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JACKY TSAI | ARTISTIC PRACTICE
January 10th 2020
A powerhouse of talent and creativity, Chinese artist Jacky Tsai has continuously evolved new themes and experimented with various mediums, from century-old Chinese craftmanship to using the latest technology. From his revered ‘floral skull’, iconic characters and Pop Art themes, Tsai is tightly orchestrating the narrative and telling fascinating stories about “beauty in decay” and Eastern identity influenced by Western culture. In this article we take a look at Tsai’s development, practice and work on paper from his early releases in 2011 until now.
by Henrik Riis
NEWS FROM EYESTORM
Jacky Tsai was born in Shanghai in 1984 and had a traditional Chinese upbringing with respect to cultural values and traditions. After graduating from China Academy of Art he moved to London in 2006 to earn a Masters degree at Central Saint Martins, the renowned art, fashion and design school in London. His creative talent, a Chinese heritage and a life fuelled by Western influences in his early years in the British capital, quickly led to a cornucopia of ideas.

During his studies at Central Saint Martins, Tsai met the designer Alexander McQueen which led to an internship at the famous fashion house soon after. The fashion brand was known for using the “McQueen”-skull as motif on scarves and t-shirts as early as his graduate show in 1992. McQueen commissioned Tsai to come up with a new design for it. The skull is not an image with positive associations in China. But Tsai was a quick learner and took inspiration from McQueen’s constant flirtation with the beauty of sharply tailored fashion juxtaposed with more darker motifs printed on fabrics, like bones and skulls. Layers of peonies, lilies, orchids and daisies intertwined with butterflies - and most noticeably a large parrot, Tsai turned McQueen’s conceptualised vision of a skull, associated with darkness and mortality, into a beautiful image of what would become the “floral skull”. The floral skull would be a subject matter and theme that Tsai regularly returned to, describing it as “beauty in decay”.
JACKY TSAI
Chinoserie, 2009

Edition of 5
150(w) x 87(h) cm
59.06(w) x 34.25(h) inches
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Jacky Tsai (Chinese, b. 1984)

Chinoserie , 2009

150(w) x 87(h) cm
59.06(w) x 34.25(h) inches
Print on silk satin
Edition of 5
PRICE
$ 8,965.00 Available from a private collection
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Even before Tsai’s graduation, the artist was combining art and fashion as he experimented with designs for his own fashion brand - and art prints. The first print editions, Wave (2008) and Chinoserie (2009), were small editions of just five, printed on silk. While the early work had many layers of imagery, they were fairly one-dimensional and predominantly informed by ancient Chinese silk tapestry. In Wave the artwork shows a scene in a garden with blossoming cherry trees, ceremonial long-haired lions and ancient characters; only to reveal acrobats, surfers and a rescue helicopter delicately layered into the work.

The release of Surf (2011), a work clearly refined from Wave, and Flying Tiger (2012), the composition is deepening with Western imagery finding their way into Tsai’s work; parachutes, Spitfire airplanes and circus performers. Looking closer at Tsai’s early work one can trace the influence of a super-charged cosmopolitan London; a period of his life which would inform his practice.

In 2012 Eyestorm started representing Jacky Tsai - and the same year two screenprints, Soul Harvest (2012) and Golden Harvest (2012), were released in conjunction with Christie’s ‘Multiplied’ art fair in London. The works had direct references to the floral skull created for McQueen four years earlier and found an immediate appeal with collectors in London and New York.
JACKY TSAI
Vermilion Garden, 2013

Edition of 50
94(w) x 95(h) cm
37.01(w) x 37.40(h) inches
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Jacky Tsai (Chinese, b. 1984)
94(w) x 95(h) cm
37.01(w) x 37.40(h) inches
6 colour screenprint with hand torn edges on Somerset Satin 410 gsm paper.

Signed and numbered on front.

Image size: 80 x 80 cm
Edition of 50
PRICE
$ 3,585.00 Available from a private collection
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From the success of the resurrected floral skull, the artist confidently defined a genre of pop-art for himself in the following years. Tsai developed both his practice and themes in a whirling speed and began experimenting with multiple and sometimes untraditional mediums. Remarkable for an artist at such early stage of the career. Often working with craftsmen in Shanghai, the artist created contemporary compositions in lacquer and wood carvings, porcelains, cloisonné and Su Xiu embroidery; century old Chinese techniques mastered only in his home country by a diminishing group of craftsmen passing down the skills from one generation to the next.

