Articles - 23rd November 2018

The Evolution of Jacky Tsai

Words by Sara Darling

Heading to Unit London to see artist Jacky Tsai’s show is like entering a Willy Wonka kaleidoscope of colour, texture, and immersive art. The larger than life portraits of people, dogs and Alexander Mcqueen-esque skulls are part of what makes this 21st-century artist one of the most collectable of his generation. Each piece offers a lesson in detailed precision, intertwining a range of mediums. Hand-painted, using block colours and bold black lines, every minute element takes two months to create, resulting in a spectacularly detailed show. On closer inspection, the collages are so precise, you can see Tsai’s acute attention to detail, with every millimetre in perfect balance, which nods to the proportions of traditional Chinese art.

Each artwork has an identity of its own, but coherently melds pop art references with Tsai’s unique visual presentation of fusing British and Asian cultures, including societal and political associations. His latest work is a mele of surreal-real collages where plastic bugs and tiny toy cars are sheltered behind transparent domes to give texture, and a nod to his idols, Warhol and Lichtenstein; Although similar in principle, there is a new aesthetic which adds a further depth to his montages.

However, there is more to Tsai than pretty plastic collages. He is equally comfortable creating optimistic visions of death. As a reaction to traditional Chinese culture, his skull sculptures propose another side of death, where the beauty of death and decay is celebrated, and the craniums he has produced are intricately consumed by flowers, birds and butterflies.

“Regeneration” is Tsai’s first London solo show and is not just his most recent work. Showcasing a selection from his back catalogue which he had the freedom to curate himself, the viewer can see how his outlook has evolved.

Although similar in proportion, Tsai’s works cover a wide spectrum of subject matter and play with perspective and layering. Using bright, psychedelic colours to create large-scale 3D images, the art references everything from Chinese dragons to Jackie Chan to tropical birds and trapeze artists, and the show is varied as it is moreish.

Some of the newer pieces use traditional lacquer carving, which is almost a dying Chinese craft, but he has worked with a team of five or six older craftsmen to create unique, showstopping pieces.

Moving to London from his native China in his twenties, Tsai has managed to forge an unorthodox fusion of cultures; Choosing to express himself in this way, he can seamlessly morph between his past life to the present and future.

With a bold aesthetic, these large-scale works offer a timeline into Tsai’s extensive body of work, which deconstructs the studio space and challenges the western concept of beauty and state of mind. Using popular culture combined with his Chinese heritage means an honest connection with Asian and British cultures, and he is one of the best artists to do this.

The innovative designs which consist of intricate techniques including traditional Chinese guóhuà painting, mono printing, screen printing, silk embroidery, cloisonne lacquering remain pure and focused, and harmonise the vision of the two societies.

It is no surprise that Tsai has been snapped up by London Gallery, Unit, as the Mayfair space provides a classic backdrop to showcase his catalogue of installation, sculpture and fashion. See the show until 22nd December 2018.  

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