One of the most amazing simplicities in art that's often overlooked is the fact that you don't need to speak the native language of the artist you're viewing. That's because art itself is a language visually transcribed by the viewer.
Most creatives never get the opportunity to show their work in other countries. They either have to achieve extreme prominence within their craft or deal with all the costly risks involved in showing far away from their homeland: the language barriers, the different currency, shipping artwork, finding somewhere to stay. It's enough to make the majority of artrepreneurs look the other way.
However, once in awhile the gates of entry are shattered by those in a relentless pursuit for self expression... Here's the story:
It was a refreshing but brisk evening in April and The Other Art Fair was in Chicago for the weekend displaying work from emerging minds. So a few members and colleagues of Artist Replete decided to check it out. Walking inside we were greeted by a variety of booths, each with their own personal flair from the artist or art group representing the space.
We continued to roam further. Abstract work, some interesting portraits, and pop art was scattered throughout the space. As we walked deeper into the exhibit, we came upon something unexpected: a piece entitled Victory Goddess NO2. It was so bright, unique, with details so extreme, it would take someone months to create such a thing. A cocktail of endorphins mixed with dopamine rushed through our brains. Wow... this was some powerful work.
Quick View: See The Artist's Collection
After the initial emotions subsided, curiosity set in. Who's the artist behind these stunning creations? The sign read "Lixian Cai", meaning it wasn't a business displaying the art, the artist was representing herself. There was a woman standing at the side of the booth, one of the larger booths in event space. I approached her as a fan, letting her know how amazing I thought her work was. She smiled in return, but no words came out.
It became apparent that she spoke very little English, which created even more astonishment. Here's an artist out on her own, making truly captivating work, and letting the art do all the talking. To top it off, she had some of the highest prices in the show space and the work was selling.
More questions arrived in my head. How did she get here? Why did she come to Chicago? What's the story behind these extremely detailed images? And How is she selling work without being able to speak in English? The questions felt endless but unapproachable due to the language barrier between us. Fate was on our side that day because part of our group consisted of artist Jason Guo, who fortuitously happens to fluently speak her dialect of Chinese.
We later found out that Lixian was already following Artist Replete on social media. It was as if this story was meant to be told...
Where It All Began
Growing up in Guangzhou, China, Lixian was surrounded by artwork from her father. To put food on the table he created propaganda pieces for China, but never ended up creating work on a personal level. The majority of the time it was to push a political agenda in a creative way. China later became so well known for its propaganda art, a museum was built in the city of Shanghai: The Propaganda Poster Art Centre.
Following in her father's footsteps, with the goal to create her own work, Lixian attended the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. There she focused on painting, while adding a masters in sculpture to her résumé. In 1998 she transitioned from studying art to the business of art, with her first exhibition nearby the school campus. Young, hungry, and full of desire, she later displayed work in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and any large city accessible to her.
After putting in the required effort needed for organic exposure (long before social media), word on the street began to grow. Lixian continued her conquest by showing at some of the most prestigious galleries in China. This gave her the wherewithal to expand the reach of her artistry.
"Through Traveling You're Able To Understand The World & Find Endless Inspiration" - Lixian Cai
At the start of 2013, to seek further inspiration, Lixian began to travel outside of China, documenting each place she visited through photography. First Japan, Australia, and England were cataloged in a set of photos to better understand the culture and document the architecture in each unique location.
Going on a world tour, snapping a photo, and creating a memory offered the artist more than just enlightenment; she found direction within her art. Lixian began painting the world through her eyes, taking pieces from her photography and arranging them to create her own unique reality.
After spending five years throughout the eastern hemisphere, an opportunity to show work in America arose. With little hesitation, she packed her bags and headed to the foreign territory with optimism. Her first exhibition, at Mana Contemporary in Chicago, resulted in an overwhelming surprise. Despite the unfamiliar setting and language, the crowd connected with her work. One by one pieces began to sell, as new collectors welcomed the artist to the city. Again, the artwork did all the talking.
Following her warm welcome, the artist began to document the city photographically, later revisiting it in new work. Some of the most profound art Lixian has created stemmed from immersing herself in American culture, then blending it with her existing portfolio.
Pieces like her Victory Goddess series display the artist's cultural roots, while giving an imaginative reinterpretation to the city of Chicago. A juxtaposed world where a sculpture is seen in the form of a woman's hat: the Navy Pier ferris wheel dances in the sky, and a concrete jungle of chaos can find harmony in a simple reflection. Artists like Lixian remind us of the simple fact: where there's a will, there's a way.
Nearly a decade has gone by since she began her voyage, visually cataloging each area that's inspired her. And although she's traveled throughout the United States, the Windy City's captured her heart and for now the nomadic artist is content.
Learn More: See The Artists Current Portfolio of Work