Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Chinese Tradition Meets Western Pop

I want to create an engaging dialogue between traditional Eastern craft
and a Western pop aesthetic

Jacky Tsai

Born in Shanghai the Chinese collage artist come fashion designer Jacky Tsai came to the United Kingdom to study at London’s Central St Martins College of Art and Design and stayed. As a consequence of this life style choice, since 2006, Tsai has been creating a body of work that combines traditional Chinese crafts, skills and folklore with Western pop imagery.

As he explained to Hyperbeast’s Nate Bodansky last year “My cultural influences affect my art direction significantly. Though I’ve been living in London for 8 years, I still experience the cultural difference every day. I think subconsciously that’s a big part of the reason why I’m always doing the “East meets West” art to merge both my backgrounds together.

Tsai came to the notice of London art scene in 2008 with his floral skull motif design for the Alexander McQueen fashion label.

About which he told Wall Street International “Many Chinese people are afraid of skulls, and to a certain extent so am I, but the skull image has become trendy in the Western world, especially in fashion, and I was interested in this difference in perception in the East and the West. I wanted to see if I could change the attitude in the East towards the skull, so I tried to represent it in a beautiful way by using images of nature such as flowers, butterflies and birds to transform this previously ‘scary’ image. I wanted people to see the beauty in decay while commenting on the proximity of life and death.”

It is this ability to juxtaposition perceptions, East and West, fashion and fine art, which enables Tsai stand with a foot in both camps.

As he has said “It’s almost the same for me as I treat fashion items as part of my art creations, the only difference is that art is a kind of self-expression, where I only listen to my own voice.”

And it’s a voice that decrees “Artists from the 1960s who experienced the Cultural Revolution have dominated the Chinese art market [for] many years. The new generation needs to develop the motifs and aesthetics in their art, rather than follow the old trends… I appreciate all the masterpieces that Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol did, but too many artists try to imitate the style in the last 40 years or so. Now I feel it’s the time to make my statement of what I feel is a new Pop Art language in 2014 and develop this in my own way – a hybrid style of western Pop Art and Chinese traditional craft.

And Tsai’s reverence for his forebear’s historic skills and tradition combined with the desire to keep them alive and relevant is a further driver for his art.

As he says “The complicated manufacturing process and the high production costs resulted in very high prices. Traditionally only the royal family or wealthy businessmen could afford them. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the vast working class people had little demand for such luxuries. Young people now are reluctant to learn the skills of lacquer-carving, and many elders in the business have passed away. Nowadays, there are only about twenty trained craftsmen left in China who have this skill. This ancient craft is on the brink of extinction.”

Tsai’s current Self-Titled exhibition is on show at London’s The Fine Art Society until the 2nd of October.

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