With themes of traditional Chinese compositions interweaved with Western imagery, his visual narrative started to expand from 2013, finding several directions. New subject matter also found way to his work. Iconic Western figures like Superman, Wonder Woman, GI Joe and pin-up girls versus Monkey King (Sun Wukong), Pig Man (Zhu Bajie) and beautiful geishas; all well-known characters from Chinese literature stretching as far back as the Song Dynasty in 900 AD.
JACKY TSAI
War War War, 2015

Edition of 60
6 Artist Proof (APs)

78(w) x 78(h) cm
30.71(w) x 30.71(h) inches
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Jacky Tsai (Chinese, b. 1984)

War War War , 2015

78(w) x 78(h) cm
30.71(w) x 30.71(h) inches
13 colour screenprint with hand torn edges on Somerset Satin 410 gsm paper.

Signed and numbered on front.
Edition of 60
PRICE
$ 2,180.00 Only 3 left at this price
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This series of work touched a sensitive topic surfacing in recent decades in China. A younger generation, like himself, influenced by Western values, trying to find a new Chinese identity in a globalised world. The “culture clash” played out by superheroes is first emerging in Save Empress Wu (2015) and War War War (2015). Here, Tsai subtly addresses government censorship of a popular soap-opera about the first empress of China, Empress Wu. The Chinese government, visualised by King Kong, is trying to intimidate Empress Wu, only to be saved by a liana-swinging Tarzan in a jungle of cherry trees and peonies.

In 2016 Tsai released Puppets, a work delicately debating the balance of world power, where China is playing a part more than ever. As such, ‘Puppets’ is an important work, questioning the political and social climate of a rapidly changing China. Set in a traditional theatre, a Chinese general dressed in ceremonial uniform is puppeteering a range of Western superheroes - to the amusement of the viewers in the stalls. Not all the Tsai’s work comes with an underlying theme. In The Erotic Dream of the Red Chamber (2016) and The Affair to the East (2016), based on popular Chinese literature from the 18th century, the visual narrative is light-hearted and shows Tsai using humour in his messages.
JACKY TSAI
Pow Pow Pow, 2016

Edition of 60
6 Artist Proof (APs)

86(w) x 105(h) cm
33.86(w) x 41.34(h) inches
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Jacky Tsai (Chinese, b. 1984)

Pow Pow Pow , 2016

86(w) x 105(h) cm
33.86(w) x 41.34(h) inches
19 colour screenprint with 24 carat gold leaf on Somerset 410 gsm paper. Hand torn edge.

Signed and numbered on front.
Edition of 60
PRICE
$ 3,310.00 Only 2 left at this price
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The print editions Fly Me to the Moon (2017) and Pow Pow Pow (2016), originally inspired by two lacquer carvings, are examples of works on paper showing Tsai’s ability to perfectly balance the energy in his work. From a distance the composition of Fly Me to the Moon looks like a blossoming tree - and only close-up the details are revealed, a method commonly used by Tsai. Superman, Batman and Spiderman ready fly off and conquer new worlds, held back (or perhaps encouraged?) by Chinese female characters. Also chosen as the title of his solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow, Fly Me to the Moon is loaded with symbolism.

In contrast Pow Pow Pow is an eruption of energy from the get-go. Set in an interplanetary stage, ancient Chinese cavalry and swordswomen are fighting the likes of Superwoman, Flash Gordon and a T-Rex dinosaur. In the middle the words “Pow Pow Pow”, and its translation in Chinese Hanzi, pop up in golden letters, paying homage to one of Tsai’s Pop Art heroes, Roy Lichtenstein; an artist behind the Pop Art movement in the 1960s in America. Yet below the raging river and fighting scenes, he balances the work with a field of peonies and a woman quietly reading a newspaper. Serenity intact.
JACKY TSAI
Sanctuary Skull Lenticular, 2017

Edition of 33
6 Artist Proof (APs)

100(w) x 122(h) cm
39.37(w) x 48.23(h) inches
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Jacky Tsai (Chinese, b. 1984)
100(w) x 122(h) cm
39.37(w) x 48.23(h) inches
Lenticular.

Signed and numbered label on verso.

To see 3D MOVING IMAGE (6Mb file opens in new window), please click here
Edition of 33
PRICE
$ 7,985.00 Only 1 left at this price
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The skull has been a returning theme for Tsai over the years. From time to time, he would declare his latest one to be the last, but as time passed, new perspectives came to mind, often linking it with religious themes. The skull in Stained Glass Skull (2013) is as a glass mosaic inspired by Anglo-Saxon church windows. And the skull in Cloisonné Skull (2018) is built from Chinese motifs of flowers, goldfish and butterflies seen in traditional Chinese ceramics. With the release of Sanctuary Skull Lenticular (2017), Tsai created his most astonishing and detailed skull, transforming it into 3D using a lenticular lens. Using the structural basis of architecture as subject matter, the work addresses fundamental questions about religion and spiritual differences.

