Artists Wu Shanming (left) and Gao Ye Photo: Courtesy of Wu Shanming
Since the emergence of the celadon in the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), it is rare to see a painted celadon, let alone one adorning ink paintings. One of the leading figures of the Zhe School of figure painting, Wu Shanming, wisely connects art exploration with the classic celadon style. Wu's wife Gao Ye also enjoys creating orchid and bamboo paintings on the celadon. Through years of mastering her skills, she has become familiar with the features.
I had a connection with porcelain very early. In the 1970s, I was invited to the Jingdezhen ceramic institute in Jiangxi Province for a visit, and I missed it. Since then, I have had a porcelain complex.
He Tang Chen Xi
Gao Yuan Yuan Ding
Cao Yuan Yang Guang
In 2009, I got the chance to start painting on celadon. Celadon painting is not easy work. Like many other art explorations, one will accumulate more experience by learning lessons from their failures.
At that time, my wife Gao Ye found several glazed cups in a friend's ceramic factory. We painted four fish on the glaze of the cups and fired them. The color of the finished glaze was very beautiful and so were the fish. Through our success with our final product, we became confident to work with the material.
After the glaze is sprayed on the ceramic, one must quickly complete the ink and brush painting. One should also plan ahead because the result will not be realized immediately. Over six or seven years of creating celadon paintings, we have had many failed works, but those led to successful and beautiful works.
Through trial and error, we have honed our skills in painting, firing and controlling the kiln temperature. During this process, we have made some mistakes. Once, the temperature was so high that all of the pieces turned black and the paintings could not be seen. Another time, we even caused a fire. We are very grateful for the craftsmen who helped us. The work area was very hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but they persevered.
In such a hard situation, despite many failures, we became more and more confident. The hard work paid off when we achieved a success rate of over 95 percent for several batches of work.
Xi Xi Ye Yun
Though we are still learning and practicing all the time, I am very happy. From the very beginning to this moment, the seeds we have planted have now grown into a tree.
As a Chinese artist who majors in figure painting, I still need to explore by trying ink wash painting and ink color painting on celadon. It is not simply transferring from one material to another. Later, I found that the blend of variable glaze colors produced by the pigments and the porcelain under high temperatures is similar to the blend of ink and water on rice paper. So, when I paint on celadon, I will find some unexpected changes with transitions among ink wash painting, ink color painting and black ink painting. I am very happy with that.
It is very important to draw on past experience. For example, controlling the mixture of water and glaze before burning is vital for success. Firing is a process of certainty and uncertainty. Incidental results are very cute, but actually, uncertainty under the control of certainty is better.
People always say that they find a sense of light and balance in my paper paintings, while the sense of light and balance is more interesting on my celadon paintings. Such beauty is the icing on the cake for both the celadon and my ink paintings.
In a nutshell, as a painter, painting on celadon is a crossover experiment. It is different from my original practice of ink painting artwork and shows another style of beauty. Therefore, this art exploration has become a new artistic style of mine.
Through years of practice and experimenting, I have blazed a new trail and created a new form of art.
Introduction to the artist
Wu Shanming is known for his Chinese traditional ink paintings. He is especially good at creating figurative works. Born in 1941 in Pujiang, Zhejiang Province, Wu studied at the China Academy of Art in the 1960s.
Currently, Wu is a professor of Chinese traditional painting at the China Academy of Art where he also serves as a doctoral supervisor.
Wu's artworks have been shown around the world and can be found in institutions such as The National Art Museum and the University of Oxford.
Introduction to the artist
Gao Ye was born in 1947 in Qingtian, Zhejiang Province. Gao now works at the China Academy of Art.
Gao is the deputy president of the Zhejiang Female Flowers and Birds Artists Association. She is also a member of the Zhejiang Artists' Association and Zhejiang Flowers and Birds Painting Association.
She excels at flower paintings, especially bamboo and orchid paintings.
Her works have been displayed and published many times at home and abroad.
Zhu Zhi Yun
Mei Ren Zui
In the 1970s, a student from Shandong Province gave me a celadon plate produced in Longquan town, a town famous for celadon in Zhejiang Province. I am familiar with Longquan-produced celadon, but I did not expect that I would be involved in celadon creation later.
At that time, I just thought that the celadon was beautiful, but it was too heavy. Later, I got a chance to visit Longquan, and I found that almost no one painted on celadon. Gradually, I became interested in celadon. Yet, my path was not a smooth one. Despite many challenges, I still thought it was interesting, and that I could do something if I persisted.
Under my suggestion, we bought some ceramic items to practice painting on. Before baking them in the kiln, the results were good, but after, it was a failure. The problems lie in many different aspects - the combination of the crafts, paintings and the glaze, the artist's choice of shades, color and composition and the size of the piece you are working on. How to manage these aspects is important and it differs with different types of ceramics as well as shades of color and brushes.
Besides, we found that cooperation with the craftsmen can be difficult. Since the craftsmen thought they should be careful with the paintings on the pieces, they would tend to only spray a thin glaze instead of a standard glaze onto the work. And since my husband's paintings are light, with the thin glaze the paintings easily lost their color. Honing the process is tedious as each time you will come across different problems while firing the work.
At that time, I did not know whether we should give up. We know that if we try something new, we have to learn the laws of creation from scratch, and we do not know how long that will take. It is difficult to draw lessons from the experience. We must do it on our own and gradually learn from our many failures.
Later, we used another craftsman and the firing results were better. We grew to understand and control the uncertain "temper" of celadon.
Take Seeking for example. My husband Wu painted a single bird on the celadon with no background, but it gives you a comfortable feeling.
As for Night Rain Filling the Pool in Autumn, there are only several wild ducks on the celadon, but one can feel that there is a puddle of water there. It is beautiful, and so is the glazing color.
The painting looks perfect with the celadon. This cannot be achieved by painting on paper.
We have different aesthetic judgment over every celadon. Though the subjects of the paintings - bamboo, orchid or Dendrobium - are not very complicated, we should be attentive to how to present every celadon and how to seamlessly connect the celadon with the paintings. Even though sometimes the theme of the painting is the same, we still need to create new artwork without repetition.
During the process, I found my own way to create celadon paintings. My attitude is to treat painting with sincerity and have deep respect for celadon. I admire its noble quality and special beauty and I hope to add color to the pieces with my ink paintings.