Chinese artist and designer Jacky Tsai is probably best known for his work with Alexander McQueen, where he was responsible for (among other things) the the floral skull motif now synonymous with the late designer’s work. Since then, Tsai has continued his work in fashion, and through his own label he has collaborated with brands such as Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford and Shanghai Tang. It’s in partnership with the latter, China’s biggest luxury brand, that he is now opening his first solo show in London with a brand new body of work at The Fine Art Society.
Having trained in print, fashion and multimedia, today Tsai works with a range of traditional Chinese crafts and techniques dating back 2,000 years. Ancient and dying skills such as wood-engraving, cloisonné, ceramic and su xiu embroidery are all employed in his pieces. Tsai works alongside the often elderly craftsmen, persuading them to employ his ‘non-traditional’ imagery in the hope that it might serve to revitalise their skills and bring them to the attention of a new generation.
Exploring the cultural exchange between Asia and the West, in particular focusing on the connections and disparity between the two through his art, Tsai’s pieces combining Eastern artistry with a Western pop aesthetic. At once comical and energetic, there are some serious political undertones, the pieces borrowing the tropes of 19th century colonial rule as well as of modern-day racial stereotyping.
The show at The Fine Art Society is called 'Future Past', a title which echoes his previous exhibition in Hong Kong, 'East West'. 'I also wanted to show the range of my artwork from the past and into the future.' says Tsai. 'I use a lot of future heroes in my work, with Chinese traditional heroes, who collide into one picture.'
Tsai insists, though, that the famous flowery skull motif was an accident: 'They called the young talent from Central St Martins to do internships at Alexander McQueen. One day McQueen asked me to make a flower skull for him, everyone else had failed to do it for months. So I had a try, and I made that flower skull and that was it. I went back to college, and a year later they printed that skull everywhere and it just became a global phenomenon. Now, it has become a very iconic symbol for McQueen – you see copycats everywhere.'