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JACKY TSAI PRINT LAUNCH | INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST

May 10th 2013
Angie speaks to Jacky Tsai about his new Vermilion Garden and Vermilion Light prints, which launch on the Eyestorm website today.

Angie Davey: For those who are not familiar with the concept behind your iconic skull image, can you explain where this came from and what it represents?

Jacky Tsai: The original idea came while I was working at the studio of Alexander McQueen when I was still studying at Central St. Martin’s (School of art, London) in 2007. Flowers represent the vividness of life, and the skull of course symbolises death. A ‘floral skull’ for me creates a harmony between life and death, while also referring to reincarnation.

AD: The two new prints are titled 'Vermilion Light' and 'Vermilion Garden'. What made you come up with these titles?

JTVermilion is a red pigment that comes from the mineral cinnabar, which has been used around the world for many thousands of years. It’s often referred to as 'China Red' because the most naturally produced vermilion comes from cinnabar mined in China, and because of this it’s the traditional red pigment of Chinese art. The colour also has references to life and death - cinnabar has significance in Taoist culture as it was regarded as the colour of life and eternity. Because of this, Chinese emperors often died of mercury poisoning when eating vermilion in an attempt to become immortal.

‘Garden’ was used to describe the plants, flowers, birds and butterflies in the imagery of the skull, and ‘light’ is uplifting and associated with life and eternity; it also describes the glow in the dark element well.

AD: Tell us a bit more about the processes involved with the two editions and what makes them different to each other

JT: I wanted to do something special with these prints as they’re a follow on from ‘Soul Harvest’ and ‘Golden Harvest’, and I wanted to make the new pieces different. We spent a long time choosing the right red to use as I wanted it to be vivid and stand out but also to compliment the blue of ‘Soul Harvest’ and ‘Golden Harvest’ so they could be a paired up. By using a creamy colour instead of white, this also compliments the red, and the silver again sits well with both of these. ‘Vermilion Garden’ is the main edition, simple and more understated. ‘Vermilion Light’ however is the more ‘special’ edition of the two, and we used palladium leaf which has been hand laid (about 80 sheets on each print) over printed 3D skulls to create almost a hologram effect in the background. We did this with gold leaf in ‘Golden Harvest’ and it worked really well, so this time we reversed the skulls so they’re negative in appearance, and the palladium is the perfect tone for what I wanted to achieve. The most exciting part about this print for me, however, is the glow in the dark element. In daylight the print appears normal and you would never know it was going to glow in the dark, but when the lights go out, as long as it’s been exposed to light, it will glow. I love the surprise and slightly mysterious element of this. There is also some special gold detail in the bird and feathers in ‘Vermilion Light’ which makes it looks like collage has been used because of the thickness of the inks.

AD: What made you want to use 'glow in the dark' ink in 'Vermilion Light'?

JT: I wanted to create a great piece of art that works in both day and night. In a way it’s like two pieces in one - it not only catches the eye in the day time, but also shines in the dark at night.

AD: Is the craftsmanship involved in printmaking an important part of your work?

JT: Absolutely. Although are living in a new century, I feel that the traditional printmaking process is important to maintain a certain element of quality. Sometimes I feel that it’s almost not attractive enough for me anymore however, which is why I like to add ‘new tricks’ to make me more excited about printmaking.

AD: Skulls appear frequently in your work; why do you think you have such an obsession with the skull as an image?

JT: 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.

After these editions I will be moving on from the McQueen skull completely and later this year I will be developing further skull imagery but in a completely different way.
ANGIE DAVEY
Creative Director
 
 
 
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