"Cai Guo-Qiang is the most important artist in the world today," the art student beside me on the east terrace of the Philadelphia Museum of Art said with passionate sincerity. "I skipped my tutorial crits to see this. My department head was mad, but I told him that if he wouldn't let me go, I'd drop out of the department. This is the kind of event you only get to see once in a lifetime."
I knew this guy was great because I'd seen his gunpowder drawings in Edinburgh, at an art show attendant upon the Festival Fringe and loved the black rainbow he created in the air high over over the Castle. So when I heard that a major installation called Fallen Blossoms was scheduled here, I determined to be present for it. Marianne and Sean and I were at the museum an hour ahead of time, so we were right up front. And to make a long story short . . .
Cai's art (in my admittedly naive and untutored reading) explores beauty, impermanence, flow, change, and loss. It's also very, very cool to witness. The smoke, which doesn't come out as fully as it should in the pix and vids, is a vivid and moving part of it.
But only a small fraction of those watching noticed something extraordinary and incidental.
Watch the amateur cell phone YouTube video:
Did you notice it? Betcha didn't. But if you look at the tree to the right of the colonnaded entrance about fourteen seconds in, you'll see the briefest of flicks, a little speck fleeing to the right.
That's a red tailed hawk that was perched in the tree. The explosives went off and it was outathere! Marianne saw it explode from the tree and pointed it out in time for me to see it as well. And now it seems to me an intrinsic part of the art.
And speaking of art . . .
I have a particularly visual imagination. My first fantasy novel, The Iron Dragon's Daughter, was heavily influenced by Cindy Sherman's photographs. My second, The Dragons of Babel, was in part shaped by Odd Nerdrum's paintings. Now I'm playing with the idea of writing a third book to round the whole thing off. This wouldn't happen anytime soon, if at all. But I've started thinking about it and playing with images.
So I'm looking for suggestions. What contemporary artists are out there doing rich and strange visual work that taps deeply into the mythic subconscious? I'm talking about people I probably haven't heard of, mind you, and I'm looking for major talents, not just people who have done particularly nice pictures of elves. So Picasso, Chagall, and Froud are straight out. I'm looking for artists whose stuff is profoundly mind-warping.