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Wang Hsin-Tu: Unsurpassed Porcelain Craft Shines in Taiwan

The Suspended Legacy Reemergence of Underglaze Red –Extinct for Three Generations, Unsurpassed Porcelain Craft Shines in Taiwan.

Out of the lush, jade mountains of Taiwan walks a masterful artist set apart in creating the most elegant and delightful Porcelain Ceramics. King of the New Tuk Glaze, Wang Hsin-Tu’s passion for perfection is unprecedented.

Wang Hsin-Tu, speaking of the works displayed in this exhibition, “I have to emphasize that there are differences between “authentic” and “imitated” underglaze red porcelain. In Chinese history of porcelain, the artisanship of underglaze red was extinct three times. Simply, the reasons were war, turmoil, difficult to fire, and the failure of handing down the glaze’s formula. In the complicated process of firing, underglaze red is highly unstable.

Regardless of the progress in science and technology, the successful rate of firing underglaze red is low. In fact the process of firing, i.e. the reduction atmosphere, is difficult for us to monitor the conditions of the fire, not to mention the control of oxidation and reduction. It is even unlikely to guarantee good transformation atmosphere for the front, the sides, top and bottom of embryos between the process of oxidation and reduction. In addition to my some 20 years of experience, I still depend on luck in making them. Therefore, a successful underglaze red porcelain craft requires both personal effort and the heavenly blessing.

Indeed, it is really that difficult. Due to the progress in modern technology, people invented alternatives for mineral copper oxide as the red coloring agent in the glaze for underglaze red. Therefore, many porcelain artisans use it hurriedly and call their works “underglaze red.” Therefore, the difference between “authentic” and “imitated” underglaze red is made. In fact, underglaze red is a scholastic terminology. Strictly speaking, an artisan must use mineral copper oxide as the coloring agent to draw on white porcelain embryo. Then, a layer of transparent glaze is applied over the drawing, and the embryo is fired with reduction method. Likewise, only the crafts made with such process are qualified as “underglaze red” porcelain. Meanwhile, no others are qualified to bear this name. Just like a natural ruby, its value cannot be compared with an artificial one made in the lab. It is the same with underglaze red porcelain.

How to distinguish imitated underglaze red porcelain from an authentic one? Of course, scientific instruments can perform the task well because the color and the crystal of true underglaze red cannot be achieved with artificial coloring. However, we can still make basic judgment with our raw eyes. On the surface of authentic underglaze red porcelain, there are many tiny red crystals, which are the mineral particles of cuprous oxide yielded from the process of the reduction of copper oxide. On the surface of artificial glaze porcelain, these particles are absent. In the books written in the Ching Dynasty, people described the particles on the surface underglaze red porcelain as the precious light glittering on the glaze’s surface. Meanwhile, artificial glaze can only imitate the color but not the glittering particles on the glaze’s surface.

In the past, initially “china” meant as “porcelain” to foreign countries. In my works, I use the three basic colors red, blue, and gold very frequently. These three basic colors represent magnificence in Chinese architectural paintings, clothing and porcelain widely, and it is absolutely a marvelous match in Chinese use of color. Especially golden color, it was widely use in ancient human cultures to convey a splendid feeling. In some ways, “gold” means the returning of the golden age in the past. After official kilns in the Yuan, Ming, and Ching Dynasties, how many people really studied the essence of porcelain craft and made innovation? In the past, people studied hard just to wait for the day to be successful and excel. However, in this age, no matter how hard we try and remain loyal to our wishes, we may not win acclaim from people because of reviving certain cultural artifacts.

Life is short but culture is a difficult task and long lasting…Like me; the process of composing my works is tedious and difficult because a work may not be successful in a single attempt. Sometime, I have to make 7 or 8 trials before making a successful craft. Its difficulties can hardly be imagined. To take “underglaze red” porcelain as example, it is a great challenge. Copper oxide is used as coloring agent in underglaze red, which is used together with cobalt blue and chrome green. All these glazes are fire in a single attempt. However, in the process of firing, the instability and sensitivity of copper oxide will interfere with other elements in the closed kiln easily, leading to failure. Therefore, red color may not appear, and the craft will be one-step to success. Therefore, in the past, it was the reason why it was rather uncommon to use underglaze red together with two or more colors.

