The Alchemist Artist: Cai Guo-Qiang

Are we such violent creatures that even our art forms rely on gun powder?  Cai Guo-Qiang uses explosions the way DaVinci used a paintbrush.  And in the oxymoronic way that DaVinci created meaning in fine lines and power in human forms, Cai has created finesse in combustion, art through man’s ultimate weapon.  Cai has been a prolific artist for many years, however he received  huge international attention when he orchestrated the pyrotechnics show at the 2008 Bejing Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Although he is accomplished in a variety of mediums, Cai began using gunpowder in his work in order to “foster spontaneity and confront the controlled artistic tradition and social climate in China.”  He was born in China in 1957 and his interest in politics, class structure, and especially  Maoist/Socialist concepts such as “destroy nothing, create nothing” helped guide him in his work.  Cai has said: “In some sense, Mao Zedong influenced all artists from our generation with his utopian romance and sentiment.”

Cai explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, which led to the development of his signature explosion events, as they can only be called.  Beyond what is left on the paper, his explosions themselves are works of art, genius and innovation.  In fact, there is something completely “other worldly” about his art.  His projects are not only artistic, but poetic, ambitious and raw.  He aims to establish a connection between life and the cosmos, between the view and the universe.  As if the gunpowder in his work is star dust itself, his paintings promote some commonality between perception and reality.  In many of Cai’s art, a variety of symbols, traditions, narratives and materials are drawn upon.  Chinese medicine interacts with leaping tigers, lights and kites soar museum ceilings, and, most fantastically, gunpowder paintings.

September 11th has had a profound effect on his artwork, and since the event he has reflected upon his use of explosives both materially and and metaphorically asking “Why is it important to make these violent explosions beautiful? Because the artist, like an alchemist, has the ability to transform certain energies, using poison against poison, using dirt and getting gold.”

I was lucky enough to see his artwork at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.  His artwork is visionary, magnificent, and oxymoronic… surely telling of the confused state of society we live in.  I think it is truly unbelievable, and, luckily, was able to find this video clip that they showed at the museum which better explains the process behind his creations…

One Response to “The Alchemist Artist: Cai Guo-Qiang”
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