‘.. a few of my favourite things … ‘ #1: Cai Guo-Qiang


This little profile is the first of a series letting you into my mind (an often weird and wonderful place!), sharing with you some of my favourite artists and their work.

The first ‘cab off the rank’ must surely be one of the most remarkable contemporary artists. New York-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang is one of my most admired and inspiring artists with his scope, scale and sheer audacity of using different materials to make often hauntingly beautiful gallery works and outdoor events. In 2008 alone he completed over 26 major installations and events, including the opening ceremony for Beijing Olympics.

I am particularly drawn to his use of fire – with gunpowder as its catalyst - in his work. No surprise here to anyone familiar with my recent research and ongoing productions.  Accomplished in a variety of media, Cai began using gunpowder while living in Japan from 1986 to 1995 where he explored its properties in his work to foster spontaneity and confront the controlled artistic tradition and social climate in China. This led to the development of his signature explosion events.

Put ‘Cai Guo-Qiang’ into any internet search engine and you will come up with a host of images of his work, but I have included here documentation of his actual production methodology. The excitement and tension of live fire in action in artistic cannot be put in words – it must be experienced.  In the review of his 2002 solo show at the Shanghai Art Museum, Heartney[1] describes the methods Cai employs in creation of his gunpowder works. “Using a technique he has developed since his years in China, he lays traces of gunpowder over large sheets of paper and ignites one of the powder lines. The drawing is the resulting burn pattern, which Cai has learnt to control with remarkable precision….. in their apparent spontaneity and their exploitation of the paper’s white surface …. They bear an unmistakeable and fully intentional resemblance to traditional Chinese ink painting.”

He stated on his website: “Why is it important to make these violent explosions beautiful? - the artist, like an alchemist, has the ability to transform certain energies, using poison against poison, using dirt and getting gold.” He goes on: “fire was the originating element in the universe, and was pivotal in the development of human civilization. Fire links humankind with the cosmos and encompasses the duality of creation and destruction.” [2]

This man’s mind at work truly stretches the boundaries of artistic production, and observing his creations renews and stimulates my enthusiasm for exploration and expression.


[1] Heartney, E. Cai Guo-Qiang: Illuminating the New China. Art in America (New York) May 2002: Cover, pg 96

[2] Cai Guo-Qiang,  <http://www.caiguoqiang.com>.