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Fired up by clay

Updated: 2013-01-21 11:20
By Zhang Kun ( China Daily)
Fired up by clay

The maiden exhibition of eight oil painters presenting 60 of their ceramic works, plus 20 of their paintings. Photos Provided to China Daily

Fired up by clay

Chen Fan's oil paintings and ceramic works both have the same theme.

Fired up by clay

Eight painters turn their attention to ceramics in a new exhibition, and Zhang Kun in Shanghai finds they were inspired and surprised by the process.

Though Chen Fan is an accomplished painter, he found painting on clay to be difficult.

Fired up by clay

"So much about ceramics is unpredictable," Chen says, explaining that glazes change color during the firing process, air bubbles appear and even the shape of the object may alter in the kiln at temperatures of up to 1,300 C.

After a year of toil, Chen and seven other artists are presenting their maiden exhibition of 60 ceramic works, plus 20 of their paintings.

The unpredictability of the process makes it exciting and fun, says Wu Fang, another of the eight artists.

"I always thought ceramics were a mysterious media. Clay plus fire, colors under the fire - all have unexpected effects," she says. "I thought my fellow artists would find it exciting too."

Fired up by clay

Tailored for tots 

Yuyao ceramic studio and Huafu Art are both part of Yuyao Arts and Crafts, of which Wu is vice-president. She invited the artists to use the company kiln in Shanghai's Qingpu district, to "play with mud".

"The eight of us have diverse styles and subjects," Wu says. "For example, He Zhenhua portrayed characters from the Chinese literary classic Outlaws from the Marsh. Sun Yuan focused on the collective unconsciousness of modern life, and Chen Fan created line drawings of women in erotic postures

"The ceramic works are extensions of their artistic creations, in two dimensions."

Chen, 44, has exhibited his oil paintings domestically and internationally. His artistic training started with traditional line drawing, but he says ceramics inspired him.

"Maybe it's because I'm growing old and no longer have the expanded inspiration demanded for oil paintings," Chen says. "Or maybe it's natural for me to be attracted by the traditional cultural expression of China."

"Painting on unglazed clay feels a little like doing so on a concrete surface. If you paint on the surface after the glaze has been applied the brush moves more smoothly, like on rice paper."

In Chen's oil paintings and ceramic works, the different effects on the same theme - such as portraits - are easily noted. The lines are elastic and full of rhythm on ceramic, while the colors are layered and have emphasis on canvas.

Both Wu and Chen agree that the unpredictable firing process is key to the fascination of ceramics.

"Now I understand why 'under-glaze red' sells f

Fired up by clay

Fresh Butterfly 

or such a high price at auctions. The effect is so unpredictable that even experienced craftsmen can only ensure a success rate of about 70 percent," Chen says.

"You spend a whole day drawing and painting on a vase, but when it comes out of the kiln, the work that you were so pleased with may turn out to be useless."

The room temperature, density of the glaze and even the kiln worker taking a nap for five minutes all have an effect on the outcome.

"Half of it depends on God," Chen says.

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