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Prized lacquerware takes time, skill

2013-11-05 09:37:22

(Shanghai Daily)


"Today we talk about environmental protection, and I could say that utensils or objects made of lacquer are the most healthy and natural ones," Liu says. "The reason is simple — they come 100 percent from nature."

Liu says he didn't have much interest when he first discovered Chinese lacquer art.

"They were everywhere in the gift shops at tourist destinations, those bowls and plates," he says. "But it was after meeting one of my friends who majored in history at Peking University that I was amazed when I was introduced to the genuine article. He asked me to visit a lacquer artist's studio to appreciate the real Chinese lacquer, as those sold at the gift shops are mostly fakes. Most of them are painted with red paint rather than natural lacquer."

As a beginner, Liu came to understand that the general color of lacquer is black, since the original red hue of lacquer becomes black after oxidizing.

"Today you might see various hues of Chinese lacquer, including red, green, blue and white, but actually they are the result of mixing different minerals," he says.

For example, it is still a tradition for Chinese lacquer artists to crush pieces of duck eggshell to achieve a white color, so if a white hue appears on lacquer, it usually looks crackled on close inspection.

The process of making lacquer is to cover it with a thick layer of natural lacquer and polish it to make it smooth, then cover it with different color of lacquer, and continuously polish it. "It takes a lot of material and time," Liu says.

"Chinese lacquer art already reached an unparalleled status in the world," he says, adding that lacquer was an important way for China to earn foreign exchange through export in the 1960s and 1970s.

Unfortunately, like many forms of traditional craftsmanship, Chinese lacquer art faced a tough time in the 1980s since most of the factories closed due to the country's economic transition and many technicians took other jobs.

"Today some of the techniques are lost," Liu says with a sigh. He cites as an example that sometimes a gold mixture needs to be applied to lacquerware, but this is done through a flick of the finger.

"In the past, only a young girl's finger movement could smoothly and evenly deliver the gold mixture," he says. "But today the technique is lost, though I heard that the Japanese were able to continue it since they studied some techniques in China in the 1970s."

In recent years, art lovers have grown in appreciation of Chinese lacquerware.

"I plan to a open a showroom to exhibit my collection to the public in Shanghai," Liu says. "Personally I prefer the lacquer art from Fujian Province, as they are more elegant and simple, catering to the aesthetic taste of urban people."

Liu also points out that the price of Chinese lacquerware has rocketed in the past several years.

"I remember when I first bought them, it cost me several thousand (yuan), but now it is tens of thousands of yuan for a quality piece," he laughs. "But I don't think that this is the summit. Chinese lacquer still has huge potential market value when considering its long history and complicated technique."

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