Throughout history, humankind has been capable of both the best and the worst. The first sharpened utensils, made from obsidian, served as handcrafted instruments and at the same time as fearsome weapons. Fire, capable of transforming food, was in turn used as an effective deterrent against potential invaders. Gunpowder, invented in ancient China, came to be when Taoist monks sought an elixir of immortality. It might be said, then, that a future accelerant of death was actually born in an attempt to indefinitely prolong life.

Cai Guo-Quian (Quanzhou, 1957) emerges also from his country’s long pyrotechnic tradition. He came up with the idea of using gunpowder to create paintings. In them, iridescent landscapes appear populated by spectral plants and animals born of the controlled chance of an explosion, as if the precepts of Taoism and the art of the Renaissance were intertwined for just these few moments. Such is the art of Cai Guo-Quian. It’s a wise combination of a spontaneous happening with the concreteness of a drawing; a meeting between the West and the East along a luminous border.

In 2017, Cai Guo-Quian was invited by the Prado Museum to perform a specific intervention. He established a dialogue between his own work and that of the old masters. The gunpowder artist then faced one of his youthful idols: El Greco. The same fiery spirituality that emanates from the Greek painter’s elongated figures was updated with the rhythmic pictorial explosions of the Chinese artist.

The enormous privilege granted to him was expressed by Quian with these words of thanks:

I have the strong feeling of being a child blessed by the gods. When Philip IV reigned, he commissioned the best painters of the time, including Velázquez, to create paintings specifically for The Kingdoms Hall… So, for me, being able to create gunpowder paintings here makes the works specific not only in terms of the site but also to the culture. I imagine painting here, with the rays of the sunset spilling through the windows… will the spirits of the great masters emerge from nowhere to create with me?

Image: Arwcheek – Creative Commons

Throughout history, humankind has been capable of both the best and the worst. The first sharpened utensils, made from obsidian, served as handcrafted instruments and at the same time as fearsome weapons. Fire, capable of transforming food, was in turn used as an effective deterrent against potential invaders. Gunpowder, invented in ancient China, came to be when Taoist monks sought an elixir of immortality. It might be said, then, that a future accelerant of death was actually born in an attempt to indefinitely prolong life.

Cai Guo-Quian (Quanzhou, 1957) emerges also from his country’s long pyrotechnic tradition. He came up with the idea of using gunpowder to create paintings. In them, iridescent landscapes appear populated by spectral plants and animals born of the controlled chance of an explosion, as if the precepts of Taoism and the art of the Renaissance were intertwined for just these few moments. Such is the art of Cai Guo-Quian. It’s a wise combination of a spontaneous happening with the concreteness of a drawing; a meeting between the West and the East along a luminous border.

In 2017, Cai Guo-Quian was invited by the Prado Museum to perform a specific intervention. He established a dialogue between his own work and that of the old masters. The gunpowder artist then faced one of his youthful idols: El Greco. The same fiery spirituality that emanates from the Greek painter’s elongated figures was updated with the rhythmic pictorial explosions of the Chinese artist.

The enormous privilege granted to him was expressed by Quian with these words of thanks:

I have the strong feeling of being a child blessed by the gods. When Philip IV reigned, he commissioned the best painters of the time, including Velázquez, to create paintings specifically for The Kingdoms Hall… So, for me, being able to create gunpowder paintings here makes the works specific not only in terms of the site but also to the culture. I imagine painting here, with the rays of the sunset spilling through the windows… will the spirits of the great masters emerge from nowhere to create with me?

Image: Arwcheek – Creative Commons