Spotlight: London-Based Artist Jacky Tsai Synthesizes Eastern and Western Symbols, From Mahjong Tiles to Memento Mori

Represented by Eyestorm, the artist has a vibrant artistic style rooted in traditional Chinese styles and Western Pop art.

Jacky Tsai, Gambling Skull (Jack of Diamonds) (2014). Courtesy of Eyestorm, London.

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What You Need to Know: Founded in 1999, Eyestorm initially focused on—and quickly gained prominence for—releasing limited artist editions. Over the course of more than two decades, Eyestorm has worked with some of the world’s most famous artists, such as Maurizio Cattelan, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Ed Ruscha, just to name a few, many before they had become household names. Eyestorm continues to offer works by established artists, but also showcases a dynamic and diverse range of emerging artists, creating an opportunity for collectors to invest in the work of early-career artists. In 2011, Henrik Riis, a member of a group of entrepreneurs who acquired Eyestorm, was named CEO, and began a process of revitalization that stayed true to the gallery’s ethos and mission. Part of this included the addition of London-based Chinese artist Jacky Tsai, who at the time was first gaining traction in the art world and has since become internationally recognized and exhibited.

About the Artist: Jacky Tsai (b. 1984) has an artistic practice centered on the synthesis of Eastern techniques and symbolism with Western Pop art references, resulting in a unique visual lexicon that simultaneously reflects and comments on contemporary reality. Working with a wide range of mediums, from traditional canvas-based works to NFTs, Tsai’s work materially engages with themes of time, creating work that is in “past, present, and future tenses.” Tsai received his B.A. at the China Academy of Art, after which he relocated to London to study at Central Saint Martins, and in 2022, he was named Artist of the Year by the Digital Art Fair, Hong Kong, celebrating the decade the artist has spent working in both traditional and digital art mediums. His first major museum show, “Life-Fantasy,” in China opened the same year, and he is presently the subject of a solo show at MOCA Bangkok, “Reincarnation,” on view through July 23, 2023.

Why We Like It: Tsai’s body of work contains an intriguing series of dichotomies—between the narrative and abstract, serious and humorous, traditional and avant-garde, and, most apparently, Eastern and Western. Often, the antecedents for individual motifs and compositions are immediately recognizable, but when considered as part of the whole, the unique balance Tsai imparts through crafting each work results in something that transcends the individual elements. In Gambling Skull (Jack of Diamonds) (2014), for instance, the overall composition is that of a common playing card with a skull. Upon closer inspection, however, the skull is made up of juxtaposed and overlaid motifs drawn from gambling culture—the teeth are comprised of mahjong tiles, the eyes roulette wheels. The work is from a series of 15 unique playing card compositions. Other works, such as Puppets (2016) illustrate Tsai’s deft employment of Eastern and Western cultural icons. Here, a scene is set within a traditional Chinese puppet house, but the puppets performing are characters from contemporary DC and Marvel comic book universes.

Jacky Tsai
Dream in the Deserted Garden (Blue) (2018)
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Jacky Tsai, Dream in the Deserted Garden (Blue) (2018). Courtesy of Eyestorm, London.

Jacky Tsai
Cloisonné Skull (2018)
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Jacky Tsai, Cloisonné Skull (2018). Courtesy of Eyestorm, London.

Jacky Tsai
The Revival (2017)
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Jacky Tsai, The Revival (2017). Courtesy of Eyestorm, London.

Jacky Tsai
Puppets (2016)
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Jacky Tsai, Puppets (2016). Courtesy of Eyestorm, London.

Jacky Tsai
Pow Pow Pow (2016)
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Jacky Tsai, Pow Pow Pow (2016). Courtesy of Eyestorm, London.

Explore more works by Jack Tsai with Eyestorm here.


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