Selections from her retrospective
December 2016 – March 2017
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
Even in the 1980s, Cai responded to assignments and creative practice with determination and joy. Already schooled in studio practice, Cai responded with strong, deeply felt portraits that are already masterly and indications of fierce talent. In her later work, large tai-chi-like gestures are massage-like in their rawness. Cai has a way of literally throwing her body, mind and soul into her painting, a method which results in passionate/poetic communications. Cai’s college teacher in early 1980s China said, “Wherever you go; don’t give up an opportunity to learn and be inspired.” I am thinking about how that teaching method has resulted in Cai’s present practice of not only making her home an art-life center of creativity via food as art, communication as art, dealing with life issues with others as art but also Cai’s Putney School experience of taking her students to China. Sort of duplicating her teacher’s axiom of going to the source! As artist-teacher, Cai continues her teacher’s courage to go into the unknown to create and find inspiration. Cai, like all artists who follow the muse of their inner voice, has been and continues to be in touch with inner voices that dictate her path. Her sensitivity is always shared, never ego-bound but stirring inside and shining so that those close to Cai, are taught by her focused art-light. Listen to what Cai says, a story of healing: “Then I realized that I had put myself in danger and that gave me a feeling of shock. I took that shock and started a doing a painting.” This is a good life-art recipe, and way to transfer pain into gain, into healing, into knowledge, a way that she practices, even now. Cai is a masterful-artist/lifeist. Thank you, Cai for your strong brush strokes; for your ability to translate persons to paint; for your courage to travel to the site of your vision.
– Linda Montano
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)
Weekend Art/Life Retreat
Participatory/Performance Art · Communal Cooking Lessons · Workshops · Training · Conversation as Art
An Art / Life retreat weekend of activities with performance artists Linda Mary Montano, Nye Ffarrabas, and Cai Xi, Friday evening November 4th through Sunday midday November 6th, 2016 at the C.X. Silver Gallery, Brattleboro, VT (Nov. 4-5) with a visit to the Michael S. Currier Center at The Putney School (Nov. 6).
Linda Mary Montano and Nye Ffarrabas have been exploring and dissolving the boundaries between art and life for six decades each. Cai‘s art-life journey is now in its fifth decade. Together they will be presenting art / life audience participation experiences along with Cai’s art-as-food-as-art. The schedule of activities includes a variety of group and 1-to-1 performance pieces, individualized training, reiki, intuitive readings, art / life counseling, contemplation, tai chi, qi gong, Five Elements exploration, and food preparation with communal dining as performance pieces.
There are concurrent exhibitions of all three artists. This occasion features the preview of a new book on Linda’s 14 Years of Art/Life, with an exhibition that includes drawings, installations and archival photographs. A selection from Nye’s 50-year retrospective of art pieces, poetry and writings, cxsilvergallery.com/nye-ffarrabas includes the 50th anniversary of the Egg-Time Event which is featured in Nye’s book, a walk on the inside magcloud.com/browse/issue/756374. Cai Xi’s Retrospective 1980-2015 of portraits, landscapes and abstracts is on view nearby at the Michael S. Currier Center, Putney School. At C.X. Silver Gallery, Cai’s installation includes her recent piece on the Chinese Five Elements.
Schedule of activities for the weekend: [Bring Blankets for Yourself]
Friday, 11/4: 6pm: Arrival, C.X. Silver Gallery, 814 Western Avenue, Brattleboro, VT. 6-7pm: Light meal provided by Cai. 7-9pm: Sessions – Meditation with Linda; Poetry and Reiki with Nye; Opening the Meridians with Cai.
Saturday, 11/5: All day at C.X. Silver Gallery: 7:30-9am: Breakfast and conversation. 9-10am: Tai chi and Qigong with Cai. 10am-6pm: Sessions: Art/Life Counseling with Linda; Poetry and intuitive readings with Nye; Communal meal and preparation including cooking lessons with Cai. 6-9pm: Buffet, conversation and closure for the day’s activities.
Sunday, 11/6: 7:30-9am: Breakfast/conversation at C.X. Silver Gallery. 9:00-9:30am: Car pool to The Putney School. 9:30am-12pm: Sessions at the Michael S. Currier Center, The Putney School, 418 Houghton Brook Road, Putney, VT: Tai chi and Qigong with Cai · Art/Life Counseling with Linda · Stone activities and reiki with Nye · viewing Cai’s retrospective exhibition · Closure for the weekend’s activities. For further information, contact Adam Silver, 802-257-7898 · firstname.lastname@example.org
* Limited airBnB lodging available on site at a reduced rate for retreat participants.
Cai Xi’s Edge paintings from the 90’s:
August 5 – September 18, 2016
Artist reception, Friday, August 19, 5-7pm at C.X. Silver Gallery for Selections from ‘Edge.’ Cai’s ‘Edge’ paintings 1991-1994 on view at C.X. Silver Gallery, Brattleboro, VT, through September 18, 2016. Inquiries: Contact Adam Silver, Operations Manager / Co-Director, (802) 257-7898.
Cai was featured in two exhibitions during August, her 1980s portraits in Newfane’s Crowell Gallery and her 1990s Edge abstracts in Brattleboro’s C.X. Silver Gallery. The ‘Edge’ series of paintings developed over a seven-year period during the 1990s. The first year, they were oil on canvas which changed to mixed media during the second year. The archive of images of most of those works are at caixiart.com/edge.
“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, albeit 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.