Interview: Yi Kai
Luca Curci talks with Yi Kai, one of the winners of ARTIST OF THE MONTH – OCTOBER 2020.
I was born in China and lived there for half of my life, experiencing the effects of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 – 1976. In the 1990’s I immigrated to the United States and built a new life here. Life experiences under two entirely different cultures, languages, and ideologies weigh heavily on my conceptual thinking and approach to painting. My formal art training was divided between Chinese traditional painting and western oil painting. Since then, I have been immersed in the world of painting for decades. Since the very beginning, my intention has been to convey my own interpretations and critiques of contemporary life, and to express those thoughts with traditional techniques of painting. My artwork is primarily driven by lines and shapes instead of light and three dimensional space. My approach to color is based on the traditional Chinese theory of coloring with elements combined with the Western theory of coloring with environment. The compositions in my work draw upon the distributed perspective of traditional Chinese painting, where viewpoints are collected and determined by will. Most characteristic of my work is using Chinese calligraphy brush strokes to deal with Abstract Expressionist color.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Yi Kai – From the beginning of childhood to today, decades later, art has always been the main content of my life. From painting portraits of Mao in his teens during the Cultural Revolution, to painting political propaganda posters in the army, painting Tibetan subjects during the Chinese reform period until 30 years of American life and creation. Observing life, learning skills, and artistic creation have become an important part of my life.
LC – What are you currently working on?
YK – This year’s epidemic situation is created every day at home for ten months. In November, there was a solo exhibition of 42 oil paintings and four sketches in a gallery in the greater Los Angeles area. The title of the exhibition is “Impressions of Masks and Maskers.”
LC – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
YK – Those of us who were born in China in the 1950s have experienced extraordinary lives. The politics suppress of the Mao time, the extremely poor material life, the opposite life experience in the United States, and China’s endless pursuit of material conditions in recent years. These life experiences across different cultures, social systems, different races and ethnic groups are reflected in my artistic creation. What I think about most is how to use professional artistic methods to faithfully reflect my life perception and arouse the resonance of the audience.
LC – What is your creative process like?
YK – Always observe, think about life and consider what means to express this experience. After having an idea, there is a draft drawing. The creation of each work is only allowed to be 70% certain, and how to complete the other 30% is a mystery. This state always allows me to maintain a creative mentality to solve the problem of the picture creation process. I never fully copy my own work, from the beginning to the end of a work, I will explore every possibility and continue to deny myself, completing the work in this contradictory state.
LC – Are your artworks focused on a specific theme?
YK – I have been in the arts for decades from China to the United States. The creation is based on my observation and experience of life plus my insights. The theme of creation is different in each period. The most involved topics are still people.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
YK – With the rapid development of high technology today, people are anxious to make quick money, and time and life experience have become cost considerations in pursuit of material benefits. In such a social environment, artists must be content to be lonely and not follow the crowd. You must keep tempering, enrich yourself, and use decades of unremitting efforts to pursue your own ideals.