The often whimsical and fantastic scenes in Cai Zebin's paintings draw inspiration from his extensive knowledge of art history and literature, reinterpreting existing motifs and devices to evaluate the process of painting and, ultimately, making art. Originally born in Shantou, Guangdong province, Cai graduated from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 2012.Read More
Cai is recognised for his depictions of chess pieces, which appear in various perspectives, sizes, and environments that are otherwise unusual for them. A pair of bishops serve as the heels of imaginary shoes in Fulcrum (2017), while a king and a queen peek out from petals in Nameless Flowers (2017).
In Invitation to a Beheading (2017), one of his most known works, chess pieces are seen upturned or with the black of their bottoms showing, with pocket knives possibly standing for the guillotine. The painting evokes 18th-century Romantic paintings, not only in its dark colour palette but also in the artist's process. As he told Art Frontier in a 2018 interview, Cai likened his meticulous study of the forms of chess pieces to French painter Theodore Gericault's preparation for his masterpiece, The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819), which involved interviewing survivors of the tragedy.
Cai appropriates artworks across the history of art to reexamine them in his own visual language. The vertically oriented composition of the 2017 paintings The Pray Without Hooliganism and Choose Neither Completeness nor Amulet is reminiscent of Cubist geometric abstractions; the drapes in Fruits (2017) reference American painter Andrew Wyeth's Window (1947), while the knight piece derives from French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin's The Ray (1728).
Cai's cultural references extend not only to his artworks, but also to the titles of his paintings and exhibitions. The Defense (2018), his solo exhibition at Capsule Shanghai that included Invitation to a Beheading, for example, takes its title from the eponymous novel by Russian-American writer Vladmir Nabokov about the internal turmoils of a young chess prodigy.
Another solo exhibition, A Revisit at 2 bis rue Perrel (2020), also at Capsule Shanghai, is based on Romanian artist Victor Baruner's painting The Encounter of 2 bis rue Perrel (1946), which in turn is a tribute to Henri Rousseau. Cai's works in the exhibition show his propensity for translating classical art historical motifs into his own work, such as the Greek theatre mask in Snake Charmer #2 (2019) and the Three Graces in Revisit (2019).
Cai Zebin's artwork has been included in group exhibitions including Night Tour of the Pearl River (2019) at Guangdong Museum and City Unbounded—Shanghai Jing'an International Sculpture Project (2018) in Shanghai.
Cai Zebin lives and works in Beijing.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020