From the heart of Hong Kong’s bustling art scene, the Ora-Ora gallery stands out as a beacon of excellence and distinction. At its helm is Henrietta Tsui-Leung, an art aficionado and visionary leader whose journey of understanding and embracing the mystique of Chinese contemporary ink painting is deeply intertwined with one name: Xu Lei.
A First Glimpse of Genius
It was during one of her sojourns that Tsui-Leung first laid eyes on Xu Lei’s artwork. Struck by its depth, she began a relentless journey of following his work. From the artistic hubs of China to the prestigious galleries of London, Tsui-Leung pursued the enigmatic ink artist’s evolution.
One artwork, titled ‘Day in Night’ from 2011, left an indelible mark on her. It depicts a horse, traditionally a symbol of strength and nobility in Chinese culture, juxtaposed against the backdrop of a rich curtain. But this wasn’t any regular depiction; the horse radiated sensuality. “They embody desire and memory,” Tsui-Leung mentions, elaborating that the horses in Xu Lei’s painting exude a duality, representing both male and female forms. This fresh interpretation, freeing the horse from the shackles of traditional symbolism, resonated deeply with her.
Xu Lei’s expertise lies in blending techniques and materials from classical Chinese painting with nuances inspired by European surrealism. He juxtaposes the ethereal beauty of ink painting with the dreamy, often uncanny, themes of surrealism. This, Tsui-Leung believes, brings a universal appeal to his works, making them translatable across cultures and geographies.
The Pursuit of Xu Lei’s Art
Determined to acquire Xu Lei’s artworks, Tsui-Leung faced several challenges. In the early 2000s, she was still making her mark in the art world. “It was hard,” she recalls, detailing her struggles to procure Xu Lei’s masterpieces. His art was seldom available privately, prompting her to chase them in auctions. Once, she even journeyed to Nanjing, hoping to secure a piece at an auction, only to return empty-handed.
Her passion for art wasn’t new. From a tender age, she had been smitten by the world of colors, forms, and expressions. Travelling with her then-boyfriend, now her spouse, she would immerse herself in the global art scene, visiting museums and galleries. Her penchant for surrealistic artworks, particularly those by Magritte, acted as the guiding light. But Xu Lei introduced her to a realm where East met West, and tradition blended seamlessly with modernity.
Ora-Ora, under Tsui-Leung’s leadership, gradually emerged as one of the primary galleries championing the cause of ink painting. However, the journey wasn’t straightforward. During her initial days, Tsui-Leung candidly admits, “I didn’t know anything and had no experience.” But her encounter with Xu Lei’s work set her on a transformative journey.
Understanding and appreciating Xu Lei’s craft required delving deep into his methodologies. He masterfully employs traditional Chinese materials like silk and ink. Silk, with its lighter texture compared to paper, demands meticulousness. To achieve the perfect shade of blue, Xu Lei applies more than a hundred layers of ink, each layer demanding a day of patience before the next can be applied. The commitment and passion behind such techniques drew Tsui-Leung closer to the artist.
By 2006, their paths converged. Tsui-Leung had the fortune of meeting the artist in person, and what began as admiration evolved into mentorship. She imbibed insights and knowledge from Xu Lei, broadening her horizon, refining her taste, and understanding the intricacies of ink art.
This mentorship became a defining phase for Ora-Ora. Guided by her learnings, Tsui-Leung could determine a clear direction for her gallery. Xu Lei’s philosophies and principles became instrumental in shaping Ora-Ora’s identity and ethos.
The Enduring Legacy
Xu Lei’s reputation isn’t limited to Tsui-Leung’s admiration. His global stature is evident from the fact that he’s one of the rare Chinese artists to have designed labels for Mouton Rothschild, a renowned Bordeaux winery that selects an eminent artist each year for this honor.
Moreover, his love for Western masters like Magritte, van Dyck, and Vermeer, combined with his unparalleled skill in traditional Chinese mediums, makes him a formidable name in the contemporary art world.
For Tsui-Leung, Xu Lei isn’t just an inspiration but a guiding star. Her journey with him, from an awe-struck admirer to a mentee, has had a profound impact on her career. It has helped her realize the potential and possibilities for Ora-Ora in the global art landscape.
In retrospect, it’s evident that artists like Xu Lei not only shape the canvas with their strokes but also shape lives and destinies with their vision and ethos. Henrietta Tsui-Leung stands testament to this transformative power of art, and her journey with Xu Lei is a heartwarming ode to the magic that art weaves in our lives.