The mind behind the iconic floral skull originally created for Alexander McQueen, Chinese contemporary artist Jacky Tsai returns with’Reincarnation,’ his largest solo UK exhibition to date. Tsai’s fusion of western pop iconography with traditional Chinese craft conceived artwork occupying two floors at Mayfair’s Unit London.
Tsai describes his collaboration with Unit London as ‘the right timing for them to work together’ and ‘as a win-win situation’ for both, the gallery and himself. However, Tsai’s decision to pursue a career in art was somewhat of an accident: “It was an accident because I was learning design in China and London as well. When I graduated I realized I don’t want to work for any client, I just want to do whatever I want and express myself. Because I think I have very good taste when doing art and aesthetics when creating something beautiful”.
After graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins and subsequent visa obstacles, Tsai got his own workshop In the centre of Shoreditch, where he works ‘day in and day out’ with a Chinese-based team giving a helping hand. Tsai’s upbringing in China and later western influences heavily impacted his work: “I particularly love western pop art. I like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol so much. Before that I had a very traditional Chinese education, it was all about water colour traditional Chinese drawing. It was such a contrast, and you can see it in my work”, he touches upon his innovative style of blending Chinese craft tradition – lacquer carving, painted porcelain, silk embroidery, and guohua painting – with western pop iconography creating culturally harmonious and aesthetically rich narratives.
Only a few hours before the opening party, Tsai reflects on his artwork so far and admits his deep concentration may have overshadowed the idea of an exhibition. Looking around the gallery he ponders: “I haven’t showcased my art in London for two years. This is a major comeback. This show is all about the different range of my art. It is more like a retrospective show here. I didn’t think about showcasing my art when I was creating. I was very focused on what I was doing. I almost forgot to show my artwork. So I have so much to show. I don’t know how to share my artwork with people. They’re all my babies. Sometimes I almost forgot because I was too concentrated”.
The concept of the whole exhibition revolves around reincarnation. Tsai explains that all stages throughout his career give off a hint of the idea of rebirth. He shares why: “Chinese people believe you have a previous life and your future life. If you’re doing something good, you have a very good life in your next life. I think all of my artwork is about reincarnation because you see the people travel to the future to see what’s going in the future. The robots will dominate anything. People can fall in love with the robot, or very ancient traditional Chinese girl can look in the mirror to see her next next next life. It’s all about reincarnation”.
“I think the floral skull is a reincarnation as well because it’s all about a fresh flower that represents life and the skull is a symbol of death, so it’s such a contrast. The floral skull is reborn from the dead, beauty in decay, it’s almost a circle of reincarnation. So this is the right word to describe all of my artwork”.
Behind the majestic floral skull hanging in the center of the gallery, on the right side are three colorful and aesthetic pieces from the newest Jacky Tsai wave of creation. While preparations for the big opening are in motion, Tsai walks us through some of his work. He begins with a piece on far left: “In my art, the timeline is always distorted. It’s very chaotic because this man is dressed as an ancient man and this woman is dressed like a modern Chinese girl. They are a couple, but the ancient man is having an affair with the robot. So that’s something that could happen in the future”.
He moves on to next piece: “This is what I imagine a little traditional Chinese girl look at the barrack window to find out her future, future life. A very Chinese looking interior environment. There’re so many modern but vintage items like the telephone, the iron, very vintage radio. They’re all in the wrong timeline and the wrong space, but they look like they’re all in harmony”.
Onto to the third one: “Another possibility in the future. A robot has his first wife and his second wife in China probably. It’s a wrong dimension, it’s fake 3D dimension, it’s totally wrong. Next to the Chinese floor is the western barrack pattern, in your face, flat pattern, totally in a different dimension, but they look like everything is in harmony”.
Amongst pieces exploring themes like beauty, morality, future, Tsai uses his visual language for a personal reference of his family situation in ‘The Little Pleasures of Life’: “This is my current life. My boy being taken care of by his grandparents and I am the robot. Also, his mom is outside the window just looking in on what’s happening. Because she is a working lady, she has to sneak in and sneak out every day because the baby will cry if he sees his mom just going out”.
Kissers is a piece you will see right away after you enter the gallery and “it’s about the two lovers, no matter when and where. They can fall in love in different time and different space”.
“It’s the new floral skull after two years I haven’t done any floral skull, I fell out of the idea a little bit. It is a traditional lacquer carving, and it takes around one or two months”.
A floor down Tsai showcases his earlier work, like the floral skulls and his superhero series: “I never show the very good side of a superhero. I always show the human side of a superhero. Sometimes they are very vulnerable”.
Later in the evening, after seeing people queuing up around the entire street at Unit London, Tsai’s success was undoubtedly deserving. Not only did he fill all walls around two floors of a prestigious gallery with his work, but he also managed to host a packed opening party of amazed art lovers.
Jacky Tsai’s ‘Reincarnation’ is on until December 22nd at Unit London, 3 Hanover Square in Mayfair