Chui Pui-chee’s scholarly ink scrolls and paintings not all they seem

Look closely and a beautiful golden screen is filled with the wings of dying ants, while narrow scrolls are a subtle commentary on the tiny windows of some Hong Kong flats. There are lighter moments, too

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 October, 2015, 11:25am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 October, 2015, 11:25am

Chui Pui-chee  is an anachronism. When other  twentysomething artists were experimenting with multimedia conceptual installations, he went up to Hangzhou’s China Academy of Art  and spent six years studying Chinese calligraphy.

Now in his mid-30s, Chui remains firmly wedded to traditional scrolls and silk screens. His raison d’être is to make traditional art relevant without fiddling too much with form.

Despite the scholarly style of Chui’s calligraphy, here’s an artist with his feet very much on the ground. His new solo exhibition is steeped in his own struggles with high property prices and the pressure of being a young, working parent in Hong Kong. Beyond the poetic beauty of his cursive script is a Munchian  scream.

The exhibition has some familiar elements, such as the way he gives dignity and weight to pop lyrics by copying them onto traditional scrolls. This time, he has picked out plaintive lines from songs such as Eason Chan’s Bicycle,  Sammi Cheng’s  High Mountains and Deep Valleys, and Qi Qin’s  Night Night Night Night,  and deliberately used very watery ink.

“I want to give the impression of tears,” he says, pointing to the way some of the words have spread and blurred on paper.

A number of his scrolls are unusually narrow. Less than 30cm wide, they are about the width of the bedroom windows he saw in a show flat a few years ago.

“I was really shocked by the fact that Hong Kong people have to slave away all their life to afford a small flat, and are still not allowed to have enough light when they return home at the end of the day,” he says.

Also featured in the exhibition are the bees, flying ants and mosquitoes from his earlier Friends of Humble Chamber series. These, too, are displaying an awful sense of doom. His bees are trying to seek refuge in the corners of the frame as white smoke spreads from the centre. A beautiful gold screen looks decorative, until you notice that it is covered in the shed wings of dying ants.

There are lighter moments, such as the panels featuring different forms of the Chinese word for flower. There are also a number of silk paintings inspired by the works of ancient Chinese masters that are just fun. All cat owners will be able to sympathise with the scene from The fool who tries to move a ….

In Chui’s painting, the fool is not battling against a gigantic mountain, as he does in the age-old Chinese fable about perseverance, but a  huge and immovable cat.

Chui Pui-chee: My Tiresome at the Bottom of Valley , Grotto Fine Art, October 15 – November 7, 1-2/F 31C-D Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong