Having painted for over 30 years and made porcelain for over 20, Mars Hsu says her dream is the same as ever: to make art that is connected to the daily lives of the people, and to see her work shared and enjoyed.
100 Color Ceramics Store at 19 Tai’an Road in Shanghai’s Xuhui District may not immediately catch the eye of passers-by. But if one heads through the inconspicuous entrance, it would be very hard not to be impressed by the artistic mastery on display inside.
Intricate porcelain works line the shelves; grand oil paintings adorn the walls. Every piece is unique. There’s no mass production here.
Behind the art is Mars Hsu. Born in Taichung, Taiwan, Hsu has been an artist all her life. She learnt to paint with oils at a young age and began working with porcelain at 16. She subsequently moved to Vancouver, Canada to go to university, where she majored in oil painting and print. On graduating, she headed back to Taiwan, but stayed there for only six months before moving to Shanghai, home turf for many of China’s young aspiring artists, in 2001.
Nowadays Hsu spends her time between the southern megacity and Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province, a city well known for porcelain making and home to many masters of the craft.
On this reporter’s trip to the Shanghai store, Hsu had just come back from a stay in Jingdezhen. She professed that she wasn’t happy with the kilning work she’d just done, and would go back soon.
Hsu hates to leave Shanghai, even for a short while. “I feel that I must have been a Shanghai resident in a previous life. I love everything about Shanghai. My friends – even in Taiwan and Canada – are all originally from Shanghai,” she said.
Hsu concurrently produces a number of different series of porcelain works. Design themes vary, but generally center around flowers, birds, fish and insects, which she completes in freehand and fine brushwork styles. She generally produces around 10 series each year; each piece in each series is unique. From drawing to forming, firing and glazing, she is personally involved in each step of the production process.
Hsu has garnered a substantial artistic following across China and overseas. Whenever she brings out a new series, regulars buy half of the works immediately. Until recently, she didn’t even need a store. However she felt she should open one in order to share her passion with even more people.
“I hope to share my art with greater numbers of people from the general public. Art connoisseurs will always be there. But I don’t want them to buy all my works; better leave some to inspire new art converts,” she said. Tsu is turning 40 this year; there should be plenty of time to inspire.
Tsu’s store emphasizes the homely aesthetic of her ceramics. The decorations and lighting are no different from those in ordinary homes; she wants to encourage buyers to see her art as pieces that fit snugly into the environment of their daily lives. “The handmade production process is expensive, but I try to limit the costs to encourage ordinary folks to make purchases. I want them to combine artwork with their daily lives,” she said.
For Tsu, life is art, and vice versa. But she still has her worries. “I don’t know how long I can keep at this, as I sold my house to make these works. It’s ironic really; I believe 90 percent of people working on porcelain aspire to make money to buy a new home or upgrade to a bigger one,” she said. But her passion and persistence should see her through. “I really hope I can make my dream of sharing art go further.”
Tsu’s passion has inspired others. She has two full-time employees, and other part-timers on hand to help buyers understand the unique qualities of every piece in the shop. Some even quit their jobs to help her out. She counts those in her shop-cum-art community as her closest friends. Having friends that share the same interest and dream is something everyone wants in life. In this respect, Mars Tsu is a role model, not only for aspiring artists, but for us all.