Friday, 15 November 2013

Notes from Jingdezhen

It is two weeks now since coming back to London. But it feels like a year. My one month and a half stay in Jingdezhen is far away in the past. London does that. I went to Jingdezhen for a ceramics residency. The place was the Wow Tao. My expectations were to produce sculptural work. I wanted to experiment with shapes and new ideas, those things I did not have time to do in London.
Also I wanted to get an understanding and practice of the ceramic processes at use in Jingdezhen, learn of its history, and the current state of affairs for ceramists . I managed to do that. But I just barely scratched the surface. After all they have been producing ceramics for almost 2000 years, and it is a big city/area, with many ceramists and workshops. Something I understood, is that concerning techniques and materials, they have had time and people to try it all, almost all. They have the time to choose what it works for them and they master it, through copying and repetition. Nonetheless as I notice with the painters of xinliao ,(drawing the line) and fenshui, (splashing), at the Wow Tao, the copies are not exact. They have the same flow the same subjects the same materials, the same tools, but it did not seem to me they were replicating exactly the same drawing in each pot, there were some improvisational licenses. The Wao Tao is part of Jingdezhen university. It functions as a business and is a ceramic center dedicated to promote Jingdezhen ceramics. It consists of workshops where visitors can have a go at some ceramic techniques, throwing, hand-building and painting of wares, specially on glaze. There was during my time there a regular group of under glaze painters, some of them learning, some of them young professionals. They were producing blue and white porcelain. Which has been produced for hundreds of years.
The Wow Tao also had a gallery/shop where visitors can view and buy work produced by Jingdezhen artists and workshops. The gallery /shop was in the first floor. This year I was lucky enough to be living on top of the Wow Tao. I had a room in the third floor. The third floor was still a work in progress refurbishment site, and I was the only one staying there at night. It was a bit spooky. I did not manage to descend to the workshop in the second floor and work at night. I can also blame the mosquitoes. So I worked in ceramics during the day, next to the painters. I spent some time with the painters, painting on the ware, drawing, trees, rocks,mountains. Not as much as I would have liked. I wanted to finish some of my own work to leave for the Wao Tao.
It was a pity that I did not manage to learn Chinese, and be able to communicate more. For me it was very interesting to see how the new painters get trained. How they learn the right consistency of the pigments, how to handle the brushes, the movements , how to paint with steady hands, first the line, then following dots, painting flowers, trees, rocks, landscapes or scenes, by copying and repetition. I thought of my father describing how he was taught to write, with ink. It was very interesting to be next to the painters.
I appreciated how they worked as a team, how the work was divided, the specialization. The painters at the Wow Tao, each one was doing one or two phases of the drawing. One person painting the first outlines of the rocks and tree trunks, the skeleton of the scene. Then another adding detail, the windows, leaves, differentiating planes, filling with detail the outlines, then more detail on top of the detail, little plants, shadows.
Finally after the drawing was finished, for some wares there was someone brushing on blue pigment quite diluted, giving the drawings their atmosphere and depth.