the helm of the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre. The Shek Kip Mei venue, which opened three years ago, was one of the first projects to put an idle industrial building to new use.
'The centre was a very important stepping stone in local arts development and it was going to be the first of many to come. We thought it would persuade the government to free up more similar spaces for creative use,' says Lui, who left his post in February after two years.
Soon after the 120 artists and art groups settled in, however, some began to complain about the management, accusing it of being too bureaucratic and lacking expertise in the arts.
'They basically criticised the administration for not handing them everything on a plate. There were simple issues that they could have resolved themselves but they didn't. I was nonplussed. Here is a space they can make use of to create art. But instead, some of these artists used it to play politics.'
Lui's management style was called into question by some. Theatre director and playwright Ng Ka-hei says Lui communicated only with those he knew. 'Those who didn't have a dialogue with him, he kept them in the dark and that was how he operated,' Ng says.
In hindsight, Lui says, the project - a collaborative effort between Baptist University, the Arts Development Council, the Arts Centre and the Jockey Club, which forked out the HK$69 million for renovations - was too ambitious.
'We wanted it to be too many things, a place for art education and exhibitions as well as an open public space and home to artists' studios,' he says.
Lui says his mission at the centre is now accomplished, having built a cost-effective management team, mapped out fund raising, organised general programming and publicity plans, integrated the space with the rest of the neighbourhood and left the balance sheet in the black.
'After leaving the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, I realised I still had much to do artistically,' the 63-year-old says.
Wasting no time, Lui is exhibiting again. His acrylic painting series, Rising from the Ashes: The Sky is the Limit, has recently been included as part of a large tour organised by Taiwan's Chan Liu Art Museum. The tour, A Century of Chinese Paintings, kicked off at the World Expo in Shanghai and is scheduled to travel to the US, Britain and Singapore.
Then there is his new solo show, Message In The Sky, which opens on Friday at Moon Gallery in Central. It features works created since 1997 and charts his artistic development, which alternates between painting and sculpture.
Long before James Cameron's Avatar and a 3-D World Cup, Lui was experimenting with three-dimensional work. Since 2000 he has been painting on objects such as pebbles and rocks, and using traditional mediums - acrylic, oil or ink - to create the illusion of dimension and depth on canvas. The point is to blur the boundary between 2-D and 3-D art.
'As both a painter and sculptor, I am interested in the interplay between these two art forms using mixed media. And that has emerged over the past decade to be my style,' Lui says. This interest explains why Message In The Sky starts with works from 1997 - not because it was the year Hong Kong returned to China, the artists says, but because the year marked the beginning of a seismic shift in his style. His works became larger in size, more painterly and, by 1999, more three-dimensional.
'Around that time I began to toy around with the idea of turning 2-D painting into 3-D artwork. I would paint around the frame of the canvas, for instance, to make the piece three-dimensional. I would also mix acrylic with ink to create that 3-D effect because ink penetrates much deeper into the paper, while acrylic or pastel stays on the surface. It is a style that I think I have now mastered.'
Being part of the Century of Chinese Paintings tour, he adds, alongside Chinese ink master Wucius Wong, the only other Hong Kong artist represented, is recognition of his achievement.
Having graduated from an arts and design certificate programme at the University of Hong Kong in 1972, Lui held his first solo exhibition at the Arts Centre the following year. His choice of colour and subjects - some of a sexual nature - made him one of the most innovative contemporary Chinese ink artists of the time. In 1981, he received a Hong Kong Museum of Art-Urban Council Fine Arts Award. However, at the time no one could live as a full-time artist, and Lui was no exception. He was a banker by day until 1995, when he finally decided to turn professional.
Lui's works are included in the permanent collections of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, University Museum and Art Gallery of the University of Hong Kong, the Arts Centre, and the Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation in Malaysia and the Guangdong Museum of Art.
The artist is also an advocate of public art, and his sculptures and paintings can be found around town, including a painted stainless steel piece titled Clouds in the Sky in Yat Tung Estate on Lantau Island, a painted equestrian sculpture that is now kept at the Jockey Club in Sha Tin and a mural in the Admiralty MTR station.
'It is my sincere wish that my artworks will be become more accessible and happily enjoyed by the Hong Kong public,' Lui says.
Message In The Sky, July 9 to 28. Moon Gallery. Inquiries: 2858 1771