Zhang Lingyun buys unburned ceramic bases in Jingdezhen, east China's Jiangxi province, July 18, 2014.
Zhang Lingyun is 40. It's been 20 years since the ceramic artist came to Jingdezhen, China's "porcelain capital".
Zhang's story with ceramics had a random, romantic start: she knew barely anything about ceramics before she came across the name "Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute (JCI)" when applying for college. "Ceramics sounded interesting so I filed the application for JCI."
The whim of impulse had made great difference in Zhang's life. Her very first contact with ceramics ended up with frustration. It was much more difficult than what one might think. "The whole work would be ruined if there were a single flaw in any process," said Zhang. "I was having a hard time and doubted my choice frequently." Zhang did not really fall in love with ceramics until she went to the South Carolina State University in 2006 on an exchange programme. There, she was impressed by a slogan on a fellow artisan's T-shirt: Clay is everything. "The earth sustains our world; it's reasonable to attribute the birth of 'everything' in this world to the clay, a major substance of the earth," she said. "Meanwhile, clay is subject to any form the human hands can shape: what great vitality! Isn't ceramics the best manifestation of the clay's beauty?"
Hands and flames are the catalysts of Zhang's love for ceramics, as studios, factories and field workshops are their places of rendezvous. Gradually, she had gained mastery in the artisan-porcelain relationship. Zhang remains unmarried, but not lonely. Perhaps, she said, porcelain really is her best lover. "When I sit down and 'talk' to my ceramic work, I can achieve peace in mind. You should not treat it as a task."
Zhang's works have won awards both at home and abroad, many of which became international collectibles. The blue-and-white porcelain lamp posts designed by her now decorate a road near the city hall of Delft, Holland. She had also visited many foreign countries. "I like different ceramic cultures, which provide me with inspiration. I also like to observe the subtlety and delicacy of the daily life, which help me improve my artistic creation," she said.
Zhang is an associate professor at JCI, her alma mater, offering courses in blue-and-white porcelains, porcelains for daily life, ceramic environmentalism and ceramic designing. Occasionally, she invites students to discussions at her residence, expecting thoughts and insights that may not occur in common classes.
At present, Zhang is also preparing for her own ceramics gallery, "Yun Space", which is about to be ready later this year. Once "Yun Space" is launched, there will be regular international ceramic exhibitions and scholarly lectures. "I hope visitors to 'Yun Space' can update their perception of the ceramic art and see into its great possibility," she said.