Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Celebrating the Handmade from Taiwan; the transfer of skills - from childhood to the aspiring ceramist .The Yingge Museum, Ceramics Riverside Park and the Ceramic District.

I obtained a Fine Art University qualification from one of the leading Art Schools in the country, The Michaelis School of Fine Art, specializing in Ceramic Sculpture. However, from a very young age, I spent my holidays drawing, whilst trying out a variety of craft skills; including Batik, Macramé, Ikebana and origami. Applying skills learnt from how to do books – the art of Macramé etc. One of my favourites was India ink scratchboard; a technique perfect for graphic illustrations.

The technique laid the foundation for crosshatching in my ballpoint pen drawings. One of the finest contemporary designers making use of the scratchboard is Jane Masters. She lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island. Using the scratchboard technique that originated in the 19th century she creates highly detailed abstractions.

Using nothing but knives and sharp tools the art of scratchboard is creation through removal. In Masters’ case what remains are dizzying op art spirals and ribbons of intersecting waves. The stark black and white adds to the timelessness of designs that often resemble microscopic magnifications of viruses, cells, and other things found in biology. Follow the link to her website.

As children we played outside and made things with our hands; we made roads out of mud for our dinky toys and built sets and objects to act out popular film characters such as Batman and Robin, including Zorro. These skills laid the foundation for subject choices such as woodwork and art at secondary school
I attended the Tygerberg Art Centre in Parow in the Western Cape. The centre provided art skills training to all the major schools in the area; a very good concept and practical way for pupils to enhance the creative skills at secondary level.  Preparing them for tertiary education in an art direction. It was most definitely my portfolio that secured me access into the Michaelis School of Fine Art programme. 

I took two art subjects in matric; Painting and Textile printing. My teachers were Andre Groenewald (Painting) and Rihana Du Preez (Textile printing). In textile printing I learnt to take plant forms, stylize the organic forms and shapes into patterns for linocut printing and silk-screened textiles. 

My first encounter one could say with design. The term design was never explained or really the main focus – textile design was taught as the transfer of craft skills. Ceramics was not offered at the centre at the time. My first encounter with clay was at UCT, in my first year at Michaelis, my lecturer was John Nowers. 

I was not exposed to the wheel, decoration was a crime and one was not permitted to make ceramic craft and or design products. As a matter of fact the library did not have a collection of ceramic magazines, books and or any other media. This was a Fine Art based ceramic discipline. A subject choice, one of a number of disciplines in support of Fine Art training, seen from a modernist perspective; painting, sculpture, printmaking and or photography. Don’t get me wrong I had a fabulous time and my mentors gave me so much freedom and support. The best time of my life was at UCT. The studios and teaching philosophy was amazing. However from a postmodern perspective the ceramic discourse was very narrow and limiting.

In sharp contrast to my upbringing, children in Asian countries including China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan are exposed to craft and design from a very young age. The difference, seen from a ceramic’s perspective, is that clay continues to play a vital role in the country’s cultural production; a prime example being the way of tea. Consumers purchase ceramic teapots and tea bowls, on offer in a variety of design and craft styles, to celebrate one of life’s marvelous rituals – to drink tea. 
It is clear from my visit to Taiwan and in particular the Yingge Museum and its surroundings that the age-old craft traditions are supported on all levels and in all forms across the craft industry sectors. Kids visited the museum every day during my involvement with the 2014 Taiwan Ceramic Biennale. I am sure that they also did factory, gallery and studio visits in the area; the Yingge District being the heart of the Taiwanese ceramic’s industry. One of the galleries I visited was the Tao Hua Zhuo Art Gallery where I purchased a small tea-bowl of the ceramist Zhang Ge-ming - teapot available online for $873.22.

Numerous ceramic galleries, shops and factories operate in the area, a major ceramic inspirational support infrastructure for an aspiring ceramist. Kids are exposed to their Country’s ceramic role models; most are able to establish a lucrative career in ceramic art, craft and or design. 

The Yingge Ceramics Riverside Park with its open-air ceramic studios and Ceramic Residency Center (images above, left and below), contributes significantly to ceramic’s development; especially from a contemporary craft, art and design perspective (especially craft skills transfer). Leading international ceramists apply to work at the centre, they are expected to conduct research in their specialized field, they do so in exchange for sharing their knowledge, expertise and development with the local art and design community. 

