Artist Profile: Cai Guo-Qiang

Hey guys!

For this weeks Art Corner post I’ve decided to take a look at a specific artist instead of a piece of work. This week we are headed to China to meet artist Cai Guo-Qiang. I recently did an essay on him for my Art History final, and was so amazed and awed by his work that I wanted to share.

Cai Gun-Qiang

Guo-Qiang was born in China, and lived through the various stages of dictatorship in China, as well as the transition to a communist society. He has been highly influenced by his childhood as well as his time spent in Japan (although he now lives in New York). Cai Guo-Qiang stands out among the rest because of his use of gunpowder in his art. Qiang uses gunpowder in various ways to create both solid pieces, as well as live action works of art through his firework shows. To create his solid pieces, he first designs the image that will be produced, and he does this by stenciling out the design. His strokes when stenciling are very similar to the strokes that would be used in calligraphy (influenced by the Chinese tradition), and when finished with the stencil, the gunpowder is detonated in one explosion. His firework shows are different in that the explosions can be done in unison to create one design or can be a string of explosions to promote various colors and designs that interconnect to create an image. From the works I’ve seen, they often include nature themes and are very much connected to the rawness of his material which we can wonder if that is influenced by the Japanese idea of wabi sabi (the beauty in purity and rawness of materials).

A non-live paper work.
Snapshot captured from a live fireworks show.

One of Cai Guo_Qiang’s most prominent and personal works was his piece call Sky Ladder, which he completed in 2015, after 20 years of work. Sky Ladder was created by stringing together bamboo, steel and gunpowder, and then using a hot air balloon to lift one end of the ladder up, while the other end would be attached to the earth. It embodies the various factors that are inherently Cai Guo-Qiang. The ladder was made to “connect earth to the universe” and “open a dialogue” between the humans on earth and the universe. Guo-Qiang aspired to create the Sky Ladder because it reflected his idea that a destructive material could be transformed and used in a positive way. Through this work, he managed to build a 1,650 foot ladder that he believed would exemplify the inherent relationship between humans, earth, and the universe. This piece is extensively discussed in the documentary on Netflix called Sky Ladder, it is SO good and I definitely recommend watching it to experience Guo-Qiang’s process and to learn more about him.

With his art, Guo-Qiang shows the balance between humans and nature, and he demonstrates these dichotomies through his art. He uses a dangerous and lethal material to create beautiful and wholesome art. He blends modern and ancient to honor the past while exploring the technology of the future. His art itself is explosive, being both impermanent and everlasting. Guo-Qiang continues to set himself apart from other contemporary artists by exploring these often opposing ideals, and creating art that stands out in design and execution. Overall, I think Cai Guo-Qiang’s work is amazing and revolutionary and I really wanted to delve into it here on my blog. Hope you enjoy, and stay tuned for next weeks Art Corner post, in which I believe we will be setting sail for a new country… 🙂

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