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December 7, 2019

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Artist steps out of father’s ‘Hidden’ shadow

LIKE father, like son.

Yet for artist Chen Liang, the burden of having one of China’s top ink-wash artists and ceramists as his father was a heavy one.

That perhaps explains why at the age of 42 he has just held his first exhibition on porcelain with his father, Chen Jialing.

“If it is truly good, quality artwork, then time should not be a problem,” Chen Liang said.

Taking up three halls, the exhibition running through January 5, at Guan Yuan Garden in Caohang Village in Minhang District, features not only porcelain wares created by Chen Jialing, but also an installation project based on porcelain named “Hidden” by Chen Liang, plus a porcelain furniture series by the duo.

“I have been enamored with the art media of porcelain for years,” said Chen Liang. “Although it seems to be a trend that many local artists prefer to draw on porcelain, for me, it is not a simple transition to repeat those art patterns from rice-paper onto the porcelain. How to utilize the special trait of porcelain itself is what I have been experimenting with for years.”

Born in 1976, Chen graduated from Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts in 1998.

In the 1990s, his father began to explore the beauty of porcelain fired in a kiln — the subtlety between the control and uncontrolled kiln transmutation, and the changes in glaze caused by intermingling glaze materials during the firing process.

The elderly Chen became one of the founders of the Shen Kiln, the first artist’s kiln in Shanghai — Shen being another name for Shanghai.

Chen, the junior, revealed that he was also fascinated with kiln transmutation at that time.

“My father always jokes that I have more luck in kiln than he has,” said Chen Liang. “Sometimes the uncertainty of the firing is only decided by God.”

The young artist said that failures and surprises were often mixed together.

“The original shapes and patterns that I drew on the surface of the porcelain might go far beyond your expectation once the porcelain comes out of the kiln,” he said.

“Some say I should have had a first solo-exhibition earlier. However, I didn’t think that my art was ripe at that time. Now I am ready!”

Both those big geometric blocks with different textures and patterns resembling lotus or bamboo on the porcelain created by Chen Liang unwittingly radiate a strong and wild visual effect.

His porcelain installation work “Hidden” illustrates the beauty of ceramic art and reveals the blended beauty and harmony from firing a kiln, the natural color of the clay and the spirit of the artist.

The site-specific work of art is composed of three pieces: “Chaos,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “October.”

“Chaos,” a black-and-white collection, is focused on triangular shape of design in ceramic art. The color of black and white symbolizes “yin” and “yang” — Chinese philosophy describes how seamlessly opposite forms of energy are complementary to each other in the natural world.

“Stairway to Heaven” hangs several black wood panels above a mirror scattered with several small white porcelain blocks on the floor.

“I tried to echo with the inner environment of a firing kiln via ‘Stairway to heaven.’ Similar to a womb, the inner part of the kiln is also the birthplace of a porcelain work,” he said.

Among the three installation pieces, “October” might be the most eye-catching.

A cluster of pomegranate-shaped ceramics hang in the air. Each varies in patterns and colors. In fact, pomegranate, one of the world’s most ancient fruits, has been a symbol of fertility in China and also suggests an abundance of prosperity and happiness.

“‘October’ reflects the outcome of the whole process of firing a porcelain work,” Chen said. “A harvest time for all the laborious steps.”

Q: How does your father influence you on your art path?

A: I should say that I have been strongly influenced by my father.

Of course there are pressures and even bandages. But everything has two sides, sometimes it is also a driving force for me. The relationship between my father and me is more akin to the mentor relationship. I study hard and learn from what he shows in front of me.

Q: Can you tell the difference between you and your father’s artworks?

A: Porcelain is stamped with a strong oriental flavor. My father pursues the perfect combination between kiln transmutation and painting, while my work focuses more on the contemporary meanings of porcelain itself.

In other words, I am inclined to make a three-dimensional work via porcelain.

In the past few years, I have been trying to add porcelain into traditional Chinese furniture which later inspired me for this installation project of “Hidden.”

Q: Can you use three adjectives to describe your father’s artworks?

A: Harmonious, wise and peaceful.

Q: What kind of message do you want to render to viewers with “Hidden”?

A: The importance of the harmony between man and nature.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge for you at the moment?

A: First, I don’t know whether this kind of porcelain installation will be accepted by the public, then comes the promotion problem.

Although porcelain has a history of 2,000 years in China, and the combination of East and West on porcelain may sound quite gorgeous, yet it is all too difficult in daily practice.

How would more people get to know about the Chinese contemporary ceramists’ artworks?


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