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September 25, 2009

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Fired up over 'nude' ceramics

Two ceramists from China's cradle of chinaware exhibit strikingly different works - one gives a modern twist to traditional themes of birds and flowers, while the other turns ceramic plate into a canvas of nudes.

The 60 works on display in "Origin" at Shanghai Art Salon Club not only harken back to the origins of Chinese ceramics but also explore its possibilities.

Ceramists Yu Donghua and Zhang Jinhui were both trained in Jingdezhen, the capital of China's porcelain, and use traditional techniques in unusual ways.

"That's the intriguing part of this exhibition," says Chen Haibo, head of art appraisal of cultural market development of the Ministry of Culture Shanghai office.

"One focuses on traditional arrangement and profundity in Chinese ceramics with superb technique, while the other pursues a modern Western aesthetic taste fused with a dazzling background and nudes," he explains.

Yu's ceramics of blue, white and red on vases and jars seem more "conventional," but he exaggerates the stereotypical fruits and flowers, giving them a new look and modern decorative aura.

Zhang's ceramic plates are more unusual, especially because nudes were never the subject of traditional ceramic painting.

When viewed from a distance, the plates seem to be a canvas with multiple layers and textures. Zhang abandons the vessel shape, focusing instead on content.

His ceramic series "Dream" combines female nudes, animals and natural scenery in somewhat ethereal scenes.

"Certainly I had concerns at the very beginning about depicting female nudes," says Zhang. "People are used to seeing flowers or birds, landscapes or ancient figures painted on ceramics. Could they accept female nudes? That question haunted me. Moreover, it is not an easy subject, as it might look vulgar or in low taste if rendered improperly."

However, Western masterpieces featuring nudes convinced him.

"Especially in the Western art, female curves are an eternal inspiration for the artists, though they vary in form," Zhang explains. "Why couldn't I use the same subject in an ancient medium like ceramics? The collision of the two might produce something unexpected."

Sometimes a nude figure floats above the earthly scenery, in one work she lies against a horse, suggesting nature and humanity in harmony.

"Many people say my ceramics are like works on canvas," says Zhang. "Yes and no. Actually the art of firing really brings surprise and wonder."

Following traditional practice, Zhang draws his first version on a ceramic plate, and then fires it. When he retrieves it, background colors appear. Then he draws a second version.

"It's like a magician's game, because you can never predict what color the kiln will produce," he says. "Each time there is joy and sometimes regret that works do not turn out as I had imagined."

"For a long time, Chinese contemporary ceramics have been ignored by the art market," says Chen, from the Ministry of Culture. "While canvas, sculpture and ink-wash paintings have been coveted by collectors, many seem to forget that China has a long history in making its own chinaware."

The aim of this exhibition, he says, is to awaken an interest in ceramics in the public and nurture collectors.

Most works are priced at several tens of thousands of yuan.

"The market for contemporary ceramics is not mature yet, but it is beginning," says Chen. "Wait and see. There will be a sharp rise in interest in ceramics like that in contemporary art."

Date: through October 9, 10am-6pm

Address: 1B and 2/F, 1102 Hongxu Rd

Tel: 6275-0329


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