Chen set aside his strict classical training, based on techniques developed as far back as the Tang dynasty, and moved into the realm of the avant-garde. He now creates large, clunky and very non-functional chairs that he believes meld the greatness of ancient Chinese ruins with the modernity of the information age.
Chen and four like-minded Chinese artists, all seeking a new ceramic perspective, are part of "Looking Back/ Forward," a two-week exhibition at Hong Kong's Pottery Workshop. Curator Caroline Cheng says mainlanders started experimenting with techniques from the West only two decades ago. "The attitude in China tends to be, 'we have 5,000 years of history here, so why do we need to look outside?'" Cheng says. In fact, so contemptuous were Chinese ceramists of work modified for European tastes in the 17th century that they rarely bothered to sign their pieces.
While respectful of traditional forms, Cheng also believes that China's ceramics scene could stand some outside influence. "The technological innovations from the West — like glazing and firing advances — could really change how Chinese artists even think of art," she says. "Western studio pottery makes a lot more possible." She chose the five artists, all of whom deliberately blur the line between East and West, because they have all begun to transcend those traditional limits to create exciting new forms of a classic medium. In creating pieces far removed from their training, they also have scorned the customary piecework of Chinese pottery. Not for them a series of master craftsmen presiding over each of the various stages of the craft: molding, firing, glazing. Chen and his colleagues just do it. All of it.
Guanghai sets out to explore a new future-facing practice, melding classical training in Chinese ceramics with an urge to reflect his contemporary surrounds, and an increased insertion of Western styles and techniques. ‘Confrontations’ finds iconography in an abstracted slice of sculpture, the celadon-glazed classical bust of the buddha sliced vertically at the shoulders, then mirrored and joined with rough pipe-like ceramic appendages; a combination of the religious and profanely industrial. The sense is heightened with the exposure of the “guts” of the bodies — both interiors fitted with scaffold, each carefully brushed and coated with a metallic enamel to reinterpret the relative values of object and depiction.