It's Nice That | "Intense, ambivalent and uneasy": Tao Siqi explores the complexity of desire in her sensual paintings

Olivia Hingley, It's Nice That, August 18, 2022
Bondage ropes, flickering candles and sensual embraces; Tao Siqi’s paintings zoom in on humanity’s most carnal instincts. Endeavouring to depict both “pleasure and discomfort”, the artist has no interest in portraying simple, uncomplicated acts of affection. Instead, her work is purposefully complex and impulsive, which – she passionately argues – is just like the nature of desire.
While many would likely first see Tao’s paintings as “erotic”, the term and its connotations are in fact of little importance to the artist. Rather, she wants her paintings to be “intense, ambivalent and uneasy”. One of the primary ways in which she achieves these feelings in her work is through a unique, monochromatic approach to colour. “In some works, I decide to abandon a rich palette and use a single, luminous, fluorescent colour to heighten the tension of desire,” she says. With deep, impenetrable blues, luminescent yellows and saccharine pinks, the intensity of the artist’s colours is mirrored in the subject matter.

The artist’s fascination with “different states of relationships” and her inclination to “commemorate covert desires” began after a period of intense cultural exploration. As a teenager, Tao tells us that she spent much of her time reading and watching films, many of which include various depictions relationships and sexuality. The ones that have remained with Tao today, and most significantly influence her work, she recalls, is Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Luis Buñuels’ Belle de Jour, Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick and a host of East Asian erotic films. “I did not fully comprehend them: confusion, curiosity and nervousness blended into a strange sensitivity,” she details.

Born in Wuhan, Tao learnt to paint and draw before she could read and write. Her father being an avid art lover instilled her sense of creativity, and he often brought home catalogues and art magazines for Tao to look at. In middle school, it was the freedom of her mobile phone camera that really kickstarted her love of photography. “This inspired me to 'see' from my own perspective,” Tao details. “It also taught me about composition and dealing with light and shadow, and led me to ponder the meaning of images.” Later, she attended the Hubei Institute of Fine Art to study painting, graduating in 2016 before then moving to Shanghai where she lives today.

This insightful approach is still a foremost tool of the painter. Her current body of work is simultaneously built off her large collection of archival images and the perception and experience of daily encounters, objects, digital images and reading. But, as well as visually looking for inspiration, Tao also relies upon other more physical and corporeal feelings. “I open up my senses and try to get in touch with everything, feel them connect with one another, and I show them in an equal measure,” Tao concludes. “Every living day is filled with warmth, sorrow and exuberance. Good and bad experiences are equally intriguing for me.”