Friday, August 19, 2011

Moments of transition: a conversation with Cedric Tai

"Inset" by Cedric Tai, 2010, stained oak and spray paint on acrylic plastic
(originally published 8/19/11 in Bad At Sports)

Cedric Tai really came to Detroit’s attention with his Brixel murals, dazzling and colorful pieces of public art funded by a Kresge Arts Fellowship and created, with active community participation, around Midtown Detroit. The murals are meant (in part) to draw attention to the beautiful brickwork that’s all over the city. (Brixel = brick + pixel, and the pieces definitely have a distinctly pixelated look; when I see them, I can’t help but think, delightedly, of original Nintendo game landscapes.) Creating each mural involves generating a pattern with a specialized computer program, then organizing a team of volunteers to execute it by painting individual bricks according to the pattern. They’re sort of like large-scale paint-by-numbers projects, offering participants who aren’t visual artists the valuable sense of what it feels like to produce public art. (Just don’t call it street art. Click here for an earlier interview I did with Cedric where he explains why he’s uncomfortable using that term to describe his Brixel work.)

But there’s much more to Cedric’s art than Brixels. He concentrated in painting (and art education) at Michigan State University, where he earned his BFA in 2007. His paintings, mostly executed on acrylic plastic, allow for considerably more fluidity than his Brixel work. Some of them evoke landscapes, others aerial perspectives of natural and man-made systems, and others little more than the materials and gestures used to create them. What unites them, to my eye, is a sense of transformation (nearly each piece seems to represent a moment of transition, arrested) and collision (there are usually several distinct visual languages competing for space on the canvas at once).

Cedric’s about to leave Detroit for Glasgow, where he’ll be pursuing an MFA at the Glasgow School of Art (and most likely branching out into different media). We talked over email about his work, bartering in Detroit, art infrastructure and community, toxic materials, happiness, and his impending move.