Firing Up Porcelain's Potential

Updated: 2017-06-20

  An exhibition from the ancient 'kiln city' of Jingdezhen shows how ceramic traditions have persisted while new artists are endowing traditional craftsmanship with contemporary flourishes. Lin Qi reports.

  The kilns in China's "porcelain capital", Jiangxi province's Jingdezhen, have been firing for nearly 2,000 years. Locals are continuing the sophisticated traditional craftsmanship in the area, while a new crop of creative types like Nie Lechun are incorporating porcelain into contemporary art.

  The 80-year-old ceramist has spent nearly six decades developing new ways to sculpt porcelain flora and fauna.

  He's especially known for rendering eagles. A recent work portrays one of the raptors spreading its wings as its talons clutch a tree trunk.

  The piece is now showing at the Treasures of a Nation exhibition in Beijing, which reviews Jingdezhen's porcelain-making history.

  Over 400 displays are exhibited at the culture and history museum of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing.

  They include antique porcelain shards and reproductions of classic works that are now in museums and private collections around the world.

  There are also daily-use items, such as teacups and plates, and decorative pieces like Nie's works that celebrate the craftsmanship of today's artisans.

  After he graduated from the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute in 1958, Nie worked at a local factory that produced porcelain sculptures.

  He says he didn't want to replicate the works veteran artists were producing at the time - Buddhist figures, women of the court and Taoist deities, which were popular overseas.

  He joined a group of young artists, who aspired to develop a distinctive style.

  Nie incorporated the technique of "nie diao", in which ceramists craft flowers or blades of grass in remarkable detail. He enriched presentations by creating scenes in which eagles could perch in flowering trees.

  "Ceramists should continually reinvent themselves," he says.

  "That's why the fires of Jingdezhen's kilns could be reignited after the wars and chaos of history."

  Ancient shards displayed in the exhibition show how Jingdezhen progressed to become a production base for quality products over the centuries.

  "These kilns manufactured rare and exquisite objects that entertained emperors and adorned their palaces," Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum's director Zhao Gang says.

  "And they produced beautiful things for daily use. Their pieces ... (were exported) along the ancient Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road."

  Generations of artisans produced various types of porcelain that were appreciated at home and abroad, such as blue-and-white, doucai and enamel pieces.

  Modern technicians have managed to replicate several classical pieces, and some of these copies are shown at the exhibition.

  Models include two refined replicas of works created in the mid-14th century. One is a cobalt-blue dragon vase now in the collection of Paris' Guimet Museum. The other is the blue-and-white jar with patterns that depict the story of Guiguzi that fetched $27.7 million at a London auction in 2005 - a record price for any Chinese artwork at the time.

  The exhibition also celebrates the creativity of today's artists. They've expanded upon conventional presentations by creating paintings, light installations and designs, such as mobile phone covers, in porcelain.

  Jingdezhen has been a member of UNESCO's creative cities network since 2014. It hopes to renew its porcelain traditions by importing new blood - young contemporary artists like Dong Lin.

  The 25-year-old Beijing-based artist has worked in Jingdezhen for a couple of months a year since 2016. She produced a series of ceramic installations at a local kiln.

  Dong has since returned to the city to work on new pieces.

  "Jingdezhen is not quite as developed as I'd expected. A lot of studios and kilns are rather basic, with few rooms or desks," she says.

  "I come because professional artisans assist me with every step of production. It's really helpful. I feel free yet challenged. It gives me a lot of options in tapping porcelain's potential."

  Source: China Daily


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