interview | jacky tsai

Images courtesy of Scream, London

Images courtesy of Scream, London

Jacky Tsai is an international artist who learned his craft in Shanghai and honed it working alongside Alexander Mc Queen, where he developed the design for his floral skull motif. About to present his first solo exhibition of unique works at Scream Gallery, the artist is famed for designing compelling art pieces using Carved Lacquer Ware, a rapidly disappearing craft. Schön! caught up with him for a behind-the-scenes exclusive.

Your work is called ‘Fusion Art’ and features a broad range of imagery and techniques. What made you want to produce art using Carved Lacquer ware?

When I first saw Carved Lacquer ware in China last year, I immediately realised this medium could be the future of my art as it is perfect for my vision of Chinese pop art – bold lines with solid vibrant colour, but I spent some time improving the technique and finding the balance between the Chinese traditional lacquer work and pop art imagery.  You can see the lacquer works featuring superheroes in my new exhibition at Scream combining Roy Lichtenstein-esque comic book figures in a traditional Chinese landscape scene. 

How do you think having an extremely mixed background helped you to produce art differently? 

Having art education both in China and the UK, and having qualified in various design fields definitely helped me to form my art in a unique way as I believe in the cross-pollination of artistic disciplines.

Images courtesy of Scream, London

Images courtesy of Scream, London

You studied for an MA in England, why did you decide to leave Asia?

 Like all the students from China, I wanted to explore the western world and experience the different culture at a young age, but I didn’t expect to stay in London for 8 years and still learn about western culture every day!  It seems that it was the brightest decision I made in my life, as I would not be able to pursue my art dream in China.

In Fly Me to the Moon you have a drawing of Superman, how important is it for you blend popular culture into your work?

Very important. When I grew up in China, American pop culture influenced my generation massively, we all watched ‘Transformers’ , ‘Superman’ and ‘Spiderman’ in our childhood.  This had quite a significant impact as it happened only around 15 years after the end of the culture revolution when China opened the door to the Western culture in 1990s.  I believe my work should reflect contemporary culture and I am a huge fan of Lichtenstein’s work so I have definitely been inspired by his aesthetic and ideas.

 At a young age you worked with Alexander Mc Queen, what influence did he have on your work?

I appreciate my time in McQueen’s studio; my design for the floral skull motif developed there and this influenced my subsequent artworks and concept for the Scream exhibition. 

 You work with complex materials like Su Xiu embroidery and Cloisonne, why is it important for you to work with traditional Chinese materials?

Sadly these techniques are disappearing in Asia as young people don’t pay attention to the great Chinese crafts which have been popular in China for thousands of years. I believe that the best way to make these traditional skills popular again in my country is to continue to use and celebrate the techniques but with a contemporary twist.  That’s what I have tried to achieve in these new works.  Also the quality of the craftsmanship is stunning.  

Images courtesy of Scream, London

Images courtesy of Scream, London

 How much do you change your original idea to suit a consumer’s taste?

I never make works to cater for the market.  However, I’m glad that, so far, all my collectors have responded well to my work.  I feel a good artist should create the new trend and never follow the trend.

Your work includes traditional Chinese heritage but modern imagery from the West, how much do you feel contrasted by the two cultures?

They were very much in contrast in the old days when it was difficult to communicate with each other, but now we are in the digital era, we share all the information and various cultures online.  The gap between East and West is getting smaller and I feel I have had a unique vantage point with my time spent in both Shanghai and London.  I’m trying to illustrate this experience through my work.

You are one of very few artists using this technique, what are your main strategies for survival in a competitive market?

I have no strategy at all, follow my heart and challenge myself to create something people have never done or seen before helps me to survive in this competitive market.

What new things would you like to try with your work in future?

That’s top secret, wait and see what’s coming next!  For now my first solo exhibition of unique works opens at Scream on 16th May so I hope people will come and see the show and like the original works on display.

Jacky Tsai is currently preparing for a new exhibition at Scream Gallery, and is preparing to launch a capsule collection with Shanghai Tang on the 15th May. 

Words / Tam Hashim

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