CHINA> Focus
China's ancient porcelain capital attracts new blood
Updated: 2009-10-27 14:43

NANCHANG: With a posh house on the bank of the West Lake, one of China's most beautiful scenic spots in east city Hangzhou, Teng Ting, a ceramic artist, chose to live in a bathroom-turned bedroom nearly 400 km away from home in southern city Jingdezhen.

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"It is all worth it since only in Jingdezhen can I fulfill my dream," said the long-haired artist, who came to the city, China's porcelain capital, five years ago.

Jingdezhen, a city in China's Jiangxi Province, has a history of producing quality pottery for 1700 years. But in recent years it is eclipsed by other porcelain-producing cities, like Foshan and Chaozhou in south China's Guangdong Province, which catch up quickly through mass production.

"To study ceramics, Jingdezhen is the place, since it represents the top level of world porcelain art," Teng said.

The view is shared by Diana Williams, an Australian ceramic artist who also came to Jingdezhen five years ago. "This is Mecca for ceramic artists," she said, with her eyes sparkling.

"There are so many great artists and skillful craftsmen here. And the supporting services are excellent," she said.

"If you are a ceramic artist, full of dreams and ideas, but just can't turn them into ideal ceramics, then you need to come here," said the 52-year-old Australian artist.

Teng has been retreated into his studio for five years to create a new type of paints that can be put directly on porcelain. Teng named the new paints Nizhongcai, literally translated as "color in the mud".

Creating ceramics with perfect color requires sophisticated skills since ceramic color could change after being glazed and burned in kiln. Teng's Nizhongcai, if proved successful, will make ceramic coloring much easier and further free ceramic artists.

Unlike Teng who chose to work alone, Diana works with local artists. She got a studio for free from Liu Yuanchang, a renowned Chinese artist in arts and crafts.

Diana works in her studio six months every year. She has bought a house in the city last year.

Pointing at a nearby craftsman who was carving porcelain, Diana said "whatever my idea is, he can always make ceramics exactly as I want. I have tons of ideas, but I couldn't create ceramics all by myself."

"I learn the unique ceramic crafts from local artists and they are also inspired by my western style," she said.

Jingdezhen has many studios for rent which also provides in-house craftsmen, accommodation and interpretation services. Liu Yuanchang's workshop, the Pottery Workshop and Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute are the most famous ones.

"More than 1,000 foreign artists had stayed in my workshop," said Zheng Yi who set up the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen in 2005.

"In Jingdezhen, I can get technical help and historical influence," said Josefine Fina Holmqvist, a Swedish ceramic artist who came to Jingdezhen on October 5 and plans to stay for three more weeks.

"I wanted to make decals before coming to Jingdezhen, and now I have a new idea, that is, to stick broken porcelain pieces onto a mirror and use porcelain as frames," she said.

Local artists believed that the growing number of foreign artists in Jingdezhen could bring more vitality to the ancient city.

"Jingdezhen has long been a diversified city and has always been open to artists. Ninety thousand craftsmen worked here in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). Jingdezhen can not be what it is today without the advanced techniques brought by craftsmen far and near," Liu Yuanchang said.

Building Jingdezhen into a global innovation center is the commitment made by Jingdezhen Municipal Government at the 2009 Jingdezhen International Ceramic Fair on October 18 to 22.

"We plan to invest 5 billion yuan ($732 million) in six years into the project," said Li Fang, mayor of Jingdezhen City.

"Old kilns and workshops renovation is also on the agenda," Li said.

"I am not sure how long it (to build Jingdezhen into a innovation center) will take, maybe five years, maybe 10," Diana said. "But I know for sure that it is the right direction," she said.