If an artisan wants to fix a golden color on the glaze’s surface, the embryo needs to be fired under the temperature of 7600C one more time. Meanwhile, there are two kinds of golden color: gloss gold and dull gold. On the surface of drawing in gold, a layer of transparent glaze would be applied on it. When this layer of transparent glaze is applied over the gold paint, it will look glossy accomplishing the effect of glossy gold. Meanwhile, on dull gold, no transparent glaze should be applied on the gold drawing. Therefore, when a gold drawing is done on the embryo’s surface, it will become dull and not glossy. Therefore, when firing underglaze red porcelain crafts with gold drawings, these embryos have to be fired one more time after the pictures in gold are drawn on them. Sometimes the underglaze red patterns will change its color, and will not be not red anymore.

There are three principles in appreciating a work:1. Glaze’s Color: The glaze’s color affects the difficulty and the effect of firing a craft. The lesser the glaze color, the more difficult in firing. Comparatively speaking, the value will be higher. This explains why there are very few good underglaze red porcelains, whose price is normally very high. 2. Technique of painting: In all the official kilns in China, artisans valued the techniques of painting on porcelain crafts very highly. Whether a work was lively or not depended on the maturity of the technique of painting.The difference between pottery and porcelain was that there were huge quantities of paintings on porcelain crafts. Meanwhile, people thought that painting was not that important on pottery crafts. From such differences, we could tell the importance of painting on porcelain crafts. 3. Form and Patterns: These were regarded as complimentary elements to each other. A craft needed to have a unique form and well-drawn patterns to be valued as successful work. For example, normally drawn branches would be the accompanying patterns for “Jade Pot Spring” in the olden days.

With the branches drawn, the curves of jade pot spring would become exceptional charming, offering people the highest sense of visual beauty. As it was highly difficult to make excellent porcelain, people gave up making porcelain for pottery. Therefore, china began to decline and showed to be very lonely. Making further development and innovation with traditional crafts as a foundation are my findings in the study the making of underglaze red porcelain. Many people say it seems to be mere imitation if we follow the traditional Chinese ways. Some people are even so ridiculous as to say,” It is just craft, not art.” Should we harden our hearts and try to change something for the sake of changing in order to prove that it is the matters of art? If we force ourselves to turn our back against our own culture, we will become rootless floating leaves, not knowing where we will be going. We might become popular then. Reminiscing the golden age, I think we should to return to it in order to give out light and heat.

Since TV has released the advertisement themed “Mr. Tang has broken the Curling Dragon Vase”, people began to catch up with the fads and search for vases. The porcelain town in Taiwan – Yingge is packed with people every night. Meanwhile, vases have become rare collectible items because of the large number of collectors searching for a small quantity of vases. Such a phenomenon seems to be telling us that whether the media drives people to think culture as important or not? No wonder the long and lasting Chinese culture needs to be promoted by commercial advertisement to motivate people into searching for those artifacts. Moreover, there is no dragon pattern on the vase broken by Mr. Tang.

Is it misleading for people who do not understand cultural artifacts that well? Based on these confusing facts on the audio-visual media, as a senior art and craft worker, I should take the responsibility and explain, “Curling dragon” means a dragon that is curling up its body. In “Grand Biography”, the Book of History, “When the wind blows from eight directions, the clouds gather, and the curling dragon hiding there leaps up energetically.” It explains that fortune clouds always gather at the place where the dragons are crouching. It requires superb techniques to fire underglaze red. Even if you break it, I am afraid that there is no substitute because it is the only precious item in this world.

Since the olden days, underglaze red porcelains have been very rare. Even in the official kilns, there was hardly any collectible item, not to mention the number of underglaze red porcelain surviving today. Tracing back to its origin, underglaze red has a history of about 800 years. Now, although science and technology have made tremendous progress in the 21st century, it cannot lessen the difficulties of firing underglaze red porcelains. It is just because its artistic presentation is the fruit of the artist’s endeavor and the field of underglaze red, there is a rhymed instruction, “Whether it is pale or dark is difficult to grasp. Bright red is phenomenal.”

It is also the principle I have been following in the past 30 years. Each of the works exhibited must comply with this principle. It is not only the guide for my endeavor but also the motto that encourage me to fulfill my mission, motivating me t create works that surpass the ancient masters. Consequentially, my works will be hand down to our descendants as cultural artifacts."

Wang Hsin-Tu has currently been busy with his 25th solo exhibition in Taiwan. His artwork will be on exhibit from Dec. 17 until January 25, 2017.

For more information, you may view Wang Hsin-Tu's amazing work HERE.

You can also see his Facebook Interview HERE.

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