Parallel to the artist’s quest to fuse cultural imagery in his contemporary Pop art, Tsai has repeatedly shown a high technical ability and the desire to carry his vision out. In 2013 he embarked on what would become his longest project to date. Comprised of 52 uniquely numbered oversized playing cards in their relevant suites, Poker Skull (2013), Gambling Skull (2014), War Skull (2014) and Sanctuary Skull (2015) were released over a period of two years. His ingenuity is also clearly seen in NY Cityscape Stamp, where he uses the form of an everyday object, such as the stamp, transforming it into a tribute to New York City. The work has the artistic balance and rhythm of a stamp, full of references to iconic landmarks and historic events in the city. At night, the Statue of Liberty emerges from the surface; printed as the only motif with glow-in-the-dark ink.
JACKY TSAI
NY Cityscape Stamp, 2016

Edition of 33
4 Artist Proof (APs)

84(w) x 100(h) cm
33.07(w) x 39.37(h) inches
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Jacky Tsai (Chinese, b. 1984)
84(w) x 100(h) cm
33.07(w) x 39.37(h) inches
10 colour screenprint with glow in the dark ink and varnish on Somerset Satin 410 gsm paper with hand cut-out edges

Unique prints from a series of 33, each with a different printed number ¢1-¢33

Signed by the artist on front.
Edition of 33
PRICE
$ 4,485.00 Only 1 left at this price
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One work on paper from 2018 is particularly interesting and includes all the artist’s themes; the skull, the pop-iconic imagery and the East-West references. Dream in the Deserted Garden (2018) is loosely based on the Chinese play ‘The Peony Pavilion’, about a young maiden, Du Liniang, who falls asleep in a beautiful walled garden and in her dream falls in love with a scholar, Liu Mengmei; a love that ends tragically once she pursues her dream. In this piece Tsai uses the storyline from the Chinese play originating from the Ming Dynasty and creates his own dream garden. Amongst the beautiful flowers, peacocks and trees are images from Tsai’s childhood. From these personal memories he creates a retro-futuristic setting; a Nintendo Gameboy, an aerial television and a golden watch - all reminders of the artist’s past. Positioned along the periphery of the work, characters are admiring the skull taking centre stage.

In November 2019, the artist released his latest work titled ‘Parody of Jay’s Music’ at the ‘Art & Tech’ summit at Christie’s Auction House in Hong Kong. The piece, acrylic on canvas painting measuring 800 x 250cm, is his largest canvas to date and included augmented reality, bringing the painting to life when looking at it through a smartphone or tablet.
JACKY TSAI
Dream in the Deserted Garden (Blue), 2018

Edition of 28
6 Artist Proof (APs)

94(w) x 95(h) cm
37.01(w) x 37.40(h) inches
MAKE AN OFFER
Art is about talking with each other and via ‘Make an Offer’ you can have a direct conversation with us and suggest a price for this artwork.
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Jacky Tsai (Chinese, b. 1984)
94(w) x 95(h) cm
37.01(w) x 37.40(h) inches
6 colour screenprint with 24-carat gold and silver leaf and hand-torn edges.

Signed and numbered on front by the artist.

To see larger and more detailed image (2.5Mb file opens in new window), please click here
Edition of 28
PRICE
$ 3,725.00 Only 2 left at this price
MAKE AN OFFER
Find art trends here >
Works by Jacky Tsai have been exhibited widely and internationally since 2012. Notable solo shows include: ‘Eastern Orbit’ at Scream Gallery (London, 2014), ‘Future Past’ at Fine Art Society (London, 2015), ‘Culture Clash’ at Eyestorm (New York, 2016), ‘The Harmonious Society’ at Fine Art Society (London, 2016), ‘The Lost Angels’ at Corey Helford Gallery (Los Angeles, 2017) and ‘Reincarnation’ at Unit (London, 2018). In 2011 Tsai was included as new artist at the Eyestorm retrospective group show at Barbican in London - and most recently he was part of ‘Men of Steel, Women of Wonder’ at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the US. At the age of 34, Tsai celebrated his first retrospective museum solo exhibition at Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA).

In the eight years between 2011 and 2018, Eyestorm have proudly released 34 exclusive print editions in collaboration with Jacky Tsai.

You can find further details about the print editions by Jacky Tsai on his artist page here.
 
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