Christina Tung spent many years as an investment banker until a fateful day she decided to pick up a brush and learn to ink paint, fast forward to 2018- She is now a gallery owner and supporting local artists with a space to promote art and exhibit art. Her latest exhibition “INSPIRATIONS”, a SOLO EXHIBITION by CHRISTINA TUNG” takes place Nov 9-24 at Cheer Bell Gallery
Tell us about your great beginning!
I started the company in 2015, in the past three years, we have put together many exhibitions! During the first two years, we invited artists mainly for solo or co-exhibitions. It was all about ink paintings at the beginning. After about a year we started donating part of our profit to some charity organisations as this is ultimately what we want – to promote art and offer support to others at the same time.
How was this idea born?
Oh yes, I was always flipping through art magazines during the meetings. To cut a long story short, I’ve been in the finance industry for 29 years. As you know 2007 to 2009 were tight for the financial markets – 2008 was the financial crisis, and 2009 was just dead. Nobody wanted to invest, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with investments. Those years were very hard for me. Around that time I started to get curious about art, taking some courses, and gradually I just fell in love with art.
In 2011 I met my first mentor, he is an absolute master when it comes to ink painting. After my early ten paintings, he recognised that I have talent. These first paintings were already so good that they could be framed. He said it is scarce for a complete beginner in the art to produce such work so early on. I just continued from there.
How did that initial curiosity grow into something as big as your gallery?
It was simply about happiness. The more I worked with art, the happier I felt. It was like stepping into another world – a world without disturbances or heavy loads, only encouragement from my master. That went on for about two years – the art and investment management. I continued to work very hard with my first master. I just painted and painted. I worked and then did my painting homework. At some point, my husband started complaining: ‘Christina, it’s only been two years since you started painting and you already have your exhibition and another co-exhibition, and you’ve framed so many paintings, how can our house store it all?’ So I decided to buy out one of the industrial units for myself and bring my paintings there.
Moreover, then I divided the area of the industrial building into small offices, and I rented them out so that I could cover the costs of managing what was becoming a gallery. That was my business plan, and it worked! Soon I employed a gallery manager. He had some interesting connections with artists, and he said he could maybe get me some exhibitions. I just said ‘Ok fine, let’s do it’. So that was the start of a real gallery business.
How did the idea of helping others emerged?
Soon after we started to run the gallery, we contacted the media to spread the word that we would like to promote the art to the young people in Hong Kong. You see, here in Hong Kong, children don’t have much art education at all! No one cares how artistic you are; no one emphasises studying art. I think art can be like a different world for many people. The artistic beauty heals the heart; it helps people spiritually and mentally, it just improves everything, art is what’s missing in our culture. I believe that this is what Hong Kong people miss out on.
What is the primary mission of your gallery today?
A gallery is first and foremost a business, and I hope it can be profitable. I also want to bring more art into the lives of Hong Kong people. I want art everywhere – in their homes, their offices, their restaurants, everywhere. This way they will be more in touch with art and beauty. Art can change you so profoundly! I’m learning more and more about what art is and what it can do. I’m learning from all the different artists whose work we’ve been exhibiting. I learn the techniques, the way they treat art, what their art means to them. I’m learning to feel the artists, what they wanted to express. It is so exciting how you can feel somebody’s mind by only looking at a plain sheet of paper. The stories that emerge are amazing.
Do you organise any events at your gallery with the aim of promoting art to masses?
Yes, I did some projects pro bono. I was invited by internet TV to host an art program. There were 12 episodes, and for each episode, I interviewed some artists. I also brought a licensed art therapist from the States, and she talked about the work she did at a US prison and demonstrated how art could help psychologically. I am not very familiar with art therapy but I came across it many times, and I can imagine that it could develop worldwide. We’ve been painting for generations, but it’s interesting to start seeing art as a healing tool.
How do you pick the art pieces for your gallery?
Well, our portfolio is quite mixed. It’s funny, and this is what usually happens when I interview gallery managers. They always ask me ‘What is your main theme, main focus? How do you position yourself?’ Also, I say I’d like to keep an open mind for my gallery. Some galleries focus on one big master. The most expensive one. However, I don’t. I think I will try to collect as many interesting pieces of art as possible, whether they are famous or emerging artists or even my classmates. If I think they are good, if their paintings speak to my heart, I will choose them. Now as more and more paintings are gathering in my portfolio, I will study what we are missing and I will find what would be a nice addition to it. We would like to have a complete profile – all the different types of paintings and art, not only from Hong Kong or China or Taiwan but also from Germany, France, UK or even Russia. We will not limit ourselves to just one thing.
Speaking of juggling many things – how were you able to balance your work – finance industry, painting and being a business owner?
I was very well trained. I received hard in the investment bank where I developed solid time management skills. I’m good at managing time.
Can you share your secret? Everybody would want to know how to be good at that!
I always thought what can I fit in whatever spare time I had – whether it is 15 minutes or 30 minutes or 2 hours. What is the most efficient thing I can fit into that time? It might sound crazy, and I think I was crazy to focus so hard on efficiency. However, I had a passion, and I knew how important time management is for your life. You need to understand how to utilise all the spare time you have, how to move forward even at your leisure time.
For the community it is always a big question, everybody who wants to starts their business wonders where to find support for business. Did you try to bring in some investors or did you want it to be your own thing?
I would like it to be my own thing through and through. For me, as an artist, art is very personal. Art is never objective – it is subjective. With some people, it’s difficult to have the same thoughts and feelings about art. Besides, my main wish is to promote art in Hong Kong. I’m like a small potato rolling up a steep hill. It’s hard for me, and it’s hard to do it alone. However, if you put more investor they will change your way; your passion project will turn into a commercial thing or something else. I don’t want people to change it. Throughout my life I’ve been chasing after money, now I want to relax a little bit.
Speaking of money, it must be fascinating but also a challenging task to evaluate an art piece. How do you assign it a price?
It is an excellent question. Yes, I am still learning. I think in reality, or at least from the commercial interpretation of fact, it is all about marketing and branding and connections. Look at how people become successful. Look at Obama, for example. He is a very talkative guy; he can debate very well, he has excellent communication skills that made him famous and successful. Everything goes by the same rule. If you know how to market yourself, this is 80% of your success. The real art, the real artistic skill, the thoughts, the real meaning of your paintings and its ability to touch people – that is the remaining 20%.
Yes, this is all very tricky. I saw artists who are very skilful, very talented but all they do is work and work hard in a tiny room for many many years. Also, nobody notices them. Why? Because nobody does their marketing and nobody does the branding for them. All these artists rely on art platforms such as our gallery for promotion, for hosting exhibitions for them and attracting people to their work. So we are critical devices for enabling their development. Most artists don’t want to face investors or audience. They don’t want to talk, and they don’t want to learn how to market. They want to do their work. If they are like Obama, they can be very successful. If they are participating in the sale of their paintings, people get to know them. If they have charisma people will notice them. So from the commercial point of view, it’s all about marketing and branding. That’s it.
Do you have any big plans for the rest of the year?
Yes, with the Russian Community in Hong Kong. Moreover, it is exciting. We will host a Russian painting exhibition in October. Also, they requested me to organise my paintings in November. So that will keep us very busy. Then we are going to Taipei at the end of October; we are going to Taipei for the fair. In December there will be a charity exhibition in our gallery.