On this rare sunny afternoon in Vancouver BC, I tucked into Centre A on West Hastings. I had been meaning to see Howie Tsui‘s current exhibition, Celestials Of Saltwater City. It is described as “imagery from ancient Asian ghost stories to satirize the disturbing climate of fear in contemporary society.”
I must’ve been carrying a rabbit’s foot, because it turns out today was the last day of the exhibit. I felt lucky because it would’ve been a shame to miss this.
I was nicely surprised. I didn’t expect such involved paintings.
Initially the first thing you see appears to be an abstract mess of paint (with more time, it turns out to be one of Tsui’s recurring ghosts) on the wall, with huge piles of paper beneath.
It all gets a lot better when you walk deeper into Centre A, around the front wall – Bam! A hanging shape with a death mask is centre stage. Underneath him are four floating possessed emperor’s lackeys, unsuccessfully carrying a cart or portable throne.
I enjoyed what came next the most. A series of long paintings, some vertical,
of a bizarre but engaging combo of old Asian ink paintings (including old homes, lakes, and mountains) with a madness of fantastical ghosts, spirits, demons, and animal-headed people in various states of elaborate torture or death.
There is a strange way that Tsui makes his pieces move the viewer’s eyes. At a far distance, the paintings are almost indecipherable, you need to move closer to try to comprehend the individual parts.
Then you see that although each inch of the paintings are not rendered in equally exquisite detail (a few areas are actually disappointingly unfinished),
but where the detail occurs is in flesh and bodies; a disturbing sensuality.
There was also a small room of projected art.
I didn’t find this work as interesting, though it is intriguing why Tsui chose to create these lanterns. In his artist’s statement he says, “The use of magic lantern projectors and the utsushi-e medium is a natural extension of my interest in reviving archaic art forms and genres from East Asia.”
Also of interest: a video of Tsui painting and apparently burning the spirits onto the gallery walls, and a short documentary-type piece in which he explains how and why he came to the focus of this exhibit.
A shame I hadn’t seen this show earlier, I definitely would have promoted it. Not only were the series of paintings engaging, the effort they took to view resulted in a sense of satisfaction, time well spent. Be on the lookout for more from Howie Tsui !
Thank you Centre A for hosting this show and for being kind enough to let me take photos.
For my full set of photos, please visit my set of Celestials Of Saltwater City photos on Flickr.