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Crafting a future for traditional arts

2017/12/4 10:43:01   source:China Daily

"In Chinese, wenhua means culture. The word is made up of two characters. Wen stands for history and hua refers to the process of change," says Guo Aihe, a 53-year old ceramist and curator of the Luoyang Sancai Art Museum. "Our generation has to make some changes to promote the development of culture."

Guo participated as an exhibitor in the 2017 World Leisure Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in late October, introducing his artworks to visitors from all over the world.

Guo has devoted his time to the inheritance and development of sancai art for more than 30 years, focusing on sancai glaze paintings, sancai ceramic crafts and other archaic forms of sancai.

His artworks have been added to the permanent collections of The Louvre in France, the Corfu Museum of Asian Art in Greece, the Gwangju Museum of Art in South Korea and many national organizations.

He was born in Luoyang, Henan province in 1964, graduated from Luoyang Normal University as an art student.

"The sancai pieces in the shape of horse and camel are everywhere," he says, "Sancai has been the top choice for presents by locals no matter whether they are officials or civilians. Around 35 years ago, a quality sancai camel sold for 38 yuan ($5.76), the equivalent to about one month's salary."

As Guo grew up in the place where sancai originated, it was no coincidence he was drawn to it.

He is always proud to spread his knowledge of sancai with a wider range of people through his lectures and books, including China Luoyang Sancai.

According to him, the word "porcelain" was invented to represent enameled pottery. Sancai is the most famous representation of porcelain.

"Sancai used to be misunderstood as meaning 'three-colored' in the West because of its direct translation. But actually it means the whole spectrum of colors that occur in the world."

Guo says Tang sancai only represents a development phase of porcelain, but the history of porcelain can be traced back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-771 BC).

"Dating back for over a thousand years, sancai art employed the most cutting-edge techniques of the day in the fields of mineralogy, physics, kiln technology, design and the engraving arts."

Guo values the traditional crafts as genuine art treasures, and he is eager to innovate and add to modern advances to its development.

"Our country needs people who inherit just as much as who innovate," Guo then speaks for himself, "I want sancai works of my own creation to be displayed in museums a hundred years from now, and not just some copies of Tang sancai I once produced."

He believes that innovation that ignores the art form's history and singularity in favor of purely Western interpretation will not have an any lasting value-like a tree with roots.

Guo applies modern artistic expression to porcelain production based on the traditional craft.

During his studies at university, he learned about traditional Chinese painting, oil painting and watercolors, which he says are elements still reflected in his sancai works.

He has been bold enough to try 500 new types of bright and semitransparent colors on glaze, while the traditional sancai always remains loyal to white, yellow and green. He jumps out of tradition that ties the ceramist to the three-dimensional figures including horses and camels, and has expanded the subjects of his creations using sancai glaze painting techniques.

One of Guo's works that is worth mentioning titled Guo Zhi Zhong, Cheng Zhi Yuan (The Center of the Country, The Origin of the Cities), light up the Henan pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. It won the gold award of "Bai Hua" Grand Award for Chinese Arts and Crafts issued by Chinese Arts and Crafts Association in Beijing.

The work is a large-scale mural, measuring 25.8 meters long by 3.3 meters tall. It has been built up using 2,516 individual pieces of artwork, including 2,359 ceramic tiles decorated with sancai to create the background, six bronzes that form the title of the artwork in the style of a seal and one piece of Dushan jade from Nanyang that had been carved into the character Yu, an abbreviation for Henan province.

The work, as suggested by its title, has two themes.

The pattern from an ancient bronze tripodal urn unearthed in Henan province has been pieced together to form the center of the work. Twenty six dynasties in ancient China once set their capitals in today's Henan, and their names are painted in the style of oracles around the central character for Yu, reinforcing the message that Henan lies at the center of China.

To reflect the origin of cities as another theme, the Yellow River runs through historic sites in the background, including Yangshao, the Yin Ruins in Anyang, the ancient capital of Erlitou and the ancient cities of the Easten Han (25-220) and Wei (220-265) dynasties. Patterns from ancient Chinese mythological fiction called hetu and luoshu have been revived, as a reminder of the Yellow River's ancient mythology.

Another famous piece named Yu Le Tu (Fishes and Happiness) is displayed in the hall of Shanghai Tower. Completed in 2015, the tower is 632 meters high and was the tallest building in the world at that time.

The work was completed by Guo and 17 other artists.

It gathered wisdom from all over the country, including sancai works from Luoyang, blue and white porcelain from Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, Jun and Ru porcelain from Yuzhou and Ruzhou in Henan province, and works from the Ding kiln in Quyang in Hebei province, the Ge kiln in Longquan in Zhejiang province, and works using purple sand clay from Yixing in Jiangsu province.

The piece of art was tailor-made for the tower and was scrupulously designed with an attention to detail. The 2,015 glazed ceramic boards echo the year the artwork was created, the 127 columns of the work reflect the number of floors in the building, and the 632 flying fish mirror the height of the tower.

Guo has also made a foray into watch design, using Luoyang sancai to make watch dials. Due to variables in the kiln-firing process and the nature of glaze, every dial is unique and impossible to recreate.

The 12 Chinese signs of the zodiac replace the Roman and Arabic numerals more commonly used to tell the time.

The design of the dial created by Guo is imbued with traditional culture, and garnered a great deal of attention.

Guo says that at an international watch exhibition in Switzerland last year, a local resident bought the watch and mailed it back to China with the request of getting it signed by the artist.

"The buyer said that he bought this watch as a gift for his wife, the woman he loves and cherishes the most. He said it would be perfect with my signature on it," Guo is proud that his design has been recognized by the West.

Even with so many artworks accomplished and a museum established, Guo has a bigger dream.

He had been looking for a large space to create a sancai ceramic town, until he locked onto a small village named Huashu'ao in a mountainous area of western Henan in 2015.

In the ceramics town he established Guo displays both his innovative pieces and copies of sancai from different eras. He is building the town as a window for people to learn about the history of the art form and its modern interpretations, which will help them to appreciate the beauty of sancai from all aspects.

"The town is 200 hectares in size. It is a large work of art in itself as sancai art has been blended into the construction of the space," Guo says.

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