Chinese Ceramics

Luo Xiao-ping: Political Commentary in Clay

Born in 1960 in China and educated in Jingdezhen, Luo’s work documents the civil changes he has witnessed through the vehicle of sculptural ceramics. Upon forgoing a professorial role at the famous Tongji University in Shanghai Luo chose a career as a professional artist and founded a studio in Yixing as well as Arizona and divides his time between the two with his wife Junya Shao who is also a ceramic artist. Deeply rooted in the hand building techniques of Yixing, Luo acknowledges his own history and tradition and willfully steps outside of the conventions in both his treatment and firing methods of the Yixing clay. Luo is known primarily for his work involving the figure in some way or another and perhaps his most controversial work is his “Times Square” series. In this work he looks around the world and realizes that “Here, I can scoff at them, myself and the world.”  20 of the most powerful people in the world are each rendered about 2 feet in height and wearing traditional Chinese clothing. Osama Bin Laden stands next to Chairman Mao and Luo towers above them all.  The markings chosen for the clothing carry weight as well and are a humorous device in and of themselves. Representing as a whole world peace, the words are in stark contrast to actions of the figures portrayed. The depth of thought on this work is evident even in the title for the Luo describes not the Times Square of Ney York but rather “a political image spectrum installed on the Square of Time”. Luo “[invites us] to Times Square with my qualification of an artist, put down the weapons required to stop the conflict and terrorism.”

Luo Xiao-Ping with Times Square Series

Bai Ming: Artistic Versatility, Material Excellence

An established and internationally acclaimed ceramic artist and oil painter, Bai Ming combines traditional Chinese styles of art and contemporary thought to create both 2 and 3 dimensional works of art that abstract and express his involvement in the rebirth of Chinese tradition. Named “The Symbol of Diversification of Chinese Contemporary Art” Bai Ming is a lecturer at the Academy of Arts and Design at Tsinghua University and teaches ceramic decoration courses as well as modern ceramic craft and prefers to let theory and practice work together to inform both his own work and his educational model in his classes. This pragmatic view of traditional and contemporary thought and artistry populates itself in his paintings and ceramic art. Evidenced in this vase from 2011 titled “Song of the Wind in the Reeds”, the gestural body with its gentle undulations of form and line becomes the perfect surface for Ming’s loose and painterly style of decoration in cobalt referencing the designs of Imperial China. The heavily decorated exterior contrasts sharply with the pure white of the interior of this open form and is as clean as swept snow, though not devoid of meaning.

Song of the Wind in the Reeds

Jun Ware of the Yuan Dynasty

As one may expect of a Dynasty characterized by ceramic excellence indeed the pinnacle of a civilizations history the Jun ware of the Henan Province are truly a pleasure to behold. The emphasis of formal perfection may be seen in this example from the Freer collection emphasized by the delicate blushes of color from the rich glaze. Produced during the Dynasty following the Song the ability to maintain such excellence across the generations adds depth and breadth to the quality of this piece. Achieved through thick application and diffraction of light amongst countless tiny bubbles in the glass the blue color subtly shifts as thickness changes allowing the clay body to be seen near the rim where the glaze is thinnest. A splash of purple from a copper based pigment breaks up the blue and adds drama to the glaze without taking away from the overall simplicity and elegant beauty.

Ding Ware of the Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty ranging from 960 AD to 1279 AD has long been classified as the pinnacle of Chinese ceramics.  The plate pictured is from a style known as ding ware and was developed during this time. Displaying an immense amount of skill and attention to form this plate is carved ever so delicately and glazed with a thin satin/semi-gloss glaze highlighting the intricate decoration which so elegantly responds to the shallow concave form. Then, as if it were not merely enough to achieve technical excellence in one field a bronze collar was added to the rim of the bowl with such care that no seam is readily evident which would expose the method of attachment. In concert the skill in forming and skill in decoration leave nothing behind to distract from the beauty and technical excellence of this piece.

Sancai Ware of the Tang Dynasty

The Tang dynasty brought with it an expansion of power and reunification of China begun with the Sui. Art and literature paired with extensive trade routes lead to a flourishing of culture and prosperity. In the production of Sancai ware potters used imported lead frits to make low fire glazes with bright and long-lasting colors. The term, meaning tri-colored ware, is in fact a misnomer originating from the time of rail expansion in China. Tombs and the tomb goods were unearthed during excavations for the rail beds and the workers gave the name to this particular type of ware. By the time other colors were discovered on the same type of ceramics the name had stuck. In this beautiful example from the Shanxi Provincial Museum we see the swelling and voluptuous form characteristic of Tang vessels can be seen accentuated by the running glazes. 

Qingbai Ware of the Yuan Dynasty

With the Mongol unification of china in 1279 AD Kublai Khan took the helm a long and strong ceramic culture in China. Viewing the ceramic arts from the production and profit side of things the Mongol rulers had great influence on the production style of ceramics. The southern counterpart to ding ware in the north, the qingbai ware of the Yuan Dynasty leaves behind the influence of the bronze forms and steps into its own with respect to both form and decoration. In this beautiful example from the Freer collection the delicate and intricate carving highlighted by the pooling of the transparent glaze beautifully responds to the meiping (or plum blossom) form. Broken into three registers the floral decorations swell to blossoms at the high and proud shoulder of this 13th century vase.