The 2014 Taiwan Ceramic Biennale (follow link for Curator, Wendy Ger's overview)  held at Yingge Ceramic Museum, curatorial and or product based, provides exposure to international and future ceramic trends. This entire setup is a perfect incubator for teaching and learning; a stimulating environment in cultivating ceramic artists, designers and or craftspeople. Every two years a new and exciting ceramic display provides ceramists with exciting new products, cutting edge developments in art and design (expressive or craft based). 
Origami Inspired ceramics by Hitomi Igarashi at the
2014 Taiwan Ceramic Biennale  
Needles to say the ceramic craft and design products are masterfully manufactured, in a broad range of design and or craft styles, including range of products (some of which is showcased here, purchased during my visit to Taiwan - tea bowls and PIN -CHU vases above ). Testament to a refined ceramic design development process applied by many a designer maker; the realization of craft and design products in ceramic techniques and processes. Knowledge of the history, cultural traditions and consumer expectations, equips the local ceramists to design and make a wide range of value adding, innovative products. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Ballpoint pen drawing of Iris Troiana; Homage to Albrecht Dürer.

The Iris Troiana of Albrecht Dürer was the inspiration for this ballpoint pen drawing. The artist intent is perhaps best expressed in his own words – in defining his main aim and objectives as an artist; and as captured in his masterly crafted drawings and paintings.  His creative endeavours and theories on proportion are well documented and were written towards the end of his life (1528) and underscore the blueprint for studies on the human figure and nature itself.

Dürer's advice is documented as such; “ Life in nature makes us recognize the truth of these things, so look at it diligently, follow it, and do not turn away from nature to your own thoughts…. For, verily, art is embedded in nature; whoever can draw her out, has her….” Speis der Malerknaben (Food for Young painters), Salus 1513.

His nature studies are so incredibly true-to-life and full of vitality that they can be see as a pure translation of reality into the medium of drawing and painting. They are more than this – they express Dürer’s constant determination to depict nature as ‘life’ and a ‘divine creation’ (Salley, V. Nature’s Artist, Prestel).

The most important aspect however is that no woodcut engravers, printers or apprentices ever came between Durer and the viewer. He did the work all himself. Although there are much better works to illustrate his true craftsmanship and skills and more remarkable nature studies to support his theories on drawing and painting, it is his Iris Troiana that drew my inspiration for obvious reasons.

The iris is one of the most symbolically laden images of all time. It is perhaps the painting of Georgia O’Keeffe that is most recognisable of all. Her work is acknowledged for its feminist overtones. Painted in the nineteen twenties during which time woman were gaining independence and more freedom (rights).

The black iris depicted in O’Keeffe’s work (which in reality would be deep purple or blue) is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty (Green 1). The upper petals in O’Keeffe’s painting are a shade of pale lavender while the lower petals are a very deep purple, which appears as black. The center of the flower is a small black hole surrounded by a slightly lighter purple and opens into one of the lower petals which is drawn in slightly more detail than the others. It is possible to see one singular vein running from the heart of the flower outwards. There is not much space in the painting that is not used by the flower, but the existing backdrop is very neutral. The flower seems to blend into the background around the edges. (Halli J) Frueh, Joanna. "The Body Through Women's Eyes." Challenging Modernism: The Facets of Feminist Art. 190-207. PDF file.

The work became an inspiration for many feminist artists and in particular Judy Chicago. She earned her right as the most significant and the final place setting in Chicago’s The Dinner Party.

“In the 1970s, feminist artists, wanting to reclaim the female body for women, asserted women’s ability to create their own aesthetic pleasures by representing women’s bodies… The resulting positive images of the female body are a critical part of feminist aesthetics of the 1970s” (Frueh 190). This movement of reclaiming women’s bodies explains why O’Keeffe’s work is interpreted heavily through feminist lenses. (cited at woman art and culture).

According to an Illustrated encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, the IRIS is The Power of light; hope; often depicted as the FLEUR-DE-LIS and shares its symbolism with that of the Lily (q.v.). Chinese: Grace, affection; beauty in solitude. Christian; as the lily it is the flower of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, and the Immaculate Conception. As the ‘sword lily’ it depicts the sorrow of the Virgin. Egyptian: Power. Greek; The symbol of Iris, the feminine messenger of the gods and the psychopomp.

I was particularly drawn to the Dürer’s rendition of the Iris because of its sculptural qualities. In this particular work the iris is stylised, each element is modelled and although the shapes are true-to-life rendition, his modelling of the forms and use of colour hues are stylised. The ballpoint pen drawing pays homage to Durer’s masterful skills as an artist in all practices including, a drafts person, artisan, engraver, printer, painter and most importantly, for the purpose of this blog entry, his drawing capabilities. I will explain my intent and concept in a follow-up blog entry.