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For artist, Liling's porcelain is glazed to perfection

Melding the traditional and the modern, painter breathes new life into old art

By ZHU YOUFANG in Changsha and ZHENG CAIXIONG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-09-06 09:07
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Kwan paints fish on a porcelain jar in her workshop in Liling, Hunan province. China Daily

When Kwan Lan arrived in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, a decade ago and saw the exquisite glazed painted porcelain produced in Liling city, she was amazed.

"I immediately fell in love with the gorgeous colors of the glazed painted porcelain," said the artist from Taiwan.

Originally born into a family of artists in Hong Kong in 1953, Kwan moved from Taipei to Liling in Hunan and opened a studio to learn about glazed painted porcelain, and how to make it.

Ten years on, Kwan has developed a deep relationship with Liling, which is administered by Zhuzhou city, and her studio is gaining a name among local residents.

The graduate of the Department of Fine Arts at the National Taiwan Normal University has a long obsession with Liling glazed painted porcelain, and now the tradition is part of her repertoire.

At a young age, Kwan began to learn how to work with porcelain with her father, who is also a painter, and the pair have organized a number of joint calligraphy and painting exhibitions in both Taiwan and Hong Kong.

She was also trained by her uncle, Guan Shanyue (1912-2000), who is a famous master painter of the Lingnan (South China) style.

Thanks to her experience as an artist, Kwan was quickly able to learn firing techniques and the other skills necessary to make glazed painted porcelain.

She also studied the history of the art form and learned to paint porcelain using her own techniques, developing a unique style and enriching Liling's tradition of glazed painted porcelain.

Lin Yushan, Kwan's teacher, said that in addition to everything she learned at university, the training from her family enabled her to master many painting skills and develop her own style.

Another well-known ceramics expert Tian Shen said that the Taiwan artist's style and skills are particularly suited to making glazed painted porcelain.

"This gives her a great advantage in Liling and highlights her style. Her innovations and breakthroughs are creating new connotations for the creation of glazed painted porcelain," Tian said. "And this represents a real and deep cultural exchange between the mainland and Taiwan."

Kwan said that glazed painted porcelain was both as white as jade and as colorful as a rainbow.

"The rich colors were its greatest advantage," she said.

From left: Four pieces of Kwan Lan's glazed painted porcelain work. CHINA DAILY

After visiting a porcelain exhibition in Germany two years ago, she said that she became even more impressed by Liling glazed painted porcelain as she discovered that it was just as good as famous porcelain produced elsewhere.

She feels that she encountered the tradition at just the right time, during the best period of its development.

Kwan's work usually takes flowers, birds, fish, insects and fruit as its subject matter, and incorporates the small freehand flower and bird details that characterize the Lingnan style of "water and mountain" (shanshui) painting.

At the same time, she introduces modern painting concepts, and creatively explores existing techniques of porcelain painting and making, to focus on highlighting its colors. The effect is free and easy, elegant and refined, and appeals to many fans of the art, as well as to ordinary people.

She gained acclaim after organizing four themed exhibitions of her glazed painted porcelain works in Changsha and Guangzhou in Guangdong province last year.

"For me, creation is the purest form of happiness. Each time I wait to open the kiln, my expectations surge," she said.

Kwan is now fully immersed in the world of glazed painted porcelain. She draws hundreds of large and small designs every year, and collects materials related to Liling porcelain in her studio.

She also engages in work to promote modern art and cross-strait cultural cooperation and exchange.

Kwan said she will continue making porcelain in Liling and hopes to be able to enjoy its charms for the rest of her life.

Her husband, Andy Ting, joined her in Liling a few years ago and works as her assistant.

"Life in Liling is comfortable and convenient and this environment is suited to making art," he said.

Porcelain has a long history in Liling, which first began to produce ceramics during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). In 1915, a display of Liling glazed painted porcelain won a gold medal at the Panama Pacific International Exposition and in 2008, its firing techniques were listed as a national intangible cultural heritage.

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