Jacky Tsai’s Work Fuses Traditional Chinese Techniques with Pop-Culture


London-based artist Jacky Tsai may be most known as the creator behind Alexander McQueen’s iconic floral skull. However, it’s his resurrection of carved lacquer ware that has me interested. Considered to many as a dying craft, Tsai has figured out how to update the antiquated art form into a modern marvel. He riffs on traditional Chinese narratives and lore and challenges its meaning by interjecting it with Western pop-culture characters. We talked comics and inspiration with Jacky after he opened his first solo show, “The Lost Angels”, at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles. “The Lost Angeles” showcases a clash between East and West, both in material and subject matter. What can be seen is an extensive selection of Jacky’s work in lacquer, porcelain, mixed media painting and prints. The exhibition debuts his “Floral Skull,” an ongoing series that explores themes of beauty, decay, and rebirth. As well as his “Superheroes” series. “Lost Angels” will be on display until November 25, 2017.

Words: Keisha Reines


Your exhibition “The Lost Angels” features comic book heroes in situations that are less than heroic. Does the show deal with a lot of heroes losing their way?
The theme deals with the ordinary life of a superhero rather than losing their way. They are still superheroes and save lives, but the heroic side is hidden and you see them as human just like us, with emotions and needs. I think that side is the side that most don’t recognize.

What are some of the other themes that you explore for this body of work?
The theme focuses on creating a surreal scenery of a dialogue between Chinese and Western power figures.

Your work heavily references American pop-culture, what was some of your favourite cartoons and comics growing up?
When I was a kid I loved Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I use to collect comic books and action figures.

What significance do these characters still mean to you as an adult?
As I grow up, I realize that the ability a given superhero holds isn’t real and Western superheroes are actually more of a symbol that represent the political power of the country.


You mix traditional Chinese influence with modern Western imagery, why is it important for you to incorporate dying crafts like carved lacquer ware?
There are two main reasons for this. First, lacquer carving is already a dying craft and that is the reason we need to try our best to preserve this precious skill. Secondly, it is also a challenge for myself to transfer an ancient Chinese craft to a theme based on western pop art.

Do you see younger generations of artists embracing traditional techniques?
Not a lot. In my opinion, younger artists could do more exploring and be more daring in their artwork and techniques.

Are there any mediums or new things you are starting to experiment with?
Yes, I’m trying to incorporate traditional Chinese wood carving into acrylic artworks.

You worked with Alexander McQueen and his influence is evident in your skulls. How else did he influence your work?
I think he influenced me with his appreciation of decayed beauty and the ability to find romance within.


Did he give you an important piece of career advice?
His dedication to his beliefs and career influenced me a lot.

What is up next for you? Any upcoming shows or projects?
I have an upcoming exhibition in Hong Kong and I’m planning some collaborations for 2018.