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November 13, 2011

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Artist with soft hands and a pure heart

CERAMIST Zhang Wenbin is spearheading a new chapter in China's illustrious porcelain industry with a new technique that has impressed critics. Wang Jie talks to the artist who says meditation helps him focus on his work.

Ceramist Zhang Wenbin spent the better part of 10 years "hiding in his studio" creating a secret technique that creates "matt cutting lines" on porcelain.

He says the result is well worth it.

Zhang, who lives and works in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, the heart of China's porcelain industry, has created a matte finish that is not coarse, as is usual.

"Just touch it," Zhang says. "Feel incredible? I added a very thin glaze before dyeing, which creates this amazing effect."

Porcelain made in Jingdezhen has always been prized for its gloss and exquisiteness, so Zhang's technique is shaking up the industry, according to Chen Haibo, head of Shanghai Station, Art Appraisal Committee of the Cultural Market Department Center of the Ministry of Culture.

"Regardless of the meaning in Zhang's porcelain, his technique will open a new chapter in the history of China's contemporary porcelain," Chen says. "His art combines the essence of traditional porcelain while exploring it from a contemporary perspective."

Zhang's work displays intensive intricate cutting lines on the porcelain with different layers of hues, similar to traditional fine brushwork painting on rice-paper. The colors turn out vividly and beautifully.

Zhang says he found the pottery clay accidentally in a certain area in Jingdezhen.

"Due to the variety of minerals in the clay, the colors vary widely after firing," he says.

But the artist refuses to say exactly where he found the clay.

"Sorry, I can't tell you," he says. "You might mistake it as the mystery of my porcelain ware."

He also declines to reveal how he cut the lines like a brush on porcelain.

"I can't reveal my secret," he says. "It is a simple method, accessible to others. But the problem is figuring it out and then doing it the right way."

Born in 1966 in Yushan, a neighborhood of Jingdezhen, Zhang has always been surrounded by porcelain.

He studied at Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, the only ceramics university in China.

"Besides porcelain techniques, I also studied oil canvas paintings, traditional ink-wash paintings and even sculpture," Zhang says. So this profound knowledge has broadened his vision and opened possibilities for him.

During the 10 years he spent perfecting his technique, Zhang says he also found time to read a lot of books about Taoism and Buddhism.

"The Oriental spirit gives me the power and inspiration, otherwise I could not have accomplished this task."

A typical day for Zhang starts with about one hour of meditation.

"Have you ever tried meditating?" he asks. "It is not as easy as you might expect. I have to empty everything in my mind, only leaving a peaceful soul."

Zhang says without meditation, it would be virtually impossible for him to continue the 72 steps used in making his porcelain.

Despite his creative technique, Zhang loves traditional porcelain subjects such as flowers, which he considers "true gifts from nature."

"Flowers are very similar to women," he says. "They blossom and fade, but their beauty is eternal."

In order to create "balance" on his porcelain pieces, Zhang randomly adds gold slices.

"Gold may represent a masculine power, thus my porcelain will be a perfect balance of yin and yang."

Date: Through November 18, 10am-5pm

Address: 1102 Hongxu Rd


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