Capsule Shanghai is pleased to announce Night Strolls, Cai Zebin's debut in Italy at Artissima 2022, curated by Manuela Lietti. Widely known for his peculiar painterly language, Cai Zebin (b. 1988, Guangdong province, China, where he currently lives and works) walks through the history of art with the same ease and sense of never-ending wonder as a flaneur walking in the city. He indulges in the inspiration that the masters and art history provide while creating new paths, memories, and visual diaries in a playful yet acculturated way.
While the detours of a flaneur, when taken together, form a unique route that reveals his analytical yet sentimental knowledge of the urban and human landscape, Cai translates the surreal syncretism of his iconography through a new painterly language that is original yet well-rooted in both the Eastern and Western traditions. On the one hand, Cai's methodology - inherited from Chinese tradition - consists of gaining inspiration and creating meaning from copying the masters he reveres. In this way, he learns a painting technique from the inside and grasps a feeling, an atmosphere-Cai's ultimate goal. On the other hand, his admiration for various Western masters, especially the Surrealists but spanning artists from Henri Rousseau to Victor Brauner, is visible in the visual reminders that pop up in his paintings.
Glimmer, one of the three large-scale paintings on view, is an open homage to both Victor Brauner's self-portrait The Surrealist and René Magritte's Philosopher's Lamp. The former is invoked by the presence of the same 'props' - a knife, a goblet, and gold coins - and the latter is recalled in the fluid lines of the snake-like candle. Confusion at Midnight conjures Henri Rousseau's The Sleeping Gypsy. Here, Cai transforms the female figure into an almost sculptural 'anti-goddess' made of pumpkins whose plasticity echoes the sinuous lines of the cat that replaces the original lion and dialogues with all the other elements in the surrounding environment.
Cai Zebin's paintings are a continuous chain of musings in which quotations from both artistic masters and his own work co-exist and overlap in a visual stream of consciousness. The large-scale canvas Self-Portrait epitomises this tendency; it is a visual compendium of the artist's recurrent motifs: the candle, the facial mask, and the anthropomorphic paint box and palette 'dressed' like other similar figures in this body of work. The smaller-scale Portrait of the Painter, the most recent in this series,is a riot of colours and shapes. Next to books entitled The Defense and Laval, after two of Cai's past solo presentations, the bristles of the brushes almost dance and greet the audience like finger puppets or sea anemones.
Chimera - also the title of Cai's most recent artist's book -complements this cohesive yet diverse body of work. A creature with marble-white arms and a flower head dominates the foreground in an urban landscape. This hybrid being may represent the way the artist feels about himself and his work, caught in a continuous process of surreal metamorphosis and evolution.
However, these new nocturnal scenes disclose much more than Cai Zebin's fascination with a certain repertoire of art history. Thanks to their highly cinematographic appeal, they project the viewer into a new spatial and temporal dimension, where time moves forward at a different pace, not just because of the epoch they evoke, but because of the feeling of suspension and slowness that he wants to convey, as a contrast to the frenzy of our times.
Text: Manuela Lietti