Pop Art has always intrigued me, so when I was given the opportunity to interview Chinese Pop artist, Jacky Tsai, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been bewitched by his work since I first came across the floral skull he created for the late Alexander Mcqueen. Tsai must have noticed my excitement as I walked into his studio – a light, spacious room set in the heart of East London. The walls were covered with books, flowers and, perhaps unsurprisingly, skulls
Wearing gym clothes, yet looking neat and discreet, Jacky opened the door and politely asked me not to take pictures until his assistant had brought him a smart change of clothing. He is clearly an active person and was full of energy, his morning routine clearly enables him to power on through the day.
The conversation started so easily and continued to flow so naturally I almost forgot that I was there for an interview. He was relaxed and down to earth as he told me how it had all started and who had inspired him in his formative years. At university, “Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol became big heroes of mine. As my aesthetic developed, I decided to do something big, something really unique by combining traditional Chinese art with Western Pop Art.”
A few years ago Jacky was attending a friend’s wedding, whose father happened to be a collector of a traditional art. While Jacky was appreciating one of the pieces from the collection there, an interesting thought came to him. “This could be very cool in a modern way, the only thing I need to do is to combine all the different aesthetic forms to create a unique language of my own”. And that was beginning of his remarkable journey.
Despite the warmth of our conversation, I couldn’t avoiding asking him why symbol of death is so prevalent in his work.
Skulls, and indeed other symbols of death in Chinese culture are feared and are therefore often unseen.“The skull is a good symbol to indicate how we are reborn from death. My skull is about beauty, so it would never be scary. I respect and value traditions and though I’m naturally scared of a skull myself, I have created a different, beautiful floral skull to overcome my fears.”
Fears? I repeated. Do you have any? “No, I don’t” he smiled. Later on Jacky admitted that in his early career he had fears and doubts about how would he survive in London and where would he fit in as an artist, but overall, he was extremely lucky and suffered less than most of artists. “I am a happy person and even if I lost everything now, I could achieve everything again!” He laughs.
I left the interview with renewed admiration for Tsai. Not only for his optimism, but for his ability to use a variety of ways and mediums to express himself. He has dabbled with embroidery, lacquer carving, screen printing, porcelain and sculpture, to name but a few. “The process is time consuming , it’s not like a typical artistic process when you have an inspiration, and get up at night and start creating. My art is made by very careful research and preparation, from the very first scratch on a paper until the final piece of work. If I described my work process, then everyone could be Jacky Tsai.” .
At the moment Tsai’s main focus is trying to become a factory manager and distribute his artwork to different people. “If I did my artwork on my own, I would never finish it. The people I work with make the journey shorter and are able to deliver the best results. But in order to do so I have to describe my work techniques first.”
Looking at Jacky Tsai’s website, I couldn’t ignore the fact that together with beautiful timeless art pieces, there are menswear T-shirts which caused me to wonder if Jacky Tsai would leave the art world to become a fashion designer – a significant loss to the modern art generation. “I don’t see myself as a fashion designer, it’s my hobby, all I want is to make my art more accessible to others. I don’t want to be called a fashion designer because I’m not, I am an artist and always will be.”
Being a citizen from an emerging country himself, Jacky Tsai has some interesting opinions on collectors from the emerging markets and how they are different to collectors from the West.
“Collectors from emerging markets are more realistic in the sense they buy art as an investment, while Western collectors, regardless of background or class, appreciate and understand art. But there are more and more Chinese people who have now developed a real taste and feel for art, so I believe in 10 years there won’t be a difference between emerging and Western countries in this area.”
I had the answers to all my questions, but I wanted to ask a few more, just for myself – simple questions about what makes him happy, what his dreams are and whether or not he believes in destiny. “If you have talent in a specific area and if you are a hardworking, dedicated person, sooner or later your the chance will come” he mused. Even though Jacky calls his work with Alexander Mcqueen an accident, it’s really not the case. The world had to discover the floral skull phenomenon created by this talented artist. Like any other visionary all Jacky Tsai wants is to be remembered by people and to be able to leave a significant mark in art history. I think he’s achieved it. “When I die, my floral skull will become more meaningful, because I will finally become part of it.”
Jacky’s show runs from 18 September – 2 October 2015 at The Fine Art Society, New Bond Street