Selections 1979-1989 from her retrospective
March – April 2018 instagram.com/cxsilvergallery
– Linda Montano
C.X. Silver Gallery in collaboration with The Colonial Theatre presents
Cai Xi: Earth and Sky
selected works from the Earth and Sky series
- Location: 89½ Main St., Keene, NH, next to the theatre entrance and above Turn It Up!
- By appointment (603) 357-1233 or (802) 257-7898
Artist statement for the exhibition: “Earth and Sky has been inspired by the New England landscape and the openings to the wide sky. Since the early eighties, I have been playing with abstraction in my painting, which allows me to explore my emotion more freely. Since 2001, I am living with the beauty of the Vermont landscape. In the past 16 years, nature has taught me that my idea, desire and style are not important. Contemplating nature through painting is a way for me to acknowledge Nature’s gifts to us humans. There is a feeling of completely melting into each painting, an ongoing prayer for peace on Earth.”
From the time Cai was small until high school, one of her favorite memories of her native city Chongqing was exploration and creative play on a wild, wooded bluff atop a small mountain in the middle of the city. She began studying painting with her father, a stage, costume and makeup designer. “From my mother, who gave me constant encouragement, I learned the principle of tōng 通 meaning ‘going through,’ which I apply to my life process, through taiji practice, connecting the body with earth-sky energy, becoming the oneness of vast Nature.”
Sometimes, you have to pass through a gallery, looking, smelling – almost touching – works of art, taking them in, in a very physical way, and then you step away and let the effect wash over you, feeling the pieces, sequentially, as waves of an ocean surge and ebb, pulsing, receding, for a long time after you have left the scene. Later, wanting to reconnect, you come to the work again with a whole new body – new eyes, for sure. It enters your consciousness with a different, sensuously powerful energy; and before you know it, you are swept along in the hypnotic dance of qi gong, discovering, in yourself, the steps the painter took when the painting was made. A corner turned, portraits reveal vistas of an earlier world, with faces of family members, farmers, fisher folk, and the like. A sturdy four-year-old in one picture sings to a finch in a birdcage, her entire being focused in that long-ago, invisible sound. In the other, she studies the lights and shadows of candles in a bowl. And landscapes take us to both times and places in China, long ago. Cai’s recent venture into socially engaged art – performances, experiences, installations – seems like a radical departure from all this, but in fact, it is a natural outgrowth, in a life that has seen enormous changes, emerging out of China’s Cultural Revolution, marriage to an American and transplantation to an alien culture, a new language, parenthood, teaching, food catering, and participation in a free-wheeling, mind-expanding MFA program, all at the same time. The Pink Slip Project, Art-as-Food-as-Art, and Our Meal Table are evidences of a greater perspective, in which Art-is-Life-is-Art. Like her work, Cai is never finished, never still even for a moment. But whether her work takes her to the kitchen, the canvas, the tai chi, the classroom, or the street, this warrior woman finds still-points, reflections, and time-warps to share with us, wherever she goes. Cai’s life and work give credence to a line from an old song of the 60’s, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ … into the Future.” Dance on, Sister Cai!
– Nye Ffarrabas
To friends, artists, Vermonters, or those who like visual art, I have something I must say:
My mother, Cai Xi, is objectively the most hardworking, versatile, and technically proficient painters I have ever known. Cai has lived a tumultuous, cross-cultural life, reflected in her enormous body of work that spans over decades in China and the US. She has created hundreds of paintings, each a visceral snapshot of her body, mind, and heart over the course of her journey. Her work has, for almost my entire lifetime, been hidden away in storage, where they’ve been collecting dust and seen only by my family. Finally, Cai is mounting a retrospective exhibition where sketches, abstract works, landscapes, portraiture, and action paintings, created between 1980-2015, meet to form a bold synthesis of her life. No one more deserves to be seen in this way.
My mother has been more than a mother to me. She is a mentor and role model. She has inspired me to be a quiet, thoughtful leader and leads by example. She has overcome horrible obstacles and adversity with grace. She has taught me that art is a life-long love that enriches and expresses the human spirit – a lesson I have used to fuel my own craft. I can only begin to say how lucky I am to grow up with my mother and her art coloring our house. Her paintings and her presence have forged my life, and they can change yours yourself. I wish I could be there in the room to witness the first presentation of my mother’s legacy in all its grandeur, but I hope you’ll do that for me. Much love from England.
– Alec Silver
The process of my portraits are dialoguing with each person, connecting with their inner beauty and their stories, a journey that shares and celebrates each person’s unique experience, time and space. The experience of ‘Edge’ is about stepping into and out of myself. Chinese traditional breathing exercise, qi gong, continues to help me channel energy when I paint. Materials, surface and texture are self-renewing areas of exploration. While living in New York in the 90s, I derived inspiration from cement sidewalks, the subway, and weathered walls. Everywhere I went, I kept discovering painting in my surroundings. Wu Ji (Infinity Within) is the concept of qi-yun ‘flow of energy into balance’ which is not just movement but also related to the vitality of the composition, the interaction of the painting medium, the forms depicted, and the painting surface. I appreciate the 17th century Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting – still useful today – which emphasizes “the close relationship between painting and calligraphy” and “the traditional view that painting is not a profession but an extension of the art of living.”
– Cai Xi (more on Cai’s work here)
“I returned to my gymnastics and calligraphy experiences as a child, finding myself jumping, stretching, and reaching as I painted. Chinese traditional breathing exercise (Qigong) continued to help me channel energy when I painted. Throughout the nineties, materials, surface and texture were self-renewing areas of exploration. I derived a lot of inspiration from living in New York City. On the street and subway, on the ground in the cement sidewalk, a peeling wall, everywhere I went, I kept discovering: ‘Oh, look. There’s a painting!’ The experience of ‘Edge’ is about stepping into and out of myself. My art-making is characterized by this existential process. For me, Art is about Paradox: appearance-disappearance, life-death, nothingness-wholeness, chaos-groundedness, emptiness-substance, movement-fixity.”
Cai is part of the experimental contemporary art scene, a maverick in her own right, forging new solutions with each work in process. At the same time, she has a connection to and transforms traditional classical Chinese art through calligraphy and the principles of ‘brush’ (using the common mop, broom, and mason’s trowel), ‘ink’ (as oil or enamel paint), and, what has been known for centuries in China as the ‘bone’ of compositional structure. Much of her connection to traditional Chinese painting is espoused in the 17th century treatise, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting: “The great unifying aim has been to express Tao, the way – the basic Chinese belief in an order and harmony in nature” , “the close relationship between painting and calligraphy” and “the traditional view that painting is not a profession but an extension of the art of living.” Cai relates to the Tao as a mystical groundedness.
A major aspect of Cai’s work is the connection to the Chinese concept of inner energy, qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is related to breath, both of humans and of the world and all things within and without the world. In Cai’s painting, the qi is visible in the movement of the painting stroke within the picture plane. Cai also taps into the centuries-old concept of qi-yun, loosely translated as ‘spirit-resonance’ which is more than just movement but also related to the vitality of the composition, the interaction of the painting medium, the forms depicted,and the painting surface.
In her abstract works of the past decade and continuing into the most recent year, the ‘Wu Ji (Infinity Within)’ and ‘In The Box’ series, Cai continues her exploration of the relationship between qi-yun and harmony, her painting, her tai chi martial arts practice, and most recently, the Chinese meridians and China’s traditional Five Elements.