“Myshree’s needle painting is absolutely incredible,” Corinne James, executive director of The Old Schoolhouse Gallery, said in a March interview with the Parksville-Qualicum Beach News.
“Her work shows a lot of movement and dynamic colour because of the way the threads go with the light, it’s always changing.”
A few months after that compliment, Tsai received the People’s Choice Award at the Pearl Ellis Gallery of Fine Art in Comox for her needle painting Farm Woman.
“I was thrilled,” says Tsai. “There were so many great artists at the gallery. I think my work was chosen because it is different.”
Despite Tsai’s modesty, awards are nothing new to this artist. Her award-winning watercolors have been exhibited in Taiwan, Canada, China, Japan and Korea. And her needle paintings – often combined with watercolour, pastel and acrylic paints — garner attention wherever they’re shown.
“A silk thread painting is built up stitch by stitch, layer by layer,” explains Tsai. “From a distance people might think it’s an oil or acrylic painting but when they get closer they can see the stitches. Contemporary needle painting brings Western style painting together with traditional Chinese embroidery to create fine art.”
It’s the silk threads that give the work its three dimensional form and the range of colour is amazing. A tree might contain 300 shades of green thread, each catching and reflecting the light in different ways.
This meticulous attention to detail means it often takes Tsai more than 60 hours to complete a needle painting.
Although she drew and painted with watercolours from a young age, Tsai didn’t begin needle painting until she was 40.
“When my mother was 70 I felt it was my duty to learn needle painting from her so her skills wouldn’t be lost when she was gone. I was never interested in it before – you need to be patient to be a needle painter — I think that comes as you mature.”
Tsai is the third generation of artists in her family. Her mother, Madam Chen Si-Xue, now 88, has won many awards for her needle painting. And Tsai’s grandfather, Chen Zhi-Fo, was a well-known painter; the Chen Zhi-Fo Art Memorial Hall in the Nan-Jing National Palace Museum was named in his honour.
Tsai’s skill in needle painting is particularly impressive when depicting animals.
“After my dog Doudou died, I missed him so much that I made a needle painting of him,” she says. “The texture of the silk threads and the way they reflect the light make the fur look very realistic. I create needle paintings of pets for many people.”
As a watercolourist, Tsai’s work is noticeable for its vibrant colors and imaginative compositions.
“I try to capture the spirit or feeling of an object rather than portray a realistic version,” she says. “The secret to a good watercolour is that it must show light and be full of water.”
One of her watercolour paintings was selected as the background for an Old Schoolhouse Gallery poster.
Born in 1958 and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Tsai obtained a fine arts degree from the National Taiwan Normal University. For many years she worked as a copywriter and graphic designer for magazines and hosted a broadcasting program for arts and music.
She also taught art in Taiwan high schools and adult education courses in community colleges. A major accomplishment was designing and organizing a large piece of public art for the Taipei subway. The two-year project involved 60 volunteers.
Four years ago, Tsai emigrated to Canada with her husband. She was invited to exhibit her work in Toronto and Vancouver.
“The Canadian government welcomed me as the first Chinese needle painter and said they want to encourage the art of different cultures in this country,” says Tsai.
She’s a member of the Taiwan International Watercolor Association — and founded and was chairman of the Taiwan Needle Painting Association. Since moving to Canada, she’s become a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.
One year ago she moved to the Comox Valley.
“It is paradise here,” she says. “I love the richness of the art community; everyone is so kind. And I can see the glacier from my window.”
Next year, Tsai hopes to teach needle painting locally.
“I’d like to share this art experience with others,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun and so rewarding for people to create something beautiful.”
The next exhibit of Tsai’s work will be at the Originals Only show in Comox’s Marina Park on Aug. 6 and 7.