Meet Cai – brand strategist by day, contemporary artist by night. Cai’s artwork focuses on exploring the internet as a psychological space, asking what it means to be a digital human. Having trained as a sculptor, she now works primarily in drawn and painted work. She’s also a writer of both essays and prose. Although she now works in the wider communications, advertising and brand sectors, she has always been confident that her artwork wouldn’t be an income stream, allowing a focus on philosophical enquiry manifested as a visual output.
Hey Cai – tell us about your work.
I think when I first picked up a pen and started drawing something tangible I was about four. I formally became an ‘artist’ around the age of eighteen – I would get enquiries about designing logos, for example, but I would always decline them as I wanted to avoid Communications work.
How did sculpture lead into drawing and painting?
I studied my BA in Sculpture at Wimbledon College of Art; while I was there I did a lot of performances and installations. As a student, I started taking commissions to build window displays for places like Post Card Teas and Selfridges. I illustrated every now and then for experimental zines, as well as my own food writing for the university student publications. Drawing has always been a big part of me, but I always felt my work wasn’t 'art' enough for the academic institutions and contemporary market.
After I graduated I started working as a creative in advertising, and moved on to strategy, working on brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo, P&G, Kellogg's and London Fashion Week.
How did you develop your style?
I’ve made myself draw at least once a day since 2015, no matter what. I remember watching a YouTube video of Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech and I decided to take on his advice: make good art, make it on the good days and especially on the bad days.
My drawings are a play of continuous lines of two or three contrasting colours finished off with some yellow. I draw mainly from life as much as possible; things I found intriguing. In the next few years I want to explore drawing more formally as a medium of investigation of digital humanity in relation to performance and sculpture. I admire artists like Gillian Wearing, Erwin Wurm, Richard Long, Hito Steyrl, Ed Atkin and Marcel Duchamp.
Would you ever move to art full-time?
I’ve never thought of art as a profession; I’ve always believed it is a way of life. My work has always been a reflection of philosophical contemplations on how we live as humans.
Has your career in advertising affected your artwork at all?
Not really, apart from the time it has taken away from making art. I enjoy my career as a strategist tremendously and will continue to learn and grow as a professional. I’m changing tack a bit to become a brand consultant working with start-ups in tech, food and mobility. This is actually going to allow me time to teach at Central Saint Martin’s starting January 2019!
Working in the creative industry has given me invaluable confidence and grit to be an ambitious female entrepreneur. It has also taught me to stand my ground, that kindness is a choice and a sign of strength and wisdom. I would say these two things are core qualities of an artist, too.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
I’m planning a four-city show, either starting or finishing in London, across Europe. I don’t want to show in typical gallery spaces – I want unique and unusual settings. Watch this space.
To see more of Cai’s art work, as well as upcoming exhibition dates, you can visit her website. For advertising work, you can check out her LinkedIn. Her doors are open for briefs, collaborations and commissions in art and brand-making.