Editorial: Alex Cao -- Photographer - Publication: Fabrik - Date: June 2010

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Alex Guofeng Cao Photographer

Deconstructing iconic photographs and reassembling them in his own trademark style is resonating on a global scale for New York based artist Alex Guofeng Cao, with a flurry of international shows and a wave of press testament to his work’s impact

Cao’s career as an artist has seen him study and experiment with a variety of photographic  methods and techniques. His  current, highly innovative photomosaic style melds old world and new, with digital innovation seeking inspiration by such masters as Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Edward Weston, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Of late his photographic creativity has leant towards large scale monchromatic  digital I works, namely a series called “Legend.” The series sees  the artist processing well-known images into grids of thousands of copies of a smaller, related image. Cao  then re-connects the circuits of historical meaning by breaking down the original analogue photograph into digital photo-mosaics that literalize the logic of their own production.

The  “Legend,” series sees a melding two contrasting artistic techniques. Images of pop culture icons, Pam Anderson, Marilyn Monroe, Lady Di and reinvented and reinterpreted care of Cao’s dexterous hand and creative vision.

Explaining the cryptic imagery  Cao reveals, “Im fascinated by icons and celebrity. I have worked with many from Lindsay Lohan to  Tommy Lee Jones, they share a common musicality that translates internationally.”

Technically, Cao says that despite his fascination with the digital medium, monochrome tradition is something he still romanticizes, “ The subtle gradations of tone between deep black and stark white are the generators for all the colors  I need to create my world.”

Thematically exploring iconic celebrity images and mass culture, via the precision of digital photography “Legend,”  applies the intricacy of the traditional mosaic  to the modern day concept of digital pixilation to reinterpret images of pop culture icons.

Decomposing Marilyn Monroe into repeated strings of tiny JFK’s, he recomposes and focuses the meaning of the image—transforming one possible connotation of the original picture into a specific denotationThe digital ‘pixel’ itself now becomes a new, self-conscious carrier of meaning itself, and not merely a structural support for its expression.

Cao does not allow the ease of the computer’s mechanical repetitions have the final say. In each large photomosaic, made up of tens of thousands of virtual pixels, the repeated, embedded image is interrupted at least once in the overall grid, replaced in one or more locations with yet another, still related picture.

In JFK vs. Marilyn, for example, the ‘pixels’ numbered 1962 and 1963 have been replaced by an image of a candle and of a rifle, the former making multiple references (to Marilyn’s notorious performance of “Happy Birthday” for the President as well as the votive use of the candle in religious commemoration), and the latter an obvious reference to JFK’s death in Dallas.

Of the creative process Cao says he is “composing a mosaic of memories into an impression of the present.”   He adds, “I am Impressed and greatly influenced by the ideal forms and proportions of the iconic and statuesque sculptures of the ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman eras.”

.”Another great source of inspiration are impressions from his trip a decade ago of the mosaic floors and walls of Naples and Pompeii.  It’s the combination of these two base strategies that allows my work to take shape.”

 Commenting on the work, Cao  reveals, “The powerful oversized main images and the armies of tiny images that compose them are specifically paired to create a dialogue.  The histories and backgrounds of each of the characters are pitted against each other.”   

An image of Marilyn Monroe is populated by countless diminutive images of the Mona Lisa.  “These two women are, arguably, the most famous women in the world,”  Cao adds. “They share an unusual bond in that they are both, in some ways, fictional characters.  The pairing also suggests another connection in that they are both fantasies.  One is the fantasy of the 20th century and the other is the singular fantasy and imagination of DaVinci.”

As one looks closer and closer at the images the process of encoding and layering of information of the times is evident.  As time passes, so does information get deposited into the works.  These images undergo evolution and change as time passes, and they bear the marks of a collection of history, as well as the author’s intent.

The most recent development in Cao’s innovative recruitment of this new digital dialectic shifts the focus from celebrity-driven images to those that carry the weight of history and of deeper meaning with them, for example in the pair Gandhi vs. Mother Teresa and MotherTeresa vs. Gandhi, which provide a fundamental reflection not only on celebrity, but on compassion (something which could use much more replication in the world).

Continuing this impetus to respond in a deeper way to the image at hand, Cao has begun working with indelibly familiar pictures of news events that were first circulated in the press. The first work of this series, Sudan vs. Carter, appears in the current exhibition. The primary source photograph, showing a starving child in Sudan ghoulishly watched by a waiting vulture, was made by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter in 1993. The photograph was published, among other places, on the front page of the New York Times, where it drew immediate critical attention not only to the dire humanitarian circumstances that it documented, but also to the role of the photographer himself in the situation, who was identified by some as a vulture of only a slightly different sort

Testament to the series’ appeal  is the level of global recognition it has attained. The Legend series  is now showing at a range of private galleries and artfairs, in  North America, as well as Europe and Asia.

While exhibited at Art Miami Artfair in 2009  by ChinaSquare Gallery, several of  Cao’s ’  legend images  sold, including that of  Bruni vs Sarkozy, JFK vs Marilyn and Obama vs Lincoln. The Miami Herald  devoted a cover story to the series as did other esteemed north American titles including the Los Angeles Daily News and Santa Monica Daily Express, who offered endless praise for the work with assorted superlatives such as, “enticing,” “ innovative,” and “fun.”

With a background in commercial photography, Cao immigrated to the US from China  at the age of 13.  His career as a commercial photographer before  the recent transition to fine art saw him  working with a slew of high caliber clients including magazines Vogue, Cosmopolitan New York Times  Cartier Chanel and Kodak .

His work can be viewed at http://www.alexguofengcao.com/

Written by Craig Stephens

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