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Firing up traditional expertise

Updated: 2024-05-16 07:35 ( China Daily )
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A Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) style vase, featuring auspicious symbols of plum blossoms, pomegranates and litchis, by artist Gong Hua and his team. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Porcelain master looks to the past to ignite passion for the craft, Yang Feiyue reports.

Over the years, the fame of China's porcelain capital Jingdezhen has drawn potters and artists from all over the country and the world, and they have added their creative touch to the city in Jiangxi province. Some give porcelain a new form to appeal to modern buyers, while others have integrated the craft with the use of oil and watercolor painting.

Modern technology has greatly increased efficiency, which makes life simpler for porcelain makers, but there are a number of Chinese craftsmen, who are not afraid of tedious work and who continue to follow the ways and keep the warmth of traditional craftsmanship, to restore the charm of porcelain from days gone by.

Porcelain-making artist Gong Hua is among them. Gong, in his 60s, had a wood-fired kiln built strictly, in 2003, to the letter of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) designs. "It is elliptical and about four or five meters deep and 1.8 meters at the widest, much smaller than modern kilns," he explains.

Despite the kiln's obvious drawbacks, such as the materials used in its construction not being as resistant to high temperatures as modern ones, it honors the production techniques and materials of Jingdezhen porcelain from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) onward.

Over the years, Gong's kiln has been used to create duplicates of porcelain artifacts for many museums and collectors, to protect the originals.

"Much has been written and recorded about traditional porcelain craftsmanship, but turning the raw materials into physical objects is a cumbersome and laborious process," Gong says. "From the preparation of the materials, the shaping of the porcelain body and painting, to firing in the kiln, every step requires repeated experimentation."

Born and raised in Jingdezhen, Gong grew up with piles of porcelain shards stacked beside old houses. "People casually picked them up, laughing as they threw them into the river to see if they would float. The shards created ripples in the water, and ripples of laughter," he recalls.

This early exposure predisposed him toward porcelain making, and he became involved in its design after finishing art studies at Jingdezhen University in 1984.

As Gong immersed himself in the world of ceramics, his interest in historical porcelain intensified and he frequently wondered how he could recapture the beauty of ancient porcelain.

In 1987, during the urban renewal of Jingdezhen, Gong saw porcelain shards being unearthed at archaeological excavations.

They exposed him to the vast gap between modern ceramic craftsmanship and that of ancient times. "The glaze was as smooth as jade, and their beauty was indescribable," he says.

This set him off on a search for paints, materials and other elements to match historical standards.

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