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In Deep Waters

We are thrilled to present an interview with one of our current favorite painters; Tao Siqi [insert fire emoji].

C-P: Hello Tao, what a pleasure to be talking to you. I’m such a fan! Tell me a little a bit about yourself. You are currently based in Shanghai, right?

T.SQ: Hello Koshik, thank you for asking me to do this. I was born in Wuhan, China in 1994 and studied and grew up there. After graduating from college, I moved to Shanghai for work and have been living here for seven years now.

C-P: I first properly noticed you around the time of your solo exhibition ‘Deep Water’ at Clima in Milan last year. I was completely drawn to the lustrous colors and for a lack of better expression; risqué motifs. Tell me a little about how you approach the motifs in your paintings?

T.SQ: I am interested in exploring the complexity of human emotions and desires through painting. Regarding the "risqué motifs," I believe you are referring to my depictions of the body, physicality, or sexual imagery. These images help me capture the pleasure and temptation, tension and vulnerability that exist in intimate relationships, ranging from beauty to discomfort. Additionally, I use extremely bright and vivid colors, attempting to create tension between beauty and taboo or violence. Through depictions of lips, hands, necks, contrasting the softness of skin with the hardness of metal, and incorporating elements such as liquids, flames, and food, the sensuality and intimacy in the paintings are heightened by the vibrancy of color, leading viewers into a familiar yet mysterious emotional world and creating a deeper inner experience. I hope viewers are attracted by the alluring qualities of color, but also feel discomfort or unease when confronting the themes.

C-P: Who are some of the artists that you feel a kinship with?

T.SQ: I am interested in the films of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, as well as the paintings of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. These artists all explore complex psychological themes and use figurative forms to challenge societal norms and expectations in their depictions of the human body. Additionally, artists such as John Currin, Marlene Dumas, Cecily Brown, and Lisa Yuskavage explore themes of sexuality, power dynamics, and the body in a raw, chaotic, and often uncomfortable way, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable or beautiful in art.

C-P: I’ve also noticed that your titles tend to be just one word and descriptive, e.g. ‘Fragile’, ‘Devour’ and ‘Conceal’. Would you like to share your thoughts on titling?

T.SQ: Of course, titles are important as they provide a reference for viewers to interpret and understand the artwork, and even shape the way viewers experience the work. I like to use descriptive titles that serve as shorthand for the themes and emotions explored in each piece, evoking a direct emotion and feeling. At the same time, my titles also leave room for interpretation and ambiguity, making them memorable but not overly prescriptive, allowing viewers to bring their own experiences and perspectives into the work. For example, the title 'Fragile' suggests a sense of vulnerability and subtlety that can be interpreted as referring to the fragility of human emotions or relationships, or the fragility of the natural world. The titles 'Devour' and 'Conceal' seem to suggest mysterious and dangerous elements, with 'Devour' possibly implying a sense of hunger or consumption, and "Conceal" inviting viewers to consider what might be hidden or blurred within the painting, leaving the viewer curious about what might be lurking beneath the surface. I hope these titles can add a sense of mystery, along with the strong imagery in the work, to create a tense and uneasy atmosphere, inviting viewers to explore deeper meanings in the work.

C-P: You recently presented a solo show titled ‘Trembling’ at Fortnight Institute in NYC, a gallery that in my opinion really leads the pack in terms of figurative painting right now. How did you find the experience of exhibiting with the gallery and in the city where I believe you’ve exhibited a few times now?

T.SQ: I am very grateful to Fortnight Institute. My first group exhibition and solo exhibition in the United States were both realized through Fortnight’s invitation. I met Fabiola on Instagram because I painted many cats, and we collaborated on a cat-themed group exhibition in the summer of 2021. I trust them and really like the exhibitions and artists they feature, so I was really happy and excited when they invited me to do a solo exhibition. Everything went very smoothly, and being able to exhibit in a gallery I love in New York was a very precious experience. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic at the time, it was difficult for me to travel to attend my own exhibition, and I really hope to have the chance to go to New York again.

C-P: For somebody who’s yet to visit Shanghai; how do you find the city from an artist's point of view?

T.SQ: My first time in Shanghai was when I came for a group exhibition during college, and I fell in love with the city. I believe Shanghai is the most vibrant city in China, with a rich historical background and a relatively inclusive cultural atmosphere. It has high-quality contemporary art venues, institutions, and galleries that I love, with nearly a thousand exhibitions every year. Whenever I'm not busy, I go to see exhibitions almost every week or accompany friends to watch theater performances. There are many people who love art here with different ages, professions, and social circles, and I can hear many unique voices. After graduating from college, I came to Shanghai without hesitation and found a job at a contemporary art magazine. In 2017, I met my gallery owner, Enrico, here and have been collaborating with him ever since.

C-P: I would assume that you have plenty lined up, but what might be coming up for you in the months to come?

T.SQ: I feel happy and free every day now, with hardly anything bothering me. I can fully devote myself to whatever I want to do. Currently, I am preparing for some group exhibitions as well as my solo exhibition scheduled for early next year. In addition, I hope to apply for some residency programs and spend some time abroad to try working in different cultural environments.

Koshik Zaman

All images courtesy of the artist.

Image captions:

1. Tao Siqi, Hold Me Tight, 2022

2. Tao Siqi, Writhing Tongue, 2022

3. Tao Siqi, Falling, 2022

4. Tao Siqi, Feed, 2022

5. Tao Siqi, Tears, 2022

6. Tao Siqi, Devour, 2023

7. Tao Siqi, Deep Breath, 2022

8. Installation view: 'Deep Water', Clima Gallery, Milan, 2022

9. Installation view: 'Trembling', Fortnight Institute, 2022


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