Jack the Dripper was my favorite artist as a kid, and why wouldn’t he be? Could there be anything cooler to a youngster wearing neon Taz shirts than a guy who became a legend for making a huge mess? (I still like Pollock as a grown-up, but now I’d have to describe him with words like ‘frenetic,’ rather than admit that he was just throwing paint around.) Well, yeah, I think we’ve found something cooler: Cai Guo-Qiang, whose chosen medium is gunpowder.
Cai grew up working with gunpowder in China, and he speaks of the various incarnations of the explosive compound with reverence, both for its being born from minerals and for its medicinal uses. Cai uses this connection between gunpowder and life to guide him as he uses variously colored gunpowders to paint and dye massive collages, which are absolutely stunning.
Of course, he also uses gunpowder for its more natural purpose in his highly-lauded fireworks displays, like his “Footprints of History” performance at the Beijing Olympics. The performances are all timed and coordinated with intricate computer systems that calculate timing as well as force for synchronized launches. It’s an impressive modern twist on a technology that’s been around for thousands of years, and one that helps Cai tie together the contemporary with tradition.