Jacky Tsai was born in Shanghai, China, but now calls London home; if he ever stays in the British capital long enough, that is. His studio is located in edgy Shoreditch, a stone’s throw from Julian Opie’s. But now that borders have opened, the in-demand artist has been busy criss-crossing the globe, meeting with fans, gallerists and potential collaborators.
As prolific as he is provocative (Tsai’s works often cheekily place Western pop culture figures within a traditional Chinese context, as seen in The Harmonious Society — that depicts Superman, Batman and Robin seeking asylum in China after their world comes crumbling down, allegorically reflecting the country’s industrial rise and the declining dominance of the West), the 38-year-old artist is also well known for creating the Floral Skull which fashion designer Alexander McQueen used in his 2008 spring/summer menswear collection. This recognition, it must be said, catapulted him into the consciousness of the international cognoscenti.
Such dalliances with controversial aesthetics promptly cast Tsai along the same “enfant terrible” lines as McQueen, although he is quick to rebut: “People think I have the spirit of a rebel. Yes, my work is sarcastic but it is also fun and full of humour and contradictions. What I want it to do is make the viewer think.”
A new MetaSkull Collection, geared towards the metaverse, was just launched on Oct 19. Consisting of 1,001 unique digital art assets revolving around three distinct themes of gambling, poker and anti-war, the entire collection was created using a generative art technique that is also 3D in nature — an innovative move as most NFT art on the market today are 2D. For this, Tsai worked in collaboration with Froyo Games, a Web3 gaming platform with extensive global video game development experience, whose Southeast Asian partner is iCandy Interactive, the region’s largest game development company.
“My vision for the MetaSkull is to dispel the notion of fear and negative attitudes towards death, particularly among the Chinese,” he says. “Besides being the bridge between Eastern and Western art, I also want to be the bridge that links traditional artforms to that of NFTs,” he says. “We live in interesting times right now where you see traditional artists struggling to transform their art for the digital world. The NFT artists’ voices are growing louder and louder but the two worlds still don’t understand each other.”
What makes the MetaSkull launch extra interesting is that Sotheby’s will auction off the first NFT(1/1001), which features a unique skull design against a moon-like backdrop and the inclusion of a flying avatar, between now and Oct 28. “I chose this design to mark my voyage into the boundless metaverse,” he adds. “It is just like exploring the vast surface of the moon for the first time.”
Art aficionados would note that it is highly unusual to have such a celebrated international auction house conduct the bidding process for an NFT art launch. The remainder of the MetaSkull collection will be made available for public minting at a later date, which has yet to be announced.
Sotheby’s, however, did conduct the sale of Tsai’s first-ever NFT project in 2019. Titled Chinese Floral Skull, Lot 37, the programmable NFT fetched US$302,400 — the highest price for an NFT designed by an Asian artist then. “I am thrilled to present my digital art masterpieces in their various forms to bring new perspectives to the digital audience,” Tsai says. “MetaSkull expounds humanity’s differing views on death as it highlights shifting attitudes towards life and how our choices ultimately influence our journey towards the inevitable.”
In Malaysia, Tsai last showed in December 2021 at Qing Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, with his Forever is Now exhibition.
This article first appeared on Oct 